Greater Greater Washington

How pedestrians "interfere with traffic"

Videographer Jay Mallin was outraged when Prince William County gave a man a ticket for "interfering with traffic" after he was hit trying to cross Route 1 in Woodbridge. He created this great video of how many of our suburban areas ignore the needs of people on foot:

In that area of Woodbridge, the nearest marked crosswalk is a half mile away or more, and not visible due to a hill. Mallin goes to other areas of Bethesda and Chevy Chase where getting to a bus stop also requires crossing Wisconsin Avenue where there are no marked crosswalks in sight.

The Woodbridge area where Mallin tried to cross does have an intersection nearby without a marked crosswalk. Technically, this counts as an unmarked crosswalk, and pedestrians could legally cross here, though it's no safer than crossing anywhere else in the middle of the street.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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Excellent start- though marred by that thoughtless sloganeering statement about people versus cars when its about people in automobiles versus people on foot or bicycles.

by Douglas Willinger on Feb 28, 2011 3:50 pm • linkreport

Pedestrians have the right of way at an intersection with no signal, however, they do not have the right to cross AGAINST the light. Even more importantly, it's stupid to cross on red given that a driver who has a green light pretty much plans to keep going.

by MikeDC on Feb 28, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

Pedestrians have the right of way at an intersection with no signal, however, they do not have the right to cross AGAINST the light.

What's wrong with this picture?

Anyway, looking at this video, "Yes, but..." isn't exactly the first thing on the tip of my tongue. These sorts of built environments are pretty much inexcusable.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

The crosswalk signal not functioning is classic.

On another note... has anybody else noticed that the pedestrian signals in DC seem to get moved around quite a bit? I'll be an intersection where I notice that the signal is turned in a direction that makes it impossible to see. One would think that there would be a way to make them less susceptible to swiveling.

by Adam L on Feb 28, 2011 4:20 pm • linkreport

Even if there's a crosswalk, if it's unsignaled you're taking your life in your hands using it. It's kind of amazing how little regard drivers in this area have for yielding to peds.

I'm not sure Bethsda was a great example, though. Doesn't it have relatively short blocks with crosswalks at intersections?

by jcm on Feb 28, 2011 4:44 pm • linkreport

Yeah. Major WTF on the "swiveling" crossing signals. Seems like half of the ones I see these days are completely out of view.

by andrew on Feb 28, 2011 4:50 pm • linkreport

I actually think that Bethesda Ave (as depicted) is a good example how cars and peds can share the same space. Everyone who drives through that street a) goes slow, and b) expects people to be crossing and/or in the street. I've never felt like I was going to get hit by a car in that area even though I was technically J-Walking. While driving it doesn't really bother me that people are crossing illegally because I'm not really going anywhere anyway.

by Bethesda on Feb 28, 2011 5:39 pm • linkreport

Great video!

@Bethesda - I don't know whether it is in fact technically jaywalking to cross that block of Bethesda Avenue in the middle. It is legal to cross a street in the middle of the block, if either of the adjacent intersections does not have a signal. You must yield the right of way to cars, however. The intersection of Bethesda Avenue and Bethesda Lane has no signal. If it counts as an adjacent intersection under this law, it is legal to cross Bethesda Avenue in the middle of the block.

by Ben Ross on Feb 28, 2011 5:57 pm • linkreport

Ok, I am at a loss here. What is does the law suggest I do when I want to cross a multi-lane road and there is no pedestrian crossing near/in sight?

by Jasper on Feb 28, 2011 6:05 pm • linkreport

Pedestrians have the right of way at an intersection with no signal, however, they do not have the right to cross AGAINST the light.

I bet not one motorist in a thousand knows or adheres to the traffic laws 100%. So what is the usefulness of this statement?

One intersection in DC that gives me particular trouble is 5th & I NW just south of Massachusetts. Traffic going north-south on 5th has a signal that alternates between flashing yellow and a solid red. Traffic going east-west on I street just has a stop sign.

As a pedestrian I learned long ago never to assume any car will yield to you in a crosswalk. So this past Sunday as I was out for a walk along I St I diligently looked before I started crossing. The light for 5th St traffic was flashing yellow but there were no cars present.

As I took 2 steps into the the street I noticed a large red SUV a block away crossing 5th & H. I only got to take 3 more steps - reaching the center of the street before that SUV had covered the length of the block and whizzed by just inches from me going at least 45 MPH.

It turns out that when the 5th & I light is flashing yellow traffic on 5th has the green to cross Massachusetts. So this driver was so intent on "making the green" for Mass that he wasn't going to let the presence of a human being deter him for one second.

by JeffB on Feb 28, 2011 6:20 pm • linkreport

Re: "swiveling" crosswalk signals

These are usually swiveled because they are very close to the intersection and brushed up against [read: struck] by large delivery trucks and buses. Rather than have the snap off and cause actual damage to the traffic control device, they're left somewhat loose on their pivots, so they can be rotated back into place once DDOT is alerted [at least in DC].

by ontarioroader on Feb 28, 2011 6:24 pm • linkreport

On the topic of swiveling crosswalks, you can call 311 to report the issue to DDOT or submit it to http://311.dc.gov/ online. If you describe the intersection location and which corner has the issue, DDOT usually seems to make the adjustment within a couple days tops.

by Mitch Wander on Feb 28, 2011 7:36 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, 'Ok, I am at a loss here. What is does the law suggest I do when I want to cross a multi-lane road and there is no pedestrian crossing near/in sight?

You cross at an intersection. Or you just look very carefully before crossing. From what I've observed we have a cross-cultural problem occuring here. You have folks emigrating from countries where it's okay to just cross anywhere you want and the traffic expects that and stops for you. We're definitely a country of rules here. If the law says 'pedestrian doesn't have the right of way in this stretch' we cna pretty much count on people observing this rule. ... Just like the pedestrian knows that if they really don't have the right to cross, that they'd better look twice and thrice before actually crossing. It works because everyone is in synch with what the rules are. Now we could change the way we do this and be like a Latin American country where no one obeys the rules ... and everyone knows that and drives/walks with appropriate caution .... but would we really want that? There's a reason things generally work better here where we do follow the rules ...

by Lance on Feb 28, 2011 11:40 pm • linkreport

Even if there IS a marked cross walk, and even if there is a flashing walk signal, cars will still try to bully pedestrians. I see this every day near my office.

by SJE on Feb 28, 2011 11:48 pm • linkreport

@JeffB 'It turns out that when the 5th & I light is flashing yellow traffic on 5th has the green to cross Massachusetts. So this driver was so intent on "making the green" for Mass that he wasn't going to let the presence of a human being deter him for one second.

I'd be interested in hearing what the situation was like from the pedestrian's viewpoint. While driving, I'm constantly amazed at the number of people who assume that just because the signal has turned in their favor that the intersection has cleared. Legally (and practically) a car or person in the interesection when the signal changes still has right of way. This is what often causes the good and decent drivers willing to cede their right of way to the errant pedestrians to end up 'blocking the box'.

by Lance on Feb 28, 2011 11:48 pm • linkreport

* I'd be interested in hearing what the situation was like from the driver's viewpoint

by Lance on Feb 28, 2011 11:49 pm • linkreport

"Pedestrians have the right of way at an intersection with no signal, however, they do not have the right to cross AGAINST the light."

As a general rule, pedestrians cannot begin crossing a street against the light. However, if a pedestrian begins crossing a street with a green light or walk signal, they have the right of way until they get across the street (or to a "safety island" -- find one in DC -- I dare you) even if the signal turns red. See DC Code 50-2201.28. And a blind or deaf pedestrian with a cane or dog has the right of way in DC anywhere and everywhere (DC Code 7-1004). Don't know about VA or MD.

I wonder what the standard for "careless interference with traffic" is. Does it mean that "careful interference with traffic" is OK? Maybe the ped should plead, "But, your honor, I was as careful as I could have been given the careless planning by the state..."

by Eileen on Mar 1, 2011 1:33 am • linkreport

Maybe the designer of the road should be charged with careless interference with pedestrian traffic.

by Ben Ross on Mar 1, 2011 8:11 am • linkreport


"The Woodbridge area where Mallin tried to cross does have an intersection nearby without a marked crosswalk. Technically, this counts as an unmarked crosswalk, and pedestrians could legally cross here, though it's no safer than crossing anywhere else in the middle of the street"

Well, I guess thats your opinion but it simply isn't true.

Drivers expect pedestrian crossings at intersections. Why, because thats where 99.99% of them are. Drivers don't expect people to be crossing whenever and wherever they please.

The relationship between cars, bikes and ped's on streets is all about predictability. The more rigid and predictable the rules governing each modes actions, the safer everyone will be. So crossing randomly, haphazardly anywhere at anytime is certainly less safe than crossing at an actual intersection, even if it doesn't have a crosswalk.

by freely on Mar 1, 2011 8:40 am • linkreport

"I'm constantly amazed at the number of people who assume that just because the signal has turned in their favor that the intersection has cleared."

I'm constantly amazed that drivers think that they can pull into the box when the other side has not cleared enough to allow the driver to get through the box. THAT is NOT legal Lance! If you can't get all the way through the intersection, you CANNOT enter the box. Stop at the stop line. Proceed when it is clear to do so.

by thump on Mar 1, 2011 8:41 am • linkreport

I guess it's just car-country in most suburban area's. Pedestrian's are on their own.

by MikeM on Mar 1, 2011 9:02 am • linkreport

This is a feature, not a bug. The reason for the traditional success of the suburbs is that there are formal and informal policies to make life as difficult as possible for marginalized folks like the handicapped, the indigent, &tc...

These traditional bulwarks are starting to fail, but by now it's just deeply ingrained habit.

by oboe on Mar 1, 2011 9:13 am • linkreport

@Lance wrote:

* I'd be interested in hearing what the situation was like from the pedestrian's viewpoint

Then @Lance revised his comment to:
* I'd be interested in hearing what the situation was like from the driver's viewpoint

Ah, don't worry Lance, we all assumed it was a typo. :)

by oboe on Mar 1, 2011 9:16 am • linkreport

The relationship between cars, bikes and ped's on streets is all about predictability. The more rigid and predictable the rules governing each modes actions, the safer everyone will be. So crossing randomly, haphazardly anywhere at anytime is certainly less safe than crossing at an actual intersection, even if it doesn't have a crosswalk.

I would respectfully disagree. The biggest problem with the status quo is that we make a fetish of "predictability." It's predictability that permits 99% of drivers to far exceed the speed limit, take right turns on red without slowing down, etc, etc... The idea that--in a heavily residential neighborhood--a small child or someone's dog might wander into the street is beyond comprehension. After all, it's *your* job to stay the Hell out of my way. And if you haven't trained your four year old in the nuances of the UVC, well, that's just evolution at work.

The idea that your average driver has some sort of heightened awareness at an unmarked, unsignaled intersection is frankly laughable.

by oboe on Mar 1, 2011 9:21 am • linkreport

The point here many (most?) roads in the outskirts do not work for pedestrians. Don't believe me? Try to walk along Indianhead highway, for example. For a person on foot, every suburban road looks like that.

The traffic rules that you all are citing do not make up for the bad design.

by goldfish on Mar 1, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

One thing I noticed about this video (and from my times in PWC) is that it is mostly Latinos on bikes and jay-walking. I wonder if the reason they don't care is because of this, since that county board does have some pretty stiff anti-immigrant rhetoric going on.

by Joshua Davis on Mar 1, 2011 10:17 am • linkreport

Get off your soapbox Oboe. Your undying and unrelenting "car hate at every misplaced opportunity" isn't doing yourside any favors.

And I love how all justifications, for anything these days comes down to "think of the small child" frowny face, exclamation mark!

Perhaps you don't pay attention at all when you drive, if you actually do, but I know that ones attention behind the wheel is "more" heightened when approaching an intersection. Why? Because intersections is how we've set up the road system to conflict with the most amount of order. There are lights, signals, people, vehicles entering the road, changing directions and yes...typically crosswalks. It's where people are "expected" to cross, especially in lieu of any marked crosswalk elsewhere.

No one is justifying mowing down a kid, so relax. But when you mix multi-modes of "something" in one medium, the safest thing for all is predictability. So the driver can generally anticipate what the cyclist is going to do, the cyclist the driver, and both the pedestrian.

by freely on Mar 1, 2011 10:25 am • linkreport

Please remain respectful toward other commenters. Thank you.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 10:28 am • linkreport

Freely, While I have no doubt that your attention is heightened when you approach an intersection, that isn't true for many drivers. Many sail through, oblivious to everyone around them. The police in my neighborhood did a "sting" one day at a marked crosswalk at an unsignaled intersection (Idaho and Wisconsin, in DC), with a *uniformed* officer attempting to cross the street, and ended up issuing lots of tickets because drivers paid him no heed (till they got the ticket). I see drivers ignore pedestrians at unmarked crosswalks all the time; even the city ignores pedestrian rights at unmarked crosswalks, at least in DC, by allow cars to be parked in them. In my neighborhood, which is littered with unmarked crosswalks, I usually have to cross away from the crosswalks because I can't get to it. I also believe it can be safer -- depends on the circumstances, but the advantage of a mid-block crossing is that you only have to watch out for drivers coming from two directions. At a corner, you have to watch out for turning drivers as well.

by Eileen on Mar 1, 2011 10:37 am • linkreport

@thump, 'If you can't get all the way through the intersection, you CANNOT enter the box. Stop at the stop line. Proceed when it is clear to do so.

Rather than attempt to explain to you what you just said makes absolutely no sense, let me suggest you take some driving classes, get a driver's licence, and then come back here and explain to everyone why your statement lacked all credibility.

by Lance on Mar 1, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

Lance: This is the rule. This is what I learned in driver's ed. I drive a lot and don't always follow this rule, but that is in fact what you are supposed to do. If there isn't room at the other side to clear the intersection, wait until there is.

Drivers typically don't follow this, and some flexibility might be called for, but if so, that's just like calling for some flexibility in bicyclists coming to a complete rather than almost-complete stop at a stop sign or being allowed to proceed through a red light if no cars are coming.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 11:11 am • linkreport

That's why you don't like in a crap place like Woodbridge.

by Will R. on Mar 1, 2011 11:46 am • linkreport

Heading home in the car yesterday, turning right but stopped to allow pedestrians to cross, WITH THE SIGNAL, and get honked by drivers behind me. Every few times I get drivers who attempt to go me around into the pedestrians.

So, when I see posts about how pedestrians need to be "predictable" and "follow the rules" I see the bigger problem as entitled, aggressive drivers.

And freely, "think of the small child" is a big deal. I have three kids, and there is no sidewalk on my street. People have to walk in the road. Even when kids cross at a cross walk or marked intersection they are at risk of arrogant drivers. I see the drivers faces and it is clear that they are only looking for other cars, not pedestrians.

by SJE on Mar 1, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

@Lance
Perhaps it is you who should have the remedial driver's training.

2201.11 No driver shall enter an intersection or marked crosswalk, unless the movement can be made such that the vehicle can completely clear the intersection without obstructing the passage of other vehicles or pedestrians, notwithstanding any official traffic control device indication to proceed. A vehicle shall not enter an intersection to turn right or left unless there is sufficient space on the roadway being entered to accommodate the vehicle.

http://dmv.washingtondc.gov/info/title-18/chap22_pdf.shtm

Here's a make-up question for you Lance! When is it legal for a car to enter an intersection when the traffic signal is showing a steady yellow?

by JeffB on Mar 1, 2011 11:59 am • linkreport

Ok, I am gonna ignore Lance's odd and baseless xenophobic rant and rephrase my question:

What is does the law suggest I do when I want to cross a multi-lane road and there is no pedestrian crossing and intersection near/in sight?

by Jasper on Mar 1, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

@JeffB + David Alpert: Thanks for the back-up. Lance. You ARE wrong on this.

by thump on Mar 1, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

@Jasper
What is does the law suggest I do when I want to cross a multi-lane road and there is no pedestrian crossing and intersection near/in sight?

Well I recommend that you:
a) have your affairs in order
b) be right with your God
c) and run like Hell

by JeffB on Mar 1, 2011 4:53 pm • linkreport

@ JeffB: I'm serious though. If you go out on Rt 50 in Loudoun, there are streches without intersections that are pretty long. Similarly on Rt 1, 15, 17 and 29. I am really wondering what the law assumes I will do.

by Jasper on Mar 1, 2011 8:24 pm • linkreport

Jasper -- I doubt this'll really help much, but here's the wording of the "careless interference with traffic" law (online at http://law.justia.com/codes/virginia/2006/toc4602000/46.2-923.html):

46.2-923. How and where pedestrians to cross highways.

When crossing highways, pedestrians shall not carelessly or maliciously interfere with the orderly passage of vehicles. They shall cross, wherever possible, only at intersections or marked crosswalks. Where intersections contain no marked crosswalks, pedestrians shall not be guilty of negligence as a matter of law for crossing at any such intersection or between intersections when crossing by the most direct route.

The governing body of any town or city or the governing body of a county authorized by law to regulate traffic may by ordinance permit pedestrians to cross an intersection diagonally when all traffic entering the intersection has been halted by lights, other traffic control devices, or by alaw-enforcement officer.

******

I think the underlying message is, "yeah, sure, you can cross the highway anywhere you want; just don't be careless or malicious about it, but we're not going to tell you what those words mean -- hey, we just know it when we see it -- although we will tell you that crossing between intersections isn't 'negligent' even if it's malicious or careless."

by Eileen on Mar 1, 2011 9:13 pm • linkreport

@David and JeffB, "2201.11 No driver shall enter an intersection or marked crosswalk, unless the movement can be made such that the vehicle can completely clear the intersection without obstructing the passage of other vehicles or pedestrians"

It doesn't say "If there isn't room at the other side to clear the intersection, wait until there is." ... You're both reading into the rule.

It simply defines a situation which in reality can't be definitively known until it's occured. If anything, it's asking the driver to use his or her best judgement as to whether they can make it across without blocking the intersection. And that is not the same as saying 'come to a stop and wait for the car in traffic in front of you to not only clear the intersection but to go beyond it far enough to guarantee your being able to cross the intersection completely.' It would be an unreasonable policy if it were actually written like this.

by Lance on Mar 1, 2011 10:13 pm • linkreport

Lance: That's exactly what it says, but in legalese.

In legalese, if you want to say, "If you can't do x, wait until y," they write that as, "No person shall do x unless they are able to do y."

It is illegal to enter an intersection until there is room on the other side.

No driver shall enter an intersection or marked crosswalk, unless

Translation: Don't enter the intersection unless ...

the movement can be made such that the vehicle can completely clear the intersection without obstructing the passage of other vehicles or pedestrians

Translation: ... there's room at the other side to get clear.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 10:26 pm • linkreport

The law is indeed unclear. What can happens is you are moving with heavy traffic, which is proceeding at moderate speed (~ 15-20 mph) through an intersection with a green light. The traffic unexpectedly stops, leaving you stranded in the middle with cars piled up behind you. See for example, First St NW and New York Ave, during the morning rush. You try to use judgment that you can make it through the box, but sometimes the traffic speed stops too abruptly.

by goldfish on Mar 2, 2011 8:17 am • linkreport

So looking at the law, ...unless the movement can be made such that the vehicle can completely clear the intersection..., it does not account for unexpected changes in traffic flow that occur when a driver is within the intersection.

For that reason this is a bad law.

by goldfish on Mar 2, 2011 8:22 am • linkreport

Nope, it doesn't really account for "unexpected changes in traffic flow." That way the people who apply the law (officers) can use their judgment in applying it.

Let's be honest though, the vast majority of blocking the box doesn't happen because of "unexpected" changes in traffic flow, it happens because people are selfish and drive into the intersection regardless of whether the traffic ahead of them is moving or not.

There seems to be a perception among a couple people here that if you treat a green light like a stop sign in these heavy traffic situations that traffic will somehow come to a screeching halt. It doesn't, and it actually helps all traffic move better if everyone does this. But people are selfish and want to get across that intersection, regardless of whether they're blocking the rest of traffic or not.

by MLD on Mar 2, 2011 9:16 am • linkreport

See my example, First St NW and New York Ave, during the morning rush. I think most drivers are pretty conscientious at trying not to block the box, if for no other than to avoid getting honked at by the irate and swearing drivers. But NY Ave can be backed up for miles and the traffic can stop suddenly at most any intersection. And yes, poor souls trying to get across this mess do cause some of the sudden stops.

Again, traffic laws (however poorly written) do not make up for bad road design.

by goldfish on Mar 2, 2011 9:48 am • linkreport

It doesn't say "If there isn't room at the other side to clear the intersection, wait until there is." ... You're both reading into the rule. It simply defines a situation which in reality can't be definitively known until it's occured...

I love the smell of sophistry in the morning!

:)

by oboe on Mar 2, 2011 10:53 am • linkreport

Here’s another very interesting Virginia law:

46.2-823. Unlawful speed forfeits right-of-way.

The driver of any vehicle traveling at an unlawful speed shall forfeit any right-of-way which he might otherwise have under this article.

I wonder how often the Prince William County police consider that one before they cite pedestrians for careless interference with traffic?

by Eileen on Mar 2, 2011 10:18 pm • linkreport

In my original comment, I am talking about pedestrians brazenly crossing AGAINST the light, period. Granted, this probably occurs a lot more in DC than the burbs. Well, most drivers who have the light are not expecting some idiot to just wander out in the street, so I'd recommend you not do it.

by MikeDC on Mar 4, 2011 11:16 pm • linkreport

This is so sad:
"Ok, I am at a loss here. What is does the law suggest I do when I want to cross a multi-lane road and there is no pedestrian crossing near/in sight?"

I think the law wants you to walk aimlessly until the state of Virginia inadvertently installs a crosswalk, thereby allowing you to cross.

by Self-Righteous Person on Jul 28, 2014 5:13 pm • linkreport

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