More and Better Crosswalks in the USA Would Save Many Lives

Just a few days ago, on June 11, 2018, NYSDOT Acting Commissioner Paul Karas announced a $62 million investment in the Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, here in our own home state of New York .   This multi-agency initiative will include the Department of Health, DMV, Capital District Transportation Authority and local enforcement agencies.  This is, of course, to be warmly welcomed, but let’s get straight to the point, the USA has a stunningly bad track record for pedestrian injuries and deaths, with almost exactly six thousand being killed nationwide, and a vastly greater number being injured, during the last statistical year alone.

Photograph of a crosswalk location sign in the USA
Crosswalk location sign, USA. (Copyright image, 2012.)

Mention crashes involving pedestrians in the USA and people tend to think either of drivers getting it dangerously wrong at crosswalks or pedestrians doing something illegal, such as jay-walking.  However, there is significantly more to it than that.

“Regrettably, the USA has a stunningly bad track record for pedestrian injuries and deaths, with almost exactly six thousand being killed nationwide, and a vastly greater number being injured, during the last statistical year (2016) alone.”  

Eddie Wren, CEO/Chief Instructor, ADoNA

Existing Crosswalks Often have Serious Problems

Many crosswalks in the U.S. have no advanced warning (yellow diamond) signs at all, and many have badly worn and hard to see white pavement markings on the actual road surface.  Either of these scenarios — let alone both — can make it much harder for drivers to notice what is arguably the most important safety feature on any road.

A photo of parked vehicles at the roadside, over the top of which can be seen what appears to be a warning roadsign for a pedestrian crosswalk ahead, but that isn't the case at all.
A seemingly good view of a sign warning of a crosswalk AHEAD, but that isn’t accurate. See the next photo. (Copyright image, 2017.)
A photo showing just how misleading and potentially dangerous the scenario in the previous photo was. Suddenly, we are right on top of a crosswalk and had insufficient warning, largely due to vehicles being allowed to park too close to the crosswalk itself.
Sudden danger! In the last photo, the sign looked like a warning for a crosswalk ahead but it wasn’t; it was a “crosswalk right here” sign, partially hidden by the parked, white Jeep (and the crosswalk itself effectively wasn’t visible at all due to a slight hillcrest. This is grossly inadequate planning and could easily result in the injury or death of a pedestrian. (Copyright image, 2017.)

Another issue, which often exacerbates the poor quality pavement markings and/or inadequate signs occurs when vehicles are allowed to park unacceptably close to crosswalks, not only can they partially hide the crosswalk itself from drivers but they also prevent drivers from seeing pedestrians in plenty of time, and vice versa.

A crosswalk location sign, the view of which has partially been blocked by parked vehicles, resulting in it now wrongly looking like a sign warning of a crosswalk up ahead -- a potentially dangerous scenario.
Once again, a blocked view of a sign (due to the parked vehicles) and as a result it suggests that it is a warning for a crosswalk up ahead, when that is not the case. (Copyright image, 2017.)
Photo of a pedestrian stepping out onto a crosswalk but having, up until that moment, been unable to see approaching vehicles and also being hidden from the view of approaching drivers; a dangerous situation caused by vehices in the USA being allowed to park far to close too crosswalks.
And here is an elderly pedestrian stepping out onto the crosswalk, yet he has only just come into sight for the approaching driver because of the parked vehicles. Such blocked views should *never* be permitted. (Copyright image, 2017.)

How should the danger of having parked vehicles too close to crosswalks be eradicated?  It is something that has been done very successfully in other countries for almost half-a-century, and here is a photo of a typical method as used in Britain:

Photo of a British pedestrian crossing (crosswalk) showning the zig-zag lines which denote that no parking is allowed and no overtaking.
The approach to a pedestrian crossing (crosswalk) in Britain. The zig-zag lines alongside each lane denote that parking in that area or overtaking the lead vehicle as it approaches the crossing is an offence (with very significant fines). The length of the zig-zag marked area is directly related to the speed limit. Not visible in this image, although present behind the moving vehicles, is a median island with safety fencing on both sides, to protect pedestrians waiting in the middle to cross the second half of the road. (Copyright image, 2018.)

And then there is the entirely unnecessary issue of inappropriate materials being used with which to “paint” the crosswalks.  Even regular, white crosswalks are commonly invisible on wet nights, and as you will see here, the use of bright colors is absolutely no guarantee that this helps in any way, although it could serve to confuse visiting drivers from overseas who cannot possibly be expected to know that the range of colors for certain crosswalks does not dictate different legal requirements (which it does not).

Photo of two supposedly bright yellow crosswalks that are effectively on rainy nights.
There are two crosswalks in this rainy-night scene, but because they have been created with inappropriate, inadequate paint, rather than thermoplastic or other suitable material with what is called a “high glass bead content,” look how lethally invisible they are! (Copyright image, 2017.)
Daytime photograph of what are supposedly very visible crosswalks. Indeed they are very visible in daylight, especially when the road is dry, but on wet nights they effectively disappear and become lethal.
This is exactly the same location as the previous photograph, the following morning. And somebody in authority thinks these supposedly highly-visible crosswalks are acceptable? No; sorry. The materials used are dreadfully inadequate in certain circumstances and such materials should be banned. (Copyright image, 2017.)

In some states, they prefer to paint crosswalks in bright colors to make them more conspicuous in daylight, but whether colors or the regular white are used, it is almost inevitable that unless thermoplastic or other materials with what is known as a high glass-bead content are used (rather than cheap paint), the crosswalks can effectively become invisible on wet nights.

Often, the most unacceptable situation of all involves those features called “unmarked crosswalks.”  A more accurate name for unmarked crosswalks is just “road!”  There are many times, especially at night or in bad weather, or perhaps at any time of day when there are a lot of parked vehicles on the sides of the road, when drivers who are not local will not be able to see whether there are intersections ahead, or if so, whether they are crossroads or whether or not the side streets have sidewalks (criteria for the existence of an “unmarked crosswalk” across the main street) so how can they possibly know that there actually is an unmarked crosswalk in such locations.  It is a frankly stupid situation:  Make proper crosswalks!

It goes much further than this, though, because the USA — by comparison with other developed countries that have far better road safety rates — actually has crosswalks with inadequate and sometimes unsafe designs.  Apart from inadequate signs and pavement markings, the lack of safety commonly falls into three categories:  (1) preventing vehicles parking close to crosswalks (or overtaking on the approach);  (2) safe median areas where pedestrians can wait before crossing the next traffic lanes;  (3) targetted lighting to help drivers see pedestrians at night.

Extra Crosswalks Are Very Much Needed

Most drivers would probably agree that some pedestrians cross the road where they shouldn’t, occasionally only a few yards from a crosswalk, but sometimes there can be no denying that such so-called jay-walking becomes inevitable through bureaucratic incompetence.

Photo of two pedestrians dangerously standing half way across a road in very low light.
Two darkly-clothed pedestrians dangerously standing in the middle of the road (in the center, left-turn-only lane) in dawn light, while trying to cross. Copyright image.

If YOU were directly across a road from where you need to be, and the nearest crosswalk — marked or “unmarked” — is maybe 200 yards away (or much farther), would you walk there and back, simply to get across the road or would you look for a gap in traffic and then hurry straight across?

Photograph of two women jay-walking in the USA.
In this instance, there were nearby crosswalks in both directions. Pedestrians are all-too-often at fault for simply not making the effort to be safe. (Copyright image, 2017.)

Yes, you would take the long walk?  Hmmm; I bet you wouldn’t always.  But now what if it’s raining hard?  Or maybe you are getting into your senior years and can’t walk very well?  Or perhaps you have two little children to get home and they are tired and crying?  Now would you make the 400+ yard, two-way walk to that distant crosswalk and back?  I bet ninety-nine percent of us would not.  So is it really that unreasonable for us all to simply expect that not every pedestrian will always use crosswalks?  If you are still answering that every person must and will always use crosswalks, go to the back of the class!

A better-than-average, mid-block crosswalk in Lake George, NY, USA.
A better-than-average, mid-block crosswalk at Lake George, New York State. With, better quality “paint,” clear parking restrictions on the approach side and some effective, solid protection for any pedestrians needing to wait in the median, this could become a first-class crosswalk. (Copyright image, 2017.)

But there is at least a partial solution to this inevitability.  The USA needs to “get it” that vehicle occupants are not some sort of superior beings who must always be given priority and delayed as little as possible.  All road users are born equal and must always remain equal.  Maximum safety is vastly more important than any make-believe “right” of drivers not to be delayed by “mere” pedestrians!  In many locations, well-placed mid-block crosswalks would greatly increase pedestrian safety.

And What About Sidewalks?

In too many U.S. towns and cities, there are no sidewalks at all on many streets, or even on busy, larger roads.  On others, there is quite commonly a sidewalk only on one side.  Each scenario — particularly the one with no sidewalks at all — undeniably makes it more dangerous for anyone to walk alongside the road.

An additional downside to this situation is that it actively discourages many Americans from walking anywhere, despite the fact that frequent walking has a remarkably positive effect on people’s long-term health and is to be encouraged.

Drivers’ Mindset (and the Golden Rule)

Our own, carefully-worded, person-to-person enquiries at Advanced Drivers of North America, with people such as military pilots, airline pilots, and many other professional, highly-capable people, has revealed that they are virtually all very willing to admit that they simply do not concentrate enough when driving a car.  Basically, they all acknowledge that they should but then admit that they don’t!

Interestingly, however, “concentration” is only the second-most important of the four essential requirements of truly good driving, and we teach these requirements on all of our courses.

In the meanwhile, here is the best-practice based Golden Rule of Safe Driving.

Distraction, Distraction, Distraction!

For this topic it might sound like a pun, but when it comes to road safety, distraction truly is a two-way street.

Yes, far too many people are being immature and irresponsible enough to make or take phone calls while driving (for even a hands-free conversation increases the risk of involvement in a fatal or serious-injury crash by a factor of four; it is NOT just hand-held phones that increase danger)!  And, as everyone now knows, texting or gaming is even more dangerous.  That does not, however, mean that we should forget about the dangers of phone conversations and focus solely on texting and similar keyboard use.

Anything at all that unjustifiably takes a driver’s eyes or mind off the road is distracted driving — end of story!

Photo of a driver with a GPS unit badly positioned and blocking some view directly ahead, but also very dangerously watching a video or television while driving.
A driver with a GPS unit badly positioned and blocking some view directly ahead, but also very dangerously watching a video or television while driving (and photographed from the passenger seat of our car as the offending driver was alongside us).  Even on a well-illuminated, well-marked crosswalk, any pedestrian would be in great danger from this driver.  Copyright image, 2017.

And on the other hand, far too many pedestrians and cyclists — both groups of whom come into the category known as Vulnerable Road Users [VRU] — do it too which is, of course, very dangerous indeed.

Photograph of a young lady texting on her phone while waiting to cross the road.
Sadly, around the world, people who have never witnessed the violent outcome of road fatalities blithely trust things like traffic lights to keep them safe and, for example, will keep on texting while crossing the road, oblivious to the fact that some drivers — often *distracted* drivers do run through red traffic lights (etc.). Copyright image, 2018.

Laws and Enforcement

Frankly, more stringent laws are needed in the USA in relation to cutting the number of road deaths.  Just because a pedestrian makes a bad judgement call and attempts to cross the road at a bad location or an inopportune moment, it emphatically does NOT mean that a driver who hits and quite possibly kills the pedestrian is somehow blameless.  Drivers have — or at least should have — an absolute responsibility to do their utmost to avoid contributing to any harm done to any other road user who is within range of those drivers’ vehicles.  Anything less is immoral, unethical and unacceptable.  Drivers having the “right of way” does not and must not also imply a right to kill anyone who gets in that way.


Key features of any long-overdue program to reduce the horrendously excessive number of pedestrian deaths each year in the USA must not only be better crosswalk facilities but also the need to create far more crosswalks.

Improvements to crosswalks need to include much more visible pavement markings and adequate, well-placed warning signs to make the crosswalks significantly more conspicuous.

Photograph of traffic in one lane static on a crosswalk while a pedestrian is wending her way between the stopped vehicles to cross the road. The danger of a moving vehicle in the other lane striking the pedestrian is very high.
Bans on passing any vehicles that are approaching a crosswalk or stopped at a crosswalk are essential if the hitting of pedestrians who are crossing is to be prevented. This is basic but is an absolute necessity. (Copyright image, 2018.)

There also need to be significant restrictions to prevent vehicles from parking anywhere near crosswalks, so that nobody’s view is in any way restricted by such vehicles, as well as a complete ban on overtaking on crosswalks or on the immediate approach to crosswalks.

Photograph of a disabled person in a wheelchair on a city crosswalk.
The criteria and adequacy of crosswalks must naturally meet the full safety requirements of all users, including visibility from sufficient distance, and not just the needs of standing, able-bodied walkers. (Copyright image, 2018.)

As mentioned above, safety at crosswalks will also be significantly increased if crosswalks are well-lit at night, so that pedestrians may be seen more easily.  And especially on roads with more than one lane each way, safety can also be greatly improved if a median island with a guard rails or safety fencing is added so that pedestrians may safely wait in the middle of the road for a gap in the second set of traffic they must cross.



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Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at:

4 thoughts on “More and Better Crosswalks in the USA Would Save Many Lives”

  1. I stopped at a crossing near me a couple of weeks ago (in Concord, North Carolina) to let two people cross from my right. A Ford F150 in a hurry drove right past me after I had been stopped long enough for the pedestrians to get three quarters of the way in front of my car. The car behind me was a Dodge Charger in Sheriff’s Department livery. The driver (a uniformed deputy) was too busy on his phone to bother going after the F150 which was going well in excess of the 45 mph limit. I truly despair at the appalling standard of driving here but this is what happens when 15 year-olds get a licence after a ten minute test. That F150 driver really could have killed two people due to his impatience and the apathy of the officer behind me was just shocking. Yes, it might have been a very urgent call but the disrespect shown by ignoring his presence and driving in such an aggressive and dangerous manner should have meant a stop farther up the road. I honestly thought that would happen, but no, it did not. The only way to make people drive better is education and rigorous enforcement of the laws. Road design is key, and so is vehicle design but you can’t do anything about the nut holding the steering wheel apart from try to change behaviour, and the fear of being caught is a very good way to do that. The human element is always going to be where it falls down. Education and enforcement. More dedicated traffic police. If people think they are going to get caught doing wrong that is really the best deterrent. I think you are doing a great job with the education part.

    1. Many thanks for your comment, Henry. I’m aware of your significant expertise in this field and your opinions will always be welcome.

  2. It’s great that this article mentions adding targeted lighting to crosswalks in order to help drivers see them at night. This would be a great way to keep any pedestrians safe since they’ll be more noticeable. When choosing what to add, it could help to research the different models and styles of pedestrian crosswalk lights to find something that is bright and noticeable.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tiffany. In general, some of the most conspicuous crosswalks I’ve seen have been in Canadian cities, where they use an overhead gantry with amber/orange flashing lights when pedestrians are crossing or are about to cross. As I recall, they are also very well illuminated in the context you mean, as well.

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