Share and Be Aware: Smart Walking

Failing to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks is one of the most commonly violated laws.

Many drivers don’t realize that they have to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. Many pedestrians don’t realize this either and are very timid when they need to cross the street. Drivers are required by law to yield the right of way to pedestrians in a marked and unmarked crosswalk. The illustration to the left shows 3 different types of crosswalks, two have pavement markings and one does not.

Motorists should watch ahead for pedestrians at or approaching the curb and slow or stop to allow people to cross the street. As soon as a person puts a foot off the curb, they are in the crosswalk and should be allowed to cross the street.

Many people are timid pedestrians and wait minutes until the entire road is clear of cars before they attempt to cross even though they have a legal right to cross the street. Other times people will dash across to fit in a smaller gap, assuming the cars will not slow or stop for them. Pedestrians cannot legally dart into traffic, and must give motorists appropriate and safe distance to stop before stepping off the curb, but they need not be wait forever.  A good rule of thumb for a safe stopping distance on a street with a speed limit of 30mph or lower is half a block.  Once there is a safe gap, a person should step off the curb and begin walking assertively across the street.

Pedestrians can even signal their intention to cross the street, but should remain vigilant in case the motorist does not stop.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

2 thoughts on “Share and Be Aware: Smart Walking

  1. The pedestrian right of way law has a good intention but its expecting everyone to be aware and respectful of it . I am still alive because I’m a “timid” pedestrian. If I would be a more aggressive walker I would be severly crippled or dead. Pedestrian right of way doesn’t form a protective “force field” around the person on foot, stopping vehicles from driving over them. My experience has been for one or two vehicles to stop for me and then all the vehicles following to pass around the stopped vehicles without slowing and for some of the drivers of the stopped vehicles to honk their horns or yell at me to get moving and cross. My body can’t withstand the impact of 3200 lbs. or more traveling at 20 to 40 mph. It’s very disturbing to be in the street in front of stopped vehicles and have to jump for your life. This has happened six times since 9/5/11. I have also seen numerous times vehicles stop for me to cross the street and following vehicles jamming on the brakes or taking evasive action to keep from striking the stopped or stopping vehicle. I consider the street a jungle and for my safety and the safety of the vehicle operators/passengers, I have no trust in any vehicle at any time, anywhere, at a crosswalk or not, or walking down the street with no sidewalk. I am still alive because I’m a timid pedestrian in spite of “pedestrian rght of way”. Good in theory, poor in reality.

    • Hi Dean,

      I like to say that I want to be right, but not dead right. What I mean by that is I am an assertive, but safety conscious person when walking (and bicycling). I live and work in an urban area (Milwaukee) and find that the majority of people will yield the right of way to me when I walk in a crosswalk (marked or unmarked) if I am assertive about it. That said, I am always cautious and watching for that motor vehicle that isn’t going to stop. I do find that almost nobody will stop unless I am assertive. If I stand with one foot off the curb and wait for people to stop, I might wait all day. On the other hand, if I wait until approaching cars have time to stop (typically about half a city block on streets posted 25mph), and start assertively walking across the street as if I expect people to stop, they generally do. Like I said, I am watchful in case I do have to hurry or move out of the way for the occasional person who doesn’t look like they are going to stop.

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