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Letter to the editor: Students need to obey the law when crossing streets

By ,  |  Tuesday, January 25, 2011 10:29 PM

A couple of days ago, I almost seriously injured two students who tried to cross Summit Avenue from north to south, at the crosswalk near Finn Street. I was traveling westbound on Summit behind another car as we approached the crosswalk (I live just east of St. Thomas on Portland, so I am well aware of the crosswalk).

As often happens, the ability of the driver of the car ahead and me to see any possible pedestrians planning to cross Summit was blocked by a van parked illegally just east of the crosswalk in a no-parking zone.

As the driver ahead of me approached a position where he/she could see the sidewalk at the crosswalk, he/she hit the brake just a little, but not for long …The brake lights briefly flashed, and he/she kept moving right along. I suppose we were doing around 20-25 mph, certainly well below the posted 30 mph.

I might add that the roads had a light covering of snow from the flurries we have been experiencing the last week or so almost daily.

When I was able to see the sidewalk at the crosswalk, around the front of the van, I saw two male students moving in front of the van in the crosswalk.

This all happened so fast that all I could do is hit the brakes and hope I could stop — no time to even blow the horn. The students did not look in my direction at all, just walked along like there was no auto traffic there. My car and I slid right through the crosswalk. There was no chance of stopping, maybe not even if the pavement was dry.

I do not know what prevented my hitting the students, but I suppose they caught my car out of the corner of their eyes, and they stopped short of my passing. It was really close.

I might add that somewhat the same situation exists for pedestrian traffic moving from the south side of Summit, north near Finn Street. There is less chance of a vehicle blocking drivers’ vision of the crossing, but the law outlined below applies here as well, of course. The object is to not force a driver to slam on the brakes because of late entry into the crosswalk.

So, what is happening here?  Two things, with the darn vans, buses and cars parking too close to the crosswalk on the east side. Sometimes I see them actually blocking part or all of the crossing, and obviously students (all pedestrians really) do not understand the law involving crosswalks and also do not take their safety into consideration as one should in crossing the street. Anybody crossing any street should expect vehicles at any time from any direction and should look in every direction before proceeding out into the street.

In reading the law, one will find out that a crosswalk does not guarantee the pedestrian a free passage safe from all vehicles passing by. First, lots of drivers ignore or are ignorant of the law.

Second, the law stating that vehicles must stop only applies to when the pedestrian is actually off the curb and into the crosswalk, not when they are still on the curb or approaching the crosswalk.

Third, the law requires the pedestrian to judge whether the vehicle can make a safe stop short of the crosswalk BEFORE they step into the crosswalk, something very few pedestrians around St. Thomas do.

Forcing a passing vehicle to slam on its brakes can cause sliding of vehicles into pedestrians or collisions by following vehicles not expecting to stop. Unfortunately, vehicles are required to stop any time a pedestrian is off the curb, and sometimes this is sudden.

Somehow we need to prevent vehicles from illegally parking and stopping anywhere near this crossing. Perhaps a bump out or a fence along the curb would help here. Getting actual police enforcement of course is hard to do.

I would hate to see injuries or death resulting from this dangerous area.

This might also be a good time to remind students that they MUST press the pedestrian crossing buttons at the Cretin/Summit intersection in order to get a walk light and a longer crossing time. They must be reminded that they are not crossing legally when there is a “do not walk” sign, and there are left turns that prevent crossing until the green arrow goes off, so don’t cross unless you have a “walk” sign.

Scott Heiderich, St. Thomas neighbor

This item was posted in Letters From Readers, Opinions and has 7 comments so far.

7 Comments

  1. Nancy Johnson
    Jan. 26, 2011 8:28 AM

    Perhaps the driver was following the vehicle in front of him too closely, and also driving too fast for conditions. Knowing there are pedestrians in the area and with fresh snow on the road, 20 to 25 mph may have been too fast.

  2. Tyler Chase
    Jan. 27, 2011 9:23 AM

    I think it would be safe to say that both drivers AND pedestrians need to be more aware and more careful around those crosswalks and intersections.

  3. TJ Murphy
    Jan. 27, 2011 11:36 AM

    The “neighbors” seem to always say, St.Thomas drivers and St.Thomas pedestrains need to be more careful. Seems Scott thinks only St.Thomas students need a public safety class. Yes, Everyone should be extra careful and also obey the law. The “neighbors” need to be careful too.
    Neighbors, Please clean up after walking your dogs on St.Thomas land.

  4. Stephan Schriver
    Jan. 29, 2011 12:32 PM

    Here’s a law to obey: pedestrians *always* have the right of way. I understand the driver’s issue with pedestrians that dart out into intersections without looking– i.e., his point about not having the right of way until you are actually in the intersection– but a couple of things about this are fishy:

    1.) 25 miles per hour is too fast to be going when you *know* that you are approaching an uncontrolled crosswalk (like the ones across Summit) even in normal conditions. It is even more dangerous on slick roads.

    2.) The illegally parked van provides a hazard that should have made the driver even more cautious.

    3.) It is clear that the students were in the intersection (in front of the parked van) as the driver approached. Otherwise, why would the car in front of him tap his breaks? To give the students a chance to cross, perhaps?

    4.) If you saw the brake lights in front of you go on, shouldn’t that be a pretty good indicator that there might be pedestrians ready to cross the crosswalk that you are approaching?

    I’m sorry, but attentive drivers should very rarely have to slam the brakes, even if somebody else is creating the hazard, and especially not at low speeds.

    I agree with the bit about Summit and Cretin, though– proceed at your own risk!

  5. Bryan Hamilton
    Feb. 15, 2011 3:25 AM

    Mr. Chase said it best. In my experience in driving around the campus (both as a student and a community member) I can say Ive seen my fair share of careless UST students crossing the street and inattentive drivers. The traffic laws may favor the pedestrian (and no, based in the law the pedestrian does not *always* have the right of way) but the responsibility of being safe does not fall only on those operating motor vehicles (or any type of vehicle for that matter). Community safety is the responsibility of everyone.

  6. Stephan Schriver
    Jun. 12, 2011 8:02 PM

    “(and no, based in the law the pedestrian does not *always* have the right of way)”

    When they’re in a crosswalk, or waiting on one side of the crosswalk with no traffic light (as is the situation on Summit), they sure as heck do. Look it up.

  7. tj murphy
    Jun. 16, 2011 11:18 PM

    Hey Scott, Is this a screen play? Popcorn, please.

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