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Pedestrian Safety Laws

Most municipal traffic and road infrastructure codes and guidelines are adopted from well vetted national model consensus code.  Anyone who drives can understand the value of the Uniform Vehicle Code adopted through-out the United States. Unfortunately many pedestrian advocates argue for individual State or local legislation which leads to a hodge-podge of some-times conflicting regulation.  Advocates should consider the success of the League of American Bicyclist's efforts to introduce bicycle friendly code into the UVC which is then typically adopted nationally.


Pedestrian relevant sections of the Uniform Vehicle Code


Painted Crosswalks are not necessarily safe


MWCOG_synopsis of FHWA-RD-01-075 pdf


FHWA-RD-01-075 pdf


Walk times 

Drivers are often frustrated by pedestrians crossing roads at other then painted crosswalks.  Beside a sense that mid-block are crossings are safer those walking to get somewhere want the most direct route they can find.  How far they are willing to walk (vs. drive) is often based on time rather then distance.  Often public policy and even some pedestrian advocates fail to recognize that pedestrians, especially those with carrying goods or towing kids, want to get where they're going in the least amount of time. direct route rather then just distance.

bulletWillingness to walk - time vs. distance 

Pedestrian Infrastructure 

Many Municipalities are actively studying and installing infrastructure that provide for safe and effective bicycle and pedestrian transit.   Well thought out designs are often low cost and have little impact on motorized traffic flow.  See Infrastructure Performance/Cost/Traffic Impact Matrix

Some examples are 

bulletCrosswalks offset or midway between intersections 
bulletConnector trails (good bang for the buck)
bulletGuard rails between sidewalks and the traffic lanes

See the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center for a comprehensive list of infrastructure ideas and links to other organizations that provide advice.

Unfortunately in some cases good intentions are not well implemented, well maintained or well thought out.

bulletSidewalks blocked by plant overgrowth 
bulletDirt paths immediately adjacent to traffic lanes 
bulletSidewalks between traffic lanes and guard rails 
bulletMeaningless sidewalks (mis-directed resources)
bulletWater fountains and year round Public Restrooms
bulletStone-faced Sidewalk Surface 
bulletSmall motorized vehicles on Sidewalks and Trails
bulletNarrow on street bike lanes
bulletBike Lanes that direct riding against traffic
bulletBike Lanes that cut-off motorized a motorized traffic lane.
bulletLong construction cuts to paved trails. [Problem for Skaters] 

See John Wetmore's Perils for Pedestrians  for a more comprehensive list of the problems facing those who choose to get there by walking.


Crosswalks offset or midway between Intersections

Below are examples of crosswalks that are significantly distant from the closest intersection.   Besides the offset they also have a "safe haven" area in the medium.  The safe area is  wide enough to accommodate Mom pushing a stroller.

source: Walkable Communities Workshop

source: Walkable Communities Workshop


Local median examples used in support of the Safe Crossings Campaign recommendations

Crosswalk on Braddock Road midway between Mount Vernon Avenue and West Street  -  Note also at the upper left the traffic calming curving curb.  This acts a choke point which slow traffic heading for the crosswalk    Alexandria,  VA.
Walkway across George Washington Parkway, offset from the entrance to Lady Bird Park 
Arlington VA


Walkway across Route 1 midway between Maine Avenue and Ohio Drive Wash DC
Additional Information from the 
Montgomery County Blue Ribbon Panel
On Pedestrian and Traffic Safety

M10.Median/Refuge Islands    (Click Page 44)

Crosswalks off-set from the Intersection

The intersection illustrate critical features.   As can be noted by the location of the school bus the crosswalk is off-set from the traffic lane.   The traffic island allows the pedestrian to initially concentrate only on right turning vehicles.  On the opposite side of the crosswalk a right-turn on red car will be past the walk.  
< Fairfax County, VA (Mt Vernon Dist)
Additional Information from the 
Montgomery County Blue Ribbon Panel
On Pedestrian and Traffic Safety

M13. Right-turn Lane Channelization   (Click Page 45)


Sidewalks blocked by plant overgrowth

Charlottesville, VA
Source: Chris Gensic  

Many sidewalks and city trails become blocked by plant overgrowth.  or low hanging branches.  This is particularly annoying during wet weather and dangerous when at times of poor visibility it forces walkers into traffic.  Even those Municipalities that care seem to wait till it's a problem before trimming.


Maryland (Wash Metro Area) a few hundred feet from an elementary school
 Source: Al Carr


Dirt paths immediately adjacent to traffic lanes

At various location along Route 1, Pedestrians have no sidewalks: potentially muddy dirt paths have been trodden in their place.  Uncontrolled vegetation pushes many close to the roadway.  Commuters walking to bus-stops get to feel the whoosh from the mirrors of passing trucks.  At some locations Pedestrian use the unpaved shoulder as a path.  
< VA Fairfax Cnty Route 1    (East Side) North of Quander Road  
Route 1 (Ease side) South of Quander Road >
Unfortunately, many creek crossings have guard rails at the road edge, forcing walkers into the traffic lane.

Meaningless sidewalks (misdirected resources)

Some major roads in business districts have adjacent lightly used service roads.  With constant business entrances along the way the sidewalks nothing more then series of broken segments.  Bicyclist and pedestrians will almost exclusively walk along the service road.

This situation is particularly frustrating where nearby undeveloped sections of the road have no sidewalks. See the above "Dirt paths immediately adjacent to traffic lanes" 


Sidewalks between traffic lanes and guard rails

Charlottesville, VA
Source: Chris Gensic Planner,
On the left pedestrian are protected from traffic. On the right the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland OR was renovated a recently to provide widened bike & ped pathways on both sides. Unfortunatel no guardrail protects the thousands of daily bike and ped trips across this facility.
Source: Todd Boulanger
Transportation Services
City of Vancouver


Public Restrooms and Water Fountains

A recent study conducted for the Arlington County Parks and Recreation Department asked what Park and Trail users most valued.  Water fountains and year-round public restrooms were the top choice of the survey respondents.

Additional support 


Connector trails (good bang for the buck)

Many adjacent neighborhoods are separated by green space areas.  The neighbor roads typically have little motorized traffic.   A connector trail between these neighborhood allows bicyclist to avoid riding on busy main roads and provides a significant short-cut for pedestrians.   While many communities have these connector trails, unfortunately they are seldom mapped.
Additional connector information and examples ...




Narrow on street bike lanes

Some municipalities or civic activist feel the are helping bicyclists by striping bike lanes that are less then the AASHTO minimums.  This puts riders to close to car doors.  Bicyclist who move out to the motorized traffic lanes annoy drivers who think the riders should be in what is clearly marked as bike lane.

The following discussion-group note clarifies AASHTO misunderstanding's

Your statement that AASHTO recommends a minimum combined width of 11 feet for a parking lane plus a bike lane is essentially incorrect. The 11-ft minimum only applies to roadways without curbs (aka open-section or rural-section roadways). For roadways with curbs (aka closed-section or urban-section roadways), such as Union St, the *minimum* combined width recommended by AASHTO is 12 feet. Apparently, when there is no curb present, cars are typically parked closer to the right edge of the pavement.   Also, as do you note, AAHSTO further recommends *at least* a one-foot wider combined space where parking density or turnover is high such as on Union St. IMO, the AASHTO recommended minimums are only acceptable where parking is sparce and parking turnover is infrequent.  As I recall, some of the drawings in the 1999 AASHTO bikeway guide are poorly labeled or mislabeled, leading to the impression that AASHTO's minimum recommended combined width is generally 11-ft, not 12-ft. The text for this section of the AASHTO guide states these recommended minimums correctly.  Because opened car doors can extend from 35" to 45" to the left of the parked vehicle, and a bicycle and its rider is about 24" wide, safe cycling beside a line of parked vehicles requires keeping one's wheels at least five feet to the left of parked vehicles at all times. The parked vehicles themselves typically extend at least seven feet from the curb face, so it is unwise to cycle with one's wheels within 12 feet of the curb wherever there is dense curbside parking.   When the AASHTO bikeway guide states an absolute 12-ft minimum width (which is clearly inadequate for Union St), a half-foot narrower width is most certainly unacceptable. The City should remove these dangerous substandard bike lanes at once.  
Source: Allen Muchnick Arlington VA

Additional Support 

Width occupied by parked motor vehicles, by John S. Allen (as shown by the chart, the door zone extends at least 10 ft from the curb when vehicles are parked only 6" or 8" from the curb face)

Wayne Pein's critique of door-zone bike lanes:

Critique of various bicycle facilities, including door-zone bike lanes, by Fred Oswald:


Lanes that direct riding against traffic

Some roads have a bi-directional multi-use trails along busy sections of a highway that frequently cross side roads or the entrances to business's.   Drivers turning right, look left for a gap in the traffic flow and go when they see it.   At walk speeds pedestrians tend to notice the lack of eye contact but the faster speed of bicyclists evasion response time.   

Where there are frequent crossings, recommend sidewalks on both sides of the highway of co-equal width and bike lanes or wide outer lanes that allow cyclist to travel the same direction as the motorized traffic. 


Lanes that cut-off a motorized traffic lane

On the left is a bike lane heading south along South Hayes Street in Arlington VA.  Note there are 3 traffic lanes to the left of bike lane.  Pentagon City Mall is to the right of photo.

<looking south              looking north>    

Note in the 'looking north view' the bike lane cut's off the motor vehicle lane.   The bicyclist is being directed to cut in front of a moving motor-vehicle.   The Auto-traffic is expected to either shift to a new lane to the right of the bike lane or to move what had been the middle traffic lane.  Interestingly the dash-lines for the shift come at the same point the bicyclists is directed to the left.

In the photos above, both a truck and a car maintain their alignment to the adjacent motor vehicle traffic lane rather then shift to the traffic lane to the right of the bike lane.   Note the bike lane is directly under their vehicles.

To the right we see the truck (from the photo above) has pulled up to car waiting for a traffic light..  The bike lane is directly under the car.  Both the car and truck continued south in the right lane 


Suggestions from a Reader


I just found your site as I was looking for laws pertaining to blocking sidewalks. I failed to find any mention of the most egregious examples, to wit:

1. Autos coming out of driveways failing to stop prior to the sidewalk almost never look both ways. Then they have the audacity to refused to backup or pull forward to allow one to pass.

2. In another case people park their cars across the sidewalk;

a. to wash it for an hour and a half.
b. to leave it parked all night.
c. to load and unload passengers and/or goods.
d. to spend the next two hours moving a lawn.
e. while they converse with a friend.
f. to deliberately dissuade access.
g. to spend time at a garage sale.

h. sometimes (at a party or wedding) they are bumper to bumper to bumper and are busy making so much noise that you cannot get anyones attention to deal with the obstruction.

I know the examples are endless but the point is that most people seem to think that they can do anything they want on sidewalks, and they will until tickets begin to be written.

Anyone trying to use a blocked sidewalk is forced into the street or unto private property against their will or wish. What if it is a little kid?

Where are the laws that govern this sort of thing?

Thank you,

Lonnie C.

Sent: Tuesday, December 02, 2003 9:19 PM Subject: possible oversight


Upgrade of Thomas Circle in Wash D.C.


Click for map of existing Circle

Most Pedestrians will be pleased by the proposed design   The new cross-walk alignment channels cars before they get to the crosswalks.  This allows the pedestrians to see breaks in traffic coming from only a single direction and allow them to safely cross without waiting for traffic signals.  Having to 'island hop' is a minor inconvenience compared to being more likely to be able to keep walking.  It's a win-win for DDOT.  This type of design reduces frequency of walkers s using the 'walk button' which disrupts the flow of traffic. The design appears to adopt the recommendations of the Walkable Communities Workshop