Monday, May 12, 2014

Why crosswalks are so dangerous in Delaware

According to the New Castle County Police, the failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk is a fine of $25 to $75 for a first offense, and $57.50 to $95 for second offense. However, Delaware's on-line code (and the internet) reveals a fine of only $2 to $25 under Chapter 292:

(i) (1) When traffic control signals are not in place or not in operation the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger, but no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.

Every person convicted of a misdemeanor for a violation of any of the provisions of Sections 113 (a), (b), (g), (h), (i) (1), (j) and 128 (h) of this Chapter shall be punished for the first offense by a fine of not less than Two Dollars ($2.00), nor more than Twenty-five Dollars ($25.00) and/or imprisonment for not less than two days, nor more than ten days and for every subsequent like offense within one year, shall be punished by a fine of not less than Ten Dollars ($10.00), nor more than Twenty-five Dollars ($25.00) and/or by imprisonment for not less than two days, nor more than thirty days. Approved April 24, 1945.

The officer we spoke to referred only to Title 21 as pertaining to current vehicle law, however, a search of "crosswalk yield fine" and a variety of other word combinations - including the amounts of the fine - failed to produce updated penalties.

Here are some interesting points regarding crosswalks in Delaware:
  • DelDOT rarely stripes crosswalks unless it's at a signalized intersection.
  • Because the fine is so low, no one takes it seriously - even the police.
  • While other states and cities are performing sting operations and ticketing offenders on both sides, our police virtually never enforce this law.
  • We never publicize laws pertaining to motorists when it comes to pedestrians.
  • Nearly all of the focus is on pedestrian error.
  • Although we've made some recent progress, we don't really take pedestrians' needs seriously or consider walking to be a serious form of transportation.
In a random check of 3 other states in the top 10 Bicycle-Friendly States ranking, with similar language in their code regarding crosswalks, the following was revealed:

Massachusetts: Whoever violates any provision of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $200.

Oregon: The offense described in this section, failure to stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian, is a Class B traffic violation.

Minnesota: Failure to obey the [crosswalk] law is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $700 fine, or both.

If Delaware wants to get serious about reducing pedestrian fatalities, then our respect and treatment of crosswalks should at least mirror that of other Top 10 BFS States that do care. DelDOT is already eliminating mid-block crosswalks because motorists don't obey the law, as opposed to better marking the crosswalks and actually enforcing the laws. And then the media has the gall to blame dead pedestrians for not crossing in crosswalks when there aren't any for half a mile or or more from the crash site. Yet there is plenty of sympathy for angry motorists who have to go a couple of minutes out of their way.

View Larger Map
Above: The crossing of the Industrial Track Rail Trail at Boulden Blvd in New Castle. It is not clear for what this signal is intended. Pushing the crosswalk button actuates yellow flashing lights. Pedestrian warning signs are all that appear before the crosswalk and overhead. There is nothing here at all to enforce the stopping (or yielding) of motorists to pedestrians when there very easily could be. Therefore, most do not stop. A HAWK signal, or simple button actuated traffic light - and a sign with a stated fine - would do wonders to increase safety at this intersection.

The crossing of Wyoming Road on the Pomeroy Trail in Newark is lame, at best. The white yield sign, off to the side (and dead with sign fatigue) barely registers. Very few, if any cars yield or stop for pedestrians or bicyclists waiting to cross. This cyclist was waiting at the start of the crosswalk when the driver in the white car continued through at full speed.

Cape Cod, MA is serious about pedestrian safety, and their choice of signage proves it. Not only are their signs multi-colored and strategically placed, but they also state the penalty for drivers who fail to yield in a crosswalk. As a result, virtually every driver stops - even before trail users step foot on the roadway.

Awarding Delaware a top 5
in the Bicycle-Friendly States program should not be based on funding for Trails and Pathways. Yet in this manner, Bike Delaware and the LAB have readily tossed out most other critical aspects of bicycle advocacy, and go on proudly boasting about our 4th place ranking. This is shameful. It is time for us to get serious about safety and infrastructure for all non-motorized users of our roads and pathways in general.

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