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Vélo is the French word for bike.

Ambiguous Yield-to-Pedestrian Statutes

In an Opinion piece in Woodbury Patch, Angela Johnson comments on the ambiguous nature of Minnesota’s crosswalk laws.
In Woodbury, Don’t Cross Me

While it’s unlawful for any driver to not stop and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk, the law doesn’t address whether drivers must stop for pedestrians waiting on the curb to cross at intersections with no signal.

So drivers and pedestrians alike flounder in self-righteous confusion. Some drivers honk in disgust at other drivers who don’t stop for curbside waiting walkers, while some walkers wave off a stopped vehicle, preferring a clear roadway before crossing. Without uniformity, there’s hesitancy and angry people.

As cyclists are pedestrians whenever they enter a crosswalk, this commentary is just as valid for cyclists at many trail crossings.

I think the statutes intend for motorists to yield to pedestrians waiting to cross even if the pedestrian has not physically stepped into the roadway, however, this is not what the law says. Either way, Statute 169.21 could use clarification. If the roadway is experiencing an unending stream of traffic (e.g. rush hour), does the statute intend for pedestrians to wait indefinitely to cross? Or Does the law intend to give pedestrians Moses-like power to part the vehicles on the roadway at will to cross, regardless of roadway context? If the intent is somewhere between these extremes, how could you craft a clear statute stating as much?

3 comments to Ambiguous Yield-to-Pedestrian Statutes

  • My thought is that if you’re standing at a crosswalk a step away from crossing and looking at the traffic, that should be interpreted as intent to cross. Realistically, how often are people going to just hang out at the very edge of the road and watch cars? The only revisions would be adding intent to cross to all clauses that mention crossing and to define intent to cross as standing at a pace or two distance from the roadway and facing the direction of crossing.

    But Oregon has clarified it as such:

    “For the purposes of this section, a pedestrian is crossing the roadway in a crosswalk when any part or extension of the pedestrian, including but not limited to any part of the pedestrians body, wheelchair, cane, crutch or bicycle, moves onto the roadway in a crosswalk with the intent to proceed.”

    So you have to move onto the roadway in part to be considered crossing.

  • I have been occasionally confused by couples or groups of pedestrians — not clear if they’re just chatting it up on the corner or waiting to cross. The nice thing about modern curb ramps is that we have a pretty unambiguous indication that peds are going to cross: the truncated dome mat. If they’re standing on the mat or closer to the roadway, they’re 99% likely to be getting ready to cross. Not sure how that standard could be put into law, but it’s nice to have it for my own use.

    While we’re on the subject, I’d like to see the role of bikes in crosswalks cleared up. MN law says they’re pedestrians regardless, though it seems engineers consistently try to thwart this with those decorative little stop signs they throw in front of them. (The stop signs, by my understanding, seem to be unenforceable, since they’re not a standard size for traffic control, and the bicyclists is a pedestrian in that circumstance. Nevertheless, they give a great excuse for drivers to honk at a cyclist who “runs” that stop sign.) I really like Wisconsin’s law, which basically says a bike is a pedestrian in a crosswalk if they’re using a crosswalk in a manner consistent with safe use as a pedestrian. I think this is a reasonable, enforceable standard.

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