Crosswalks don’t prevent pedestrian accidents, study says |

Crosswalks don’t prevent pedestrian accidents, study says

Throughout the city of South Lake Tahoe, crossing U.S. Highway 50 on foot can be a terrifying adventure. And for drivers, avoiding pedestrians in the middle of the highway, children and strollers in tow, is a common and equally terrifying experience.

However, painting crosswalks on the asphalt solves nothing, according to Ron Sykes, chief of traffic operations for the California Department of Transportation’s District 3. In fact, he said painted crosswalks create a dangerously false sense of security among pedestrians, contributing greatly to vehicle vs. pedestrian accidents.

After numerous traffic studies, Sykes said Caltrans now tries to keep painted crosswalks to a minimum – a solution that has significantly reduced overall accidents.

“Basically, we don’t like to paint crosswalks because there is a large misconception among pedestrians that they can just step out onto a crosswalk and be perfectly safe,” Sykes said. “As a result, there are hundreds, thousands of accidents – and the pedestrian always looses.”

In the last 12 months, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department recorded eight bicycle and nine pedestrian vs. vehicle accidents, according to the department’s Sgt. Les Scott. That means almost every month and a half, a pedestrian or bicyclist gets hit by a car. There are 18 painted crosswalks along U.S. Highway 50 between the state line and the “Y” intersection, most accompanied by traffic lights. But according to Scott, that still does not solve the underlying and dangerous problem of pedestrians and drivers not paying attention.

“In my opinion, there are not enough pedestrian crossings along Highway 50,” Scott said. “But the problem really is, in terms of public safety, that it’s safer to have fewer painted crosswalks – because at a crossing without traffic lights, drivers rarely stop or even slow down, and pedestrians just walk out as if nothing could possibly happen to them.”

The greatest pedestrian misconception, according to both Scott and Sykes, is that they have the right-of-way vs. cars. In fact, a pedestrian is just as responsible for causing an accident when he or she steps into the street without checking oncoming traffic. Although pedestrians can legally cross a street at any road intersection, with or without a painted crossing, if they fail to observe traffic flow, the pedestrian is breaking the law. Because most of South Lake Tahoe borders the highway, Scott said the city code forbids crossing the highway where there is no intersection or designated crosswalk.

“During the 21 years I have been up here, most vehicle vs. pedestrian accidents are caused by pedestrians walking illegally into the road,” Scott said. “Another major contributing factor in this town, of course, is alcohol.”

A pedestrian crossing, without traffic lights, was recently eliminated from the highway between the Presbyterian Church and the American Legion building. Sykes said accidents were eliminated as soon as Caltrans did that.

“We had a concentration of accidents at that crosswalk. We removed the paint and the accidents disappeared,” Sykes said. “It seems unimaginable but, you remove the paint, and you automatically increase safety.”

By law, Sykes said pedestrians are forbidden to step onto the street if he or she is forcing a car to stop suddenly. But once a pedestrian is in a crosswalk or street intersection, cars are required to stop – whether there are painted lines on the ground, or not.

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