sitemap Pedestrian Rules

The Science and Politics of Bicycle Driving

Pedestrian Rules

Pedestrians follow somewhat different rules from drivers because pedestrians have much better maneuverability. Pedestrians can stop and change direction almost instantaneously, but drivers of wheeled vehicles cannot. Pedestrians also travel at speeds an order of magnitude slower than typical vehicle speeds, which means that merging pedestrian and vehicle traffic into the same travel lanes would severely reduce the convenience of vehicle travel. For these reasons pedestrian travel is segregated onto sidewalks on the side of those roads where vehicle speed is important. On roadways where there are no sidewalks and vehicle operators wish to pass, pedestrians are usually required to yield sufficient passing space on the roadway surface by stepping sideways. This is most important in darkness, where motorists may have difficulty seeing pedestrians who are not ordinarily equipped with lights or reflectors. Pedestrians walking on narrow roads without sidewalks must walk facing vehicular traffic in order to know when it is necessary to yield, especially at night. Note that the slow travel speed of pedestrians walking toward traffic does not significantly reduce the available reaction time for motorists or pedestrians.

Rather than expecting pedestrians to utilize destination positioning at intersections, which would require pedestrians to merge with vehicle traffic, traffic law requires pedestrians to turn at right angles and cross streets by yielding to thru-traffic, by waiting for priority from a traffic signal, or by using crosswalks (marked or unmarked). But without the benefits of destination positioning, many conflicts are created between the paths of drivers and the paths of pedestrians. Drivers turning to or from cross streets and driveways often interrupt the paths of pedestrians walking straight on the sidewalk or crosswalk. Drivers or pedestrians must often stop suddenly when a conflict appears and someone must yield. This can be frustrating to both drivers and pedestrians, and can also be very dangerous. The danger is mitigated somewhat because the straight-traveling pedestrian is moving slowly enough to see vehicles and be seen by drivers for what is usually an adequate period of time for either party to react in advance of a potential collision, and because pedestrians can yield quickly. Segregation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic is therefore a compromise that allows vehicle traffic to move with relative convenience, while also allowing pedestrians to utilize their maneuverability and stop at any time to interact with other people or facilities in the streetscape.