Tim Schewe

Drivesmart column: I can’t walk fast enough for the pedestrian signals

“Do we pedestrians have a right to safe passage, or is it a free-for-all?”

By Tim Schewe

“No matter how quickly I start to cross once the walk light comes on or how fast I walk, I can make it only halfway across and by then the orange flashing hand has appeared. Drivers proceed even though I am still in the crosswalk trying desperately to make it safely to the other side. Many of them are also convinced they have a right to make the left turn even though I am still in the crosswalk.”

This person also observes that it’s impossible to keep eye contact with drivers and asks the question, “Do we pedestrians have a right to safe passage, or is it a free-for-all?”

Right of way for pedestrians

Pedestrians have a right to safe passage. When you cross in a crosswalk and obey the signals, you have right of way over all vehicle traffic to clear that crosswalk if the pedestrian signal changes while you are crossing. Of course, you must proceed to the far side as quickly as possible when this happens. Like it or not, the drivers must yield and let you complete your journey.

When NOT to enter a crosswalk

Pedestrians who choose to enter a crosswalk after the ‘don’t walk’ signal appears do not have any right of way over vehicle or cycle traffic.

Pedestrian countdown timers

Many people have the mistaken belief that pedestrian countdown timers show how much time is left for pedestrians to cross. This is not true as the timer simply shows the time left to the end of the green phase of the traffic light.

Marked and unmarked crosswalks

Remember that it is not necessary to have lines painted on the roadway to create a crosswalk. They are merely a visual indication that a crosswalk exists. The unmarked crosswalk is defined by the extension of the lateral lines of the sidewalks at the intersection.

A sidewalk can be virtually any type of roadside improvement for the use of pedestrians and is not limited to the concrete structure that we all think of.

A driver’s responsibility to pedestrians

“Do you think, as a driver, that it’s your responsibility to compete with pedestrians or to use your vehicle to protect them?” This question was posed by a friend who has experience as both a driving instructor and an ICBC driving examiner. It’s a point of view that I had not considered and will try to follow from now on.

The Motor Vehicle Act also places a specific duty on drivers to exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian who is on the highway.

Worry about drivers, not the crossing signal

So, if you enter on the white pedestrian signal and make your way across at a reasonable rate within your capabilities you need not be concerned about the signal changing while you cross. Worry instead about the actions of inconsiderate drivers who cannot wait as they should. Right of way will not protect you from their actions.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca