We explain the rule and share people’s crosswalk stories. Reoccurring complaint? People crossing streets while looking at their phones.
Few Washington driving laws are ignored like the rule giving pedestrians the right of way at intersections.
Legally, people can step off a curb and cross the street at any intersection, no matter its traffic or design. That means even crossings without walk signals, lights or zebra stripes give walkers the upper hand, according to state law.
But at busy street corners, the question of crossing is not what is in law books — it’s a matter of steering clear of heavy, fast-moving metal. And as Seattle’s swelling population packs sidewalks and roads, proper street etiquette is important now more than ever.
“If it’s a red hand, they are jaywalking,” a Seattle Reddit user wrote. “You don’t get to hit them. But a stern gaze is fair. A horn honk (if) you’re feeling saucy.”
Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.
Via social media, comment threads and emails to Traffic Lab, Seattleites are sharing crosswalk stories and going over drivers’ duty to stop. Some complain too many pedestrians here don’t pay attention while crossing the street.
“People with headphones in their ears, or their face buried in an iPhone, walking out into the street without looking up,” said Jim Strichartz, who lives in Greenwood and works in Queen Anne.
Strichartz, who has a mobility disability and drives wherever he goes, said he’s noticed the most distracted walkers on Capitol Hill. When he moved to the city from Michigan in 1978, he said, law-enforcement officers seemed more diligent about enforcing jaywalking laws downtown.
Washington law makes it illegal for people to dart out into roadways or suddenly enter crosswalks so that it’s impossible for drivers to stop.
Seattle police issued 1,710 jaywalking tickets from 2010 to 2016, with totals dropping steadily each year.
Questions over pedestrian right-of-way rules surfaced among Seattle Times readers last month after the newspaper covered the installation of a traffic light and crosswalk at Terry Avenue North on Denny Way, an intersection previously not marked.
That added to Reddit conversations about people’s crosswalk experiences.
“The only times I’ve been almost run over,” someone wrote, “are feeder streets where you aren’t allowed to take a left turn due to a barrier. When people can only turn right, they don’t look left at all for pedestrians and tend to gun it when they think they have an opening …”
Walkers must yield to drivers at unmarked crossings that are not intersections, such as in residential areas.
Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said the responsibility for safety lies with both drivers and pedestrians — just because walkers have the legal right of way does not prevent motorists from making mistakes.
In terms of distracted walking, cities across the nation and world are taking steps to prevent accidents as a result of the growing dependence on smartphones.
The strategies range from sidewalk designs with dedicated lanes for people using electronics (Chongqing, China) or special traffic lights installed into pavement so people can see them while looking down (Bodegraven-Reeuwijk, Netherlands) to laws banning distracted walking here in the States.
Honolulu became the first major U.S. city to pass a distracted-walking law this summer, giving law enforcement the authority to ticket texters crossing streets. Fort Lee, New Jersey, has a ban as well, NPR reports. Elected officials in other jurisdictions have proposed laws, too.
In Washington and Oregon, people are walking while distracted now more than ever, at least according to a recent Pemco Insurance poll. More than 50 percent of respondents in the two states reported using their phone to talk, text or read while on foot.
A 2016 Nielsen study of how people consume media shows the average American spends more than 1.5 hours a day using apps or the internet on smartphones. That number is roughly double the average of just two years earlier.
Shelly Baldwin, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission’s government liaison, said in an email that Washington lawmakers talked about the risks of distracted walking while discussing the state’s new law banning handheld electronics while driving.
No one introduced a bill, and she said the topic has not surfaced between her and legislators since.
Hobson said she has not heard of city officials making moves to ban distracted walking. The department, she said, encourages “pedestrians and drivers to put their devices away” until they are in a place to safely use them.
Baldwin emphasized that fatal pedestrian crashes in Washington more often involve drivers multitasking than people on foot.
State statistics for deadly pedestrian crashes between 2012 and 2014 show 32 percent involved distracted driving, while 14 percent involved distracted walking, she said.
Those statistics are part of a broader trend of fatal pedestrian accidents rising across the country in recent years.
In Seattle, about 4,500 pedestrians were struck by cars over the past 10 years, according to a Seattle Times analysis of city data. The overwhelming majority resulted in injuries.
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