We stopped in Batavia for a bathroom break when a motorist wandered into the foyer and asked in a distraught fashion what were the rules behind flashing lights on Route 31.
Pedestrians had activated the yellow flasher and proceeded immediately to begin walking across the thoroughfare. He nearly hit them because he was on top of them just as they began crossing!
I have written about this problem once before. In fact I am fairly sure that at least one fatality MAY have been caused by the use of these amber/yellow rectangular blinking lights.
Cyclists are firmly convinced that more of this sort of thing is needed to keep them safe. But these lights are in fact dangerous. Not inherently so, but nobody is taking the time to explain to both motorists and pedestrians how to “use” them. Groups that purport to be bicycle advocates (e.g. Active Transit Alliance) are suggesting to municipalities strapped for cash that they adopt these cheaper alternatives to stop lights.
But what is not happening is that much needed step to “educate” the general public on how to use them safely.
Pedestrians Are Unwilling To Share The Responsibility
These days when it comes to things like crosswalks and crossing signals some folks are emboldened by the mere presence of a light or for that matter a crosswalk. When they push the signal they believe it is their right (or even duty) to force cars to stop by boldly entering the crosswalk. I have watched countless pedestrians simply step off the curb and begin marching across the street because state law says you can.
They don’t even bother to look both ways before beginning their journey. They studiously avoid looking at the approaching traffic! That is what the gentleman who came into the police station in Batavia was wondering about.
He by law is only required to come to a stop when the lights are flashing. He might not even know this is part of the law. But the problem is greater than his ignorance, it deals with the unwillingness of pedestrians to safely choose a moment when crossing is ‘safe enough to attempt‘.
All intersections that have stop lights are generally equipped with models which show three rounded lights. Long ago we realized that physics played a part in the ability of motorists to obey these lights without killing themselves or others. The key point here is that there is a ‘transition period‘ required to safely stop. So a yellow or amber light was added to make a perfect trio.
Pedestrians and cyclists who simply cross an intersection ‘without pausing‘ are inviting injury or even death. We need therefore to introduce PSAs for the general public so that everyone is on the same page. It would also be nice if there was a means of signaling when the transition period has ended so that pedestrians and cyclists know when to expect a cessation in traffic.
Not only should these PSAs admonish the correct protocol for the use of these lights they should be addressed at both motorists and those on foot or on bicycles!
Treating Stop Signs As Yields