August 14, 2019

Suggesting All-Way Walk Signal At Crosswalk Site of Recent Fatality

To the Editor:

Pedestrians are becoming bold, and they should be. They are boldly speaking out at Council meetings and planning board sessions, demanding more and safer pedestrian crossings. They are, in some cases, joining forces with bicyclists to advocate for bike lanes that will give cyclists a safe alternative to sidewalks.

Bold is good. But there is one place where being bold is not good for pedestrians. That’s inside those zebra-striped walkways that mark designated pedestrian crossings. Inside those crossings, the ones often marked by signs proclaiming that motorists must yield to pedestrians, bold is not good. As they approach and enter those crossings pedestrians should be tentative, defensive, and wary. The law says motorists must yield, but it doesn’t say they will yield.

On July 30 that point was demonstrated once again in Princeton when a 68-year-old man was struck in the marked crosswalk leading from the Princeton University campus across Washington Road to Prospect Avenue by a pickup truck turning left onto Washington from Prospect. The pedestrian died of his injuries on August 1. The accident was the fifth serious accident involving pedestrians in less than five years, the second fatality in less than two years. All of these occurred within those carefully marked pedestrian crossings, where motorists must — supposedly — yield to pedestrians.

What can be done to stop these senseless attacks on the pedestrians of Princeton? At the site of the most recent fatality, an immediate improvement would be the installation of an all-way walk signal. Since Prospect Avenue meets Washington Road in a T intersection, there are only two phases of lights needed for motorists. A third phase could be added, halting all traffic on both roads and allowing pedestrians to cross either road, or go diagonally across the intersection. Pedestrians, particularly college students coming from all directions and heading toward their eating clubs on Prospect, might welcome the chance to cross diagonally.

What about those familiar black-and-white zebra stripes on the pavement? After this most recent fatality, Buzz Stenn suggested in a letter to Town Topics [“Offering Suggestions on Making Pedestrian Crossings Safer,” Mailbox, August 7] that “white stripes on a black street background camouflage the walker. For the driver a vertically-lined strip, as well as the associated median, gutter, and turn lines, obfuscate to some degree any figure upon it and this loss of discrimination is especially difficult in poor light. To be immediately alerted to whatever is on the intersection the pedestrian strip background must be uniform — not patterned — and it must be colored light to bright, white or yellow, better yet chartreuse since it is the color theme Princeton uses at pedestrian crosswalks already.”

The idea deserves consideration. But I worry that even more graphic crosswalks will lead to an even greater sense of security — false security — to pedestrians. I suggest that pedestrians put down their cell phones and look both ways before they enter a crosswalk; that they wait until they can see the whites of an approaching motorist’s eyes before they conclude that the driver is really stopping for them; and that, when they are safely through the intersection, they look back at the driver and offer a thumbs up or — if they want to be bold — a big smile.

Richard K. Rein
Park Place