Friday Video – Crosswalk Audit

Yesterday I strapped a GoPro to my forehead and put Minnesota statute 169.21 subd. 2 to the test.

Here’s the video:


First of all, this went a lot better than I expected. I really thought I would get honked at and yelled at a lot more than I did. Crossing Lake street at least 15 times (the first few crossings are at 26th st. and Columbus Ave.), I got honked at exactly zero. Basically I felt like an obstacle that drivers saw and understood they needed to avoid. They would slow down or swerve if we were on a collision course, but they weren’t about to waste any time “remain[ing] stopped until the pedestrian has passed the lane in which the vehicle is stopped” per the statute.

In other words, even though drivers didn’t follow the letter of the law, and some did cut me off, most effectively yielded the right-of-way. Crossing Lake on foot felt like being in some “third-world” country, where traffic is more organic, and the avoidance of collisions relies more on the skill and attentiveness of road users than signals and laws –  quite plausibly safer and more efficient than whatever AASHTO has to offer.

With that said, there’s certainly a whole lot of room for improvement. It takes someone able-bodied enough to jump out of the way of a speeding car at the last second to really take on crossing Lake street in this manner. I think the way to achieve that improvement lies in both street design and modification of driver behavior. It felt like the drivers I encountered were simply trying to get where they were going efficiently while responding to the context. No one wants to get in any kind of collision and deal with all that paperwork, but most will drive as fast as they think they can given that constraint. Part of the problem is that Lake street is too wide and has too many lanes. But part of the problem also is pedestrians waiting at corners contributing to the perception of a false hierarchy of right-of-way.  I don’t begrudge anyone their safety, but if you happen to be young and agile and you really believe in this shit, start walking into traffic. It’s actually pretty fun.

Also, free idea: engineers should be required to cross every intersection of streets they design blindfolded.