I’ve often felt, driving or walking, a lot of confusion about pedestrian crossings. Obviously when there’s a marked crosswalk, a pedestrian has the right to cross. And I suppose when there’s a stop sign, a driver should wait for a pedestrian. What about when there’s neither?
Though I imagine a lot of complexity to it, as it turns out, Minnesota’s pedestrian statute, 169.21, is actually quite blunt:
“Where traffic-control signals are not in place or in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk. The driver must remain stopped until the pedestrian has passed the lane in which the vehicle is stopped […].” (169.21 Subd.2a)
So essentially the rule of thumb is that a car must stop at any intersection unless controls are in place. This wasn’t that surprising for a residential grid, but it just didn’t seem right for a busy intersection like West 3rd Street and Highway 3. So I asked a helpful Mn/DOT engineer who confirmed that, yes, even at the intersection, cars must yield to pedestrians.
So while that is the rule of thumb, there are several limitations:
As mentioned in the above quote, if there is a traffic light, pedestrians must abide by it.
Reasonable stopping distance
169.21 2a also specifies that “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.”
Pedestrians must use mixed-grade crossings when provided
169.21 3b specifies that “Any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.”
What about bicycles?
People operating bicycles are not considered pedestrians. If a bicyclist wanted the rights of a pedestrian s/he could dismount and walk the bicycle temporarily — helpful to keep in mind for difficult-to-cross roads like West 5th St (Hwy 19).
Of course, the illegality of ignoring pedestrians does not seem to affect all drivers. I’m just amazed to see Malt-O-Meal employees crossing 5th Street. There are several warning signs both directions of pedestrian crossing, big flashing lights at the well-painted crossing, and occasionally even fluorescent yellow “STATE LAW STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS IN CROSSWALK” signs in the middle of the road. There are still cars that don’t stop.
Why? Because they don’t think the pedestrian is going to exercise his or her rights. Which is mostly true: we as pedestrians are not as aggressive as we should be. While I’m not advocating anyone walk out in front of a moving car “which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield,” being more assertive would go a long way to making pedestrian crossings safer and driving calmer.