Walkable West Palm Beach

Florida pedestrian related traffic laws

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Confusion exists concerning the pedestrian related traffic laws in Florida. The clearest explanation I have come across is this article from iYield4Peds, an Orlando based organization working to improve that city’s horrific pedestrian fatality numbers. It centers its efforts around three areas – Education, Enforcement, and Engineering.

A number of commonly held beliefs about pedestrian traffic laws are incorrect. For example, there is no such thing as jaywalking in the law. Some actions may be illegal, such as crossing midblock between two signalized intersections, but crossing midblock at most locations is not illegal, even without a marked crosswalk. The pedestrian in this instance may be required to yield the right of way, but crossing is not illegal.

Crosswalks do not exist to demarcate the only places where it is legal for pedestrians to cross. They instead emphasize places where pedestrians may be expected to be crossing. They also indicate to drivers that this is a place where they have to yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing.

In future blog posts I will write about the reasons why laws and enforcement alone are insufficient to the goals of creating a people friendly, walkable neighborhood, and the importance of designing streets that support these goals.

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By Mighk Wilson, Smart Growth Planner for MetroPlan Orlando

How well do you know Florida’s pedestrian-related traffic laws?  If you’re like many folks you have some misconceptions.  Here are some little-known truths about pedestrian law. See how well you understand them.

There Is No “Jaywalking” Law

Jaywalking is not a legal term.  It is not found in Florida statutes and has no legal meaning. Jaywalking is a derogatory slang term coined in the early 1920s by automotive interests (only about 10 to 20 percent of street users at the time) during propaganda campaigns to get traffic laws changed in their favor.  Their strategy was to put the blame on pedestrians who continued to walk the streets in the way they had for centuries – crossing wherever and whenever they wished – before the automobile became popular.  A “jay” was someone from the country who didn’t understand “big city” ways. So a “jaywalker” was someone the city folks could poke fun at for being ignorant.  This is well-documented in the book Fighting Traffic by Peter Norton.

Some actions that people call jaywalking – such as crossing against a red light – are illegal. But crossing mid-block, which is also called jaywalking, is not illegal in most locations.

Every Street Has Sidewalks on Both Sides

Well, sort-of. The legal definition of a sidewalk is “that portion of a street between the curbline, or the lateral line, of a roadway and the adjacent property lines, intended for use by pedestrians.” So if there is no paved sidewalk, that strip of grass in the public right-of-way is still a sidewalk.  But it may not be a usable one for the pedestrian.  Tall grass, landscaping and other challenges could make it unusable.

The roadway is the portion of the public right-of-way intended for vehicles.  We all have the basic human right to walk in public spaces, so if we’re not intended to walk in the roadway, we must be intended to walk in the remaining space.

Drivers Must Yield to Pedestrians Who Are Legally In Crosswalks

Some people misunderstand the purpose and meaning of a crosswalk, believing it is the only place pedestrians arepermitted to cross the street. That is not the case. A crosswalk is where drivers are expected to yield (if possible) to pedestrians. Pedestrians may cross elsewhere, but outside a crosswalk, they are required to yield to vehicular traffic.

There Are Crosswalks on All Sides of Every Intersection

The crosswalk is defined as the continuation of the parallel lines of the sidewalk across the roadway, so since every street has sidewalks, every intersection has crosswalks.  The only exception is where a state or local government has explicitly closed a particular crosswalk, and a sign must be placed at such a crossing to indicate it is closed.  So this means if you are driving along a road and there is a cross-street, you must yield to any pedestrian in an unmarked crosswalk at that intersection, just as you would yield if the crosswalk was marked.  This is true even if you are not facing a stop sign or traffic signal.

The Pedestrian Does Not “Always Have the Right-of-Way”

No-one “has the right-of-way.”  The law only defines who is required to yield the right-of-way, or “give way.”

Pedestrians attempting to cross mid-block are required to yield right-of-way to vehicle drivers on the roadway.  Pedestrians at crosswalks at signalized intersections must yield if they face a red signal or steady Don’t Walk signal.

Drivers approaching crosswalks – either marked or unmarked – must yield to pedestrians who are legally in the crosswalk and approaching closely enough to be in conflict.  Drivers entering a public street from a private driveway must yield right-of-way to a pedestrian approaching on the sidewalk or roadway, just as one yields to other traffic.

Pedestrians cannot enter the crosswalk at any time they wish.  One cannot expect a driver to do the impossible, such as coming to a stop from 45 mph in 100 feet.  Pedestrians must give drivers adequate time and distance to react and stop.

If Another Vehicle Is Stopped Ahead of You at a Crosswalk…

… you are not permitted to pass!  Even if you are in another lane.  There may be a crossing pedestrian hidden behind that first vehicle.  You have to assume a pedestrian is there, and can only proceed once you are sure the crosswalk is clear.

Crossing Mid-Block Is Legal in Most Situations

The law says pedestrians may not cross “between adjacent intersections at which traffic control signals are in operation.” So if you want to cross the street between intersections and both of the closest intersections have working traffic signals, then you may not cross, unless there is a marked crosswalk at that mid-block location.  If one of the closest intersections does not have a traffic signal, then you may cross, provided you yield to approaching vehicles.

The Flashing DON’T WALK Signal Does Not Mean You Can’t Be In the Crosswalk

It means you cannot enter the crosswalk.  If you are already in the crosswalk you can finish crossing.  The flashing DON’T WALK phase is timed so that you can make it all the way across at a normal adult walking pace – provided drivers are not cutting you off by turning across your path.  This is important for you drivers to know, too.  If the pedestrian is in the crosswalk and the DON’T WALK signal is flashing, you still have to yield!

How did you do?  How well do you think your friends, family members or co-workers would do?  If we don’t have a common understanding of the rules, how can we know what we or others should be doing to keep our friends and neighbors safe?

What likely has some of you nervous now is the idea of having to stop for a pedestrian at a crosswalk with no stop sign or traffic signal along a high-speed arterial.  You may be thinking, “If I do that I’ll get rear-ended.” Braking gradually gives the drivers behind you more time to react, so the earlier you brake to yield to a pedestrian, the less chance there is of a rear-end collision.  As drivers on arterial and collector streets we have to be prepared to slow or stop at any time – for emergency vehicles, transit buses, school buses, animals, bicyclists, other motorists slowing to turn, and for many other situations.

Our first priority will be getting drivers to yield on lower speed streets and getting pedestrians to clearly communicate their intention to cross.  Over time, we can work on getting the same type of good behaviors on our higher speed roads.

Go here for the complete pedestrian-related Florida statutes.

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