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FHWA Highway Safety Programs

Newspaper Article 5: Proper Use of Signals and Crosswalks

Anytown-Take a walk down Main Street past Anytown Bank on Washington Boulevard, and then go a couple of blocks up to Anytown High School on Garden Street, and you'll encounter quite a number of pedestrian facilities designed to keep you safe. You'll see pedestrian signal indications and warning signs. All this is terrific, but if you don't use crosswalks, or you don't know what the pedestrian signal indications mean, these devices won't do you much good.

The marked crosswalks on Main Street and Washington Boulevard, and the pedestrian warning signs at main intersections, are designed to provide visual clues to keep drivers alert for pedestrians.

Some crosswalks are meant to encourage people to cross at a particular location. The crosswalk at Washington Boulevard and Garden Street is a perfect example. It's meant to highlight an appropriate crossing location which has a pedestrian signal indication. Authorities hope it will discourage children and other pedestrians from crossing mid-block. Drivers are more likely to see them there and stop.

Of course, there are some mid-block crosswalks. There's one on Henry Street in front of the library. With a public parking lot directly across the street, it makes sense to have a mid-block crossing there. The rationale is that in this case when there is too much distance between corner crosswalks, a mid-block crosswalk provides a designated crossing location for pedestrians.

One of the most important pedestrian facilities is the pedestrian signal indication, yet many people do not know what each of the signals really mean. The walking man symbol means cross, but watch for turning cars. The flashing orange hand means don't start, but finish crossing if you've already started. And the solid orange hand means don't cross. Contrary to popular belief, it does not mean run quickly before the light changes.

The other reason for pedestrian-vehicle crashes is that drivers often look for other cars, but forget to look for pedestrians. The Anytown Pedestrian Safety Coalition is currently conducting a campaign to remind drivers to look for pedestrians; and to encourage pedestrians to use crosswalks and follow the pedestrian signal indications.

So, with all these safety devices, why do we have so many pedestrian-vehicle crashes? Research suggests that pedestrians may have a false sense of security at marked crosswalks. And because of this, they step out into the intersection without looking for cars first. The rule of thumb is: look left, right, left before you enter the crosswalk. And as you're crossing, check over your shoulder for turning vehicles.

More information about this and other safety issues is available in English and some in Spanish. To volunteer or obtain more information about Anytown's Pedestrian Safety Campaign and other associated events, please call (Campaign Coordinator's name here) at (phone number) or (email address).