Hurray for Pedestrian Improvements! Now, If Only Drivers Would Respect Them…

A mother and her kids crossing with little problem at 112th and Wilmington, thanks to the new yield lines (photo: sahra)

Soon after taking some city planners on a tour through Watts, a new bike lane appeared along Central Avenue, between Century and 95th St. A week or two later, the owner of the Watts Cyclery, Stalin Medina, told me that parking had been removed from in front of his shop at 112th and Wilmington and yield lines (a row of solid white triangles pointing toward approaching vehicles) had been painted at the crosswalk there.

The improvements at Wilmington were especially pleasing, given that the crosswalk is often used by children in the area going back and forth to the elementary school that sits on that corner. The removal of parking ideally makes it easier for drivers to see children waiting to cross while the yield lines hopefully create more of a buffer between pedestrians and cars.

Da-yum,” I thought. “I had no idea the city was so responsive!”

It turns out they are not.

The improvements at Wilmington and 112th were the result of a separate investigation by the folks from the LADOT’s Southern District. Upon discovering it could be improved, they made the changes so the crossing would meet DOT standards. Similarly, the DOT’s Bikeways Section had been searching for opportunities to implement elements of the bike master plan, and the Central Ave. stretch had come up on NavigateLA.

Oddly happy coincidence or not, it was exciting to see the changes and a great opportunity to observe the extent to which new pedestrian markings had any impact on driver behavior.

After a few hours observing the crosswalk in front of the Watts Cyclery yesterday, one thing became clear to me: driver behavior appeared to depend on whom was trying to cross. Children (with or without their mothers) were given wider berth; drivers actually stayed behind the yield lines. When Medina decided to head across the street to grab something from a convenience shop, he had to adopt the Heisman stance to fend off cars that encroached into the crosswalk while he was still in their lane. A youth alone on a bike, below, had to wait quite a while for people to give him space to cross at all.

A youth on a bike waits in vain for people to give him space to cross at 112th and Wilmington (photo: sahra)

In short, in my brief (and decidedly unscientific) survey, I didn’t see a whole lot of change in driver behavior. Prior to the improvements, the wait to cross could be quite long and cars approaching a pedestrian might speed up to get through the crossing before the person made it to their lane. This was especially true at peak congestion hours.

Now, it does seem that when drivers were in less of a hurry and children were involved, drivers were more likely to respect the yield lines. Other pedestrians still seemed to have to force the issue a bit, making their way across uneasily and establishing eye contact with drivers to make sure they were being seen. It is a little disheartening to have confirmation that now that drivers can see the pedestrians better (thanks to the removal of parking), they are simply choosing not to yield for them.

One significant change I did notice was that when the lights up the street were red and Wilmington was backed up a few blocks, northbound cars would stop behind the yield line and leave the intersection and pedestrian crossing clear. That space could give a pedestrian trying to cross at a peak congestion hour just the break they needed to be able to move into the crossing.

Although the benefits appear to be mixed and a signal would be the best fix, I would argue that the new markings are of value. As with other pedestrian infrastructure and even bike lanes, more signage gives the pedestrian or cyclist more legitimacy to be in the road. I just wish it didn’t take so long for drivers to come around to that perspective.

Have you observed similar behavior at crosswalks in your neighborhood? Let us know below.

  • Ummm… maybe that’s why LADOT does these sorts of “improvements” – so they can say that they did something, but not actually impede the rule of cars on all of L.A.’s streets.

  • Anonymous

    Crosswalks create a catch-22 problem. Motorists are legally required to stop for pedestrians already in the crosswalk, but pedestrians can’t legally enter the crosswalk until traffic has passed, so in heavy traffic, it can be impossible for pedestrians to safely cross.

    Where traffic can be heavy, we need nothing less than HAWK signals or a hand signal that carries the legal weight of a red light.

  • Advance yield lines are a must with this type of crosswalk. Often, where yield lines don’t exist, a driver in one lane will stop right at the edge of the crosswalk to yield to a pedestrian, and drivers in the adjacent lane, unable to see the pedestrian around the other car, will zoom right through without even realizing what they’ve done (even though it’s *always* prudent to determine why a driver in another lane has stopped before proceeding). I’ve seen this play out on multiple occasions at a crosswalk I frequently walk past (but never use) at Olympic and Burnside in the Miracle Mile district.

    I agree, though, that it’s generally a challenge to get drivers to stop for you at any marked crosswalk where there isn’t also a red light or HAWK signal. And heaven help you if you try to cross a busy street in an unmarked crosswalk (i.e., at any corner — legally the same as if there were lines painted on the pavement).

  • Chris Rider

    Very cool! Something I worked on showed up (in a positive light) on streetsblog. (I initiated the work for the 112th and Wilmington stuff)

  • sahra

     Thanks so much, Chris! This was an intersection that we had shown the city planners when we took them on a bike tour of the area shortly before the improvements were made. It is one that has been worrisome for a long time and the owner of the bike shop is thrilled that the changes were made. He asked for more, in fact, asking if more parking could be removed because there is a guy who parks lemons for sale that he buys at auctions all up and down the street. On the day I was there, they were hiding out back in a vacant lot behind the bike shop because it was a street cleaning day. Otherwise, they are normally there and make the street narrow for cyclists trying to move along it.

    We’d love to see more happen at this intersection, but are genuinely excited to see  the improvements that were made. Thanks again!

  •  I have not walked in that area, but I have seen Pedestrian right got stripped over the years. In the city, drivers tend to behave more. When I walked in Pasadena, the only thing I have worry about is make sure it is green light before I walk
    I live in Walnut. I walk from Walnut to Diamond Bar. Forget about the green lights. The cars will do best they could to kill me, so they can save 2 minutes. Yield sign, forget it. Drivers drive fast in the neighborhood. The worst part is freeway ramp. Cars drive very fast to enter the freeway. Oh, there is lights, most drivers ignore.
    Couple times, I got hit minor because some drivers just don’t care
    The worst part is if I mentioned these to in other forum (such as Yahoo), drivers still criticize me for not looking carefully even at green lights for pedestrians. No one cares
    Funny thing was when I was at Juneau, AK. I was taking the pictures. Then I realized I was in the middle of streets, and so many cars were waiting for me. Clearly, I was wrong doing that, but people in Juneau did not bother to honk me.
    In LA, I got honk all the time when I cross street at green lights. Those were nicer ones.A lot drivers just drive. forget about yield sign or stop sign, many drivers simply ignore

  • Joe B

    “pedestrians can’t legally enter the crosswalk until traffic has passed”

    I’m not familiar with this law. Do you have a reference?

    Pedestrians must exercise due care for their safety, and may not walk in front of a vehicle that is so close as to be an immediate hazard, but it’s almost always possible to enter the edge crosswalk without being actually in front of traffic.

  • Joe B

    There’s an easy solution to this.

    First, put up a big sign that says, “State Law: Yield to Pedestrians at Intersections”. (The sign shouldn’t be necessary, but apparently they aren’t teaching this in driver’s ed these days.)

    Then, put a cop behind that sign. Several cops, if necessary. Ticket every driver who fails to yield. Use the fines to pay the cops’ salary. Keep the cops there for as long as it takes, until drivers learn to yield. That last bit is key; just doing a “sting” for one day a year with a guy in a chicken suit (as LA likes to do) isn’t going to change driver behavior. Drivers need to understand that if they fail to yield, they WILL get caught sooner rather than later.

    Oh, and yes, I do observe similar behavior quite frequently, especially at unmarked crosswalks. I think that most drivers don’t know what unmarked crosswalks are.

  • Anonymous

    When the road is narrow, or the crosswalk starts in the middle of a turn, cars can drive so close to the curb that you don’t even have room to stand in the gutter.

  • Anonymous

     You’re talking about a “crosswalk sting.” Yes, we need more of those.

  • Erik Griswold

    But all the road engineers tell me that all drivers know that an unmarked cosswalk is and they will stop for me!

    Driver’s Ed?  Cut from most schools long ago.

    And let’s not forget, as most road engineers who remove crosswalks do, the high portion of drivers in this area who

    A) Are licensed elsewhere but drive in Southern California
    B) Are licensed in California, but learned to drive elsewhere (and didn’t get the crosswalk question on their quiz when they exchanged their non-California license for their California one.
    C) Are not licensed to drive period.

  • Chris Rider

    Sahra, send an email (or encourage the store owner to do so) to ladot.southerndistrict@lacity.org with the exact spot the problem’s occuring with the vehicles for sale and we’ll look into it.

  • sahra

     Thanks, I passed it on to the shop owner.

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