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Please don’t stop for me when I’m waiting to cross the street…

August 25, 2018, 1:51 PM

On Thursday, while I was waiting for a bus, I witnessed a near accident involving a pedestrian at a crosswalk on Layhill Road near Glenfield Local Park in the Glenmont area of Montgomery County.  In other words, this location, seen from approximately my vantage point:

Layhill Road and Saddlebrook Park
Image: Google Street View

This view is facing approximately south, putting the northbound lanes on the left and the southbound lanes on the right.  There is a median in the middle of the road.  Southbound traffic has a turnout for traffic making left turns into the park police station (entrance visible at left).  There are wide bike lanes on either side of the road.  There is also a Metro facility entrance at this location (out of frame to the right).  This intersection is not a big one by any means.  There are no signals.  Ride On has a bus stop on either side of the road at this location.

What happened was that a woman was crossing Layhill Road via the crosswalk after alighting a Ride On bus on the northbound side of Layhill Road.  She crossed the northbound lanes without incident, and reached the median.  She then waited in the median for traffic to clear on the southbound side.  A vehicle stopped for her in the left lane.  She responded to that and started crossing.  She couldn’t see that a person driving a Toyota FJ Cruiser was coming up at full speed in the right lane that didn’t look like it was about to stop.  Another person at the bus stop saw what was about to happen and shouted at the woman to stop.  She did, and the Toyota driver continued on at full speed.  The woman thanked the other person for saving her life after it was all over.

I feel like the whole incident could have been prevented if the driver in the left lane, who stopped, had been less “courteous” and just kept on moving.  Maryland law requires that traffic stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.  However, the person crossing was in the median, in a pedestrian refuge area designed to split the crossing into two phases.  This is part of the median, and it is not the crosswalk.  The car’s stopping in the lane did two things to cause this near accident.  First, it placed social pressure on the pedestrian to hurry up and cross the street.  The idea is that now there’s a person that has stopped, and is waiting for you to cross the street.  Therefore, hurry up and cross the street so that they can go on with their day after doing you a favor by stopping.  Then the other thing that the stopping caused is physical: the car’s presence blocked the pedestrian’s ability to see the right lane, and more importantly, blocked the Toyota driver’s view of the pedestrian.  Here’s the area from a close approximation of the pedestrian’s point of view:

Layhill Road and Saddlebrook Park
Image: Google Street View
(Note that this image is from 2012, when the pedestrian refuge area had not yet been built, and before the crosswalk was slightly repositioned to be further back.)

When I posted about this on Facebook, a few folks were inclined to blame the Toyota driver for not stopping.  I find it hard to blame the Toyota driver in this scenario, because they couldn’t see the hazard.  I’m inclined to blame the pedestrian for beginning to cross the road when they could not verify that the road was completely safe to cross, and I’m inclined to blame the driver in the left lane for stopping for a pedestrian who was not in the crosswalk.  And ultimately, it is up to the pedestrian to ensure their own safety, because regardless of whether the law is in the pedestrian’s favor or not, if there’s an accident, the pedestrian is still dead.  The driver could have been completely wrong, but that doesn’t mean much if you’re not alive to find out about it.

I’ve crossed Layhill Road at this location many times, going in both directions.  The most frustrating thing is when I’m standing in the refuge area, looking for a wide opening in order to cross two lanes, and someone stops for me.  And it’s always a person in the left lane that stops.  Now you’ve just blocked my view of the rest of the road, and I can no longer guarantee my own safety crossing the road as long as you are there.  So I wave the people past.  They can get mad all that they want that their allegedly kind gesture was rebuffed, because they shouldn’t have stopped in the first place.  I need to be able to see.

In addition, the driver is putting themselves in danger by stopping like that.  There are no traffic control devices of any kind in this area, and the speed limit is 40 (which means that most drivers go 50).  No one is expecting a vehicle to stop in the middle of the road in that area – especially in an area where people are going at that speed.  Therefore, you are now a hazard to other drivers who were not expecting you to stop, and who may not be able to see a pedestrian ahead because you’re blocking them.

It’s funny – everyone talks about how we should be courteous and look out for everyone else on the road, but the roads actually work best when everyone is behaving a bit selfishly.  In other words, you worry about you, and let me worry about me.  I don’t need your “assistance”.  When I’m crossing the street at an unsignalized crosswalk, I assume that the drivers will not stop for me.  Therefore, I operate under that assumption and ensure that there is a wide clear space in front of me before I start across.  I know that I will make it across safely when I have that.  Likewise, drivers should not stop for a pedestrian on the side of the road that is intending to cross.  They’re in a place of safety, so don’t foul your lane to try to “help” that person across.  I can assure you that they do not need your assistance crossing the road.

I believe that in this case, the best solution to prevent this from being deadly is education about best practices when driving.  With this being a relatively low volume crossing, there’s no need to even consider any of the various traffic control devices for pedestrians that I wrote about a while back at this point.  Just don’t stop at unsignalized intersections if you are not absolutely obligated to.  After all, stopping where you’re not supposed to is not courteous or safe.  That’s dangerous.  So don’t do it.

Categories: Roads, Silver Spring