Confusion at crosswalks on multi-use paths

The crosswalk on a multi-use path has a mixed identity, unless the crossing is signalized. Motorists must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, but on the other hand, a stop sign facing the path normally means that cyclists yield to traffic on the road. It is certainly crucial for cyclists to slow, sometimes even stop, to check for cross traffic, and for motorists to yield to cyclists already in the crosswalk, but, again, the stop sign would normally indicate that the cyclists must yield. Confusion arises when a cyclist stops and intends to yield, then a motorist also stops — “you go first.” “No, you go first.” This causes unnecessary delay for both when the cyclist intended to cross behind the motorist, but now must wait until the motorist stops. Danger arises in addition when a motorist in a more distant lane does not stop. That motorist’s vehicle may be concealed from the cyclist by the one stopped in the closer lane — leading to the classic and ineptly-named “multiple-threat” collision. (Two crossing vehicles are involved, but the one in the nearer lane is stopped and does not pose a threat.) There would potentially be legal confusion as well in case of a collision, as both the motorist and the cyclist might claim that the other should have yielded!

8 responses to “Confusion at crosswalks on multi-use paths

  1. Yes, there is confusion. Motorists are not recognizing that bicyclists are NOT pedestrians, though cyclists confuse the issue by riding across crosswalks often, instead of dismounting and crossing as pedestrians. The confusion and danger is solved by cyclists dismounting at these crossWALKs and walking the crossWALK. Easy. Simple.

  2. @Markk02474

    The solution you recommend is reasonable at a crosswalk which connects sidewalk segments. Cyclists may operate as pedestrians in the crosswalk, but they also may ride in the street, according to the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles. The rules are clear and the cyclist may choose either option at will. Children, in particular, and families with children, may use the sidewalk and crosswalk; or that may be the most convenient option at the beginning or end of a trip.

    Your solution is unreasonable at a path crossing, where it poses two problems by eliminating the option to operate as a driver of a vehicle: 1: it is much slower: cyclists shouldn’t be forced to become pedestrians arbitrarily in mid-trip, and can’t be expected to comply; and 2: because it is slower, it is often less efficient for traffic in the cross street as well. A cyclist who can cross in 1/3 or less the time of a pedestrian doesn’t need as long a gap in the cross traffic, or as often require the cross traffic to stop. In addition, a cyclist walking with the bicycle broadside to cross traffic is at more risk than a pedestrian in the event that a driver does not yield.

    The better solution at path crossings is either signalization, or something else which I haven’t heard of or figured out yet.

  3. We be working on this issue in the greater Portland Maine area. First clarification question is, it seems very confusing for all users when a stop sign is at the trail intersection especially when it is apparently inferred that “stop” means “yield” for cyclists. Inconsistent at the very least. Is there there a clarification of this?

  4. @WPNiehoff

    I just got back from a week’s vacation on Cape Cod and did enough riding on the Cape Cod Rail Trail to discern what I can describe as a trend.

    As motorists have become more accustomed to the trail crossings, they have increasingly gotten into the habit of stopping and waiting for cyclists to cross.

    This works best for the child and novice cyclists who predominate on the trail, many of whom have poor skills at bike-handling, and at evaluating gaps in traffic traffic — but delay is greater for both bicyclists and motorists. I can be waiting, completely stopped, outside the crosswalk, clearly yielding right of way, or maybe not even intending to cross, yet motorists will stop. I find it annoying when I could easily have crossed ahead of a vehicle, but instead must wait to make sure it will stop and that it is not concealing another vehicle in a more distant lane. There has been a transition from rudeness to politeness which often is excessive. Sometimes I wave the vehicle on before crossing, because that would still be more efficient and/or safer.

    At some intersections, I saw signs instructing cyclists to walk across. Walking increases the amount of time in the intersection, the gap in traffic needed, and delay both for the cyclist and for cross traffic. I can’t see how it can improve safety except for cyclists whose skills are so poor that the faster crossing increases the risk of failure to notice cross traffic, or of loss of control. A bicycle, whether walked or ridden, is several feet wide in profile, and much less maneuverable than a pedestrian. The bicyclist’s speed compensates for this but that advantage is lost when walking the bicycle.

    One complication of American law and design practice is that they don’t identify a waiting area outside the crosswalk for people who intend to cross. Road traffic is required to yield only to pedestrians (or bicyclists) who have entered the crosswalk. If there were a designated waiting area, there would be less confusion.

    Where a path crosses a road with heavy traffic or multiple lanes, or at a complicated intersection such as the one shown here, only signalization or grade separation really addresses the provlems well, in my opinion.

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  6. @John S. Allen
    The sort of confusion you describe may have cost Gordon Gray his life last Wednesday after he collided with a cement truck. The sheriff’s department says that Gray, a 70-year-old bicyclist from Washington state, was cycling on a MUP when he ran a stop sign, entered a street running parallel to the MUP and was struck.

    King County Sheriff’s Sgt. Stan Seo says the Kenmore man was biking southbound on 65th Avenue Northeast Wednesday morning when he was hit by a cement truck heading west on Northeast 175th Street. Seo said Friday that according to investigators, it appears the cyclist did not stop at a stop sign and was hit in the intersection. He says the cyclist had turned off the Burke-Gilman Trail shortly before the accident.
    The Associated Press,

    If one accepts Sgt. Seo’s account of the events leading to the collision, then Gray was cycling on the MUP when he turned onto 65th Avenue to enter Northeast 175th street. (See this Google street map.)

    Note that the Google map shows three stop signs of possible relevance. The stop sign on 65th Avenue is located just north of the MUP and crosswalk. The other two stop signs are located on the MUP at opposite ends of the crosswalk.

    Once Gray entered 65th Avenue from the MUP and headed south, did Gray have a legal obligation to stop at the stop sign on 65th Avenue? I don’t think so, because after turning south onto 65th Avenue the stop sign was behind Gray and facing north.

    Let’s assume Gray committed a traffic violation (running a stop sign) when he turned from the MUP onto 65th Avenue. Does that mean Gray is legally at fault for a collision which occurred on his subsequent turn from 65th Avenue onto Northeast 175th Street?

    The account given by local law enforcement suggests Gordon Gray will be blamed for his own death, even if Gray is not fully at fault. That seems like an injustice for Gray, an undeserved vindication for confusing cycling infrastructure, and fuel for more of the ugly jeers that accompany the deaths of cyclists who truly are at fault.

  7. Pingback: Another crosswalk confusion, and a fatality | John S. Allen's Bicycle Blog

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