There are several streets in Seattle that function more like highways, or even freeways, than city streets. If you routinely cross Rainier, Denny, 15th Ave NW, or one of the other dozen or so 4+ lane streets at an uncontrolled intersection, then you know what I mean. Let’s take my commute as an example. The pedestrian portion of my commute involves crossing Rainier Ave S. at S. King St., which has no marked crosswalk.
Legally, the second I step off the curb*, most lanes of traffic** have to stop for me. It’s an intersection, and therefore it’s an unmarked crosswalk. But in practice, I’d guess a good half of the cars don’t obey this rule and keep driving. Not only is this illegal, it can put me in great danger, especially if this starts happening in both directions while I’m in the middle of the road. I’ve had a bus do this to me (at least he yelled “sorry” out his window, though it was followed by “there was someone behind me”, which fails as a logical excuse). I’ve had people yell “get out of the road” as they zip by.
I’ve been annoyed enough at this behavior that I thought I’d write up a post about it. Wanting a picture for my post, I pulled out my cell phone to snap a picture while I crossed. But everyone stopped. This happened again the next day. And the next. And it feels like my cell phone is causing this politeness – when I aim my phone at someone that is clearly about to cut me off, and they slam on the brakes. In the end it’s been around a month before I finally came across a group of drivers that took my right of way even when on camera.
So what’s happening here? Apparently, earning shame from a single pedestrian isn’t enough to keep some drivers following the law. And there may be little or no shame coming from the peer group of drivers – and perhaps the opposite. When one car fails to stop it seems that this encourages others to keep going, yet when one car stops they all do. But it appears that when your image is about to be recorded for some unknown purpose, this is a strong enough potential source of shame to get drivers to change their behavior.
The real solution to streets like this involve engineering: road diets, curb bulbs, striped crosswalks, and/or crossing signals. But for now, I recommend crossing with a camera.
* Which I’m not legally allowed to step off if a car can’t stop without hitting me. That probably changes as much behavior as outlawing hitting yourself in the head with a hammer.
** As has been pointed out to me in the comments, this includes all of the lanes of traffic in a given direction within one lane from me. As I step out facing West, that’s the two lanes headed North. As I enter the second North-bound lane, that’s every lane of traffic. As I enter the final South-bound lane, that’s every lane except the first North-bound lane.