Simple Question/Difficult Answer: What is a Crosswalk?

Published yesterday, Albuquerque Journal reporter Matthew Reisen wrote a thorough and well-balanced story on the spike in deaths to those walking area roadways. Better Burque was quoted, as well as law enforcement. The most glaring weakness in rounding out the report, no fault of the reporter/paper, was the paucity of reply from Mayor Keller’s office. The Administration’s strong emphasis on public safety in general doesn’t seem to extend much to this aspect of keeping people safe. Pity.

In finding causes for the dramatic rise, both locally and nationally, Mr. Reisen’s story and all others on the issue generally pivot on one point: “pedestrian error.” Are those killed walking overwhelmingly at fault, to the point that numbers killed will only be reduced significantly by some means of reduction in pedestrian errors?

But backing up a bit: What are “pedestrian errors”?

As outlined in previous recent posts, it is common perception, including that of law enforcement, that ANYTIME someone walks into ANY street at ANY point other than a striped crosswalk ANY resulting crash is “pedestrian error.” As research shows, this includes cases in which drivers are speeding, drivers leave the scene, and even in cases where police report driver “inattention” or impairment. In these latter cases, responsibility is often shared, but is reported, as it was yesterday in Mr. Reisen’s story by APD’s Lt. Zak Cottrell:

He said 31 of the 34 fatalities were caused by “pedestrian error.”

Taken without further research and contemplation, ratios like 31 of 34 fatalities would seem to put this matter to rest. But that would be a mistake, if we’re truly interested in better understanding the problem with a commitment to significantly reducing the number of those killed.

For example, Better Burque’s is currently in the middle of research through a public records request of 2017-2018 pedestrian fatalities in Albuquerque. We’ll have more complete findings from that research in coming days/weeks (we’re getting the reports in batches of ten, so it’s gonna take a while). Previous work looking through 2016 APD and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office of 28 cases revealed the following:

  • 14 were solely “pedestrian error” (more about why BB continues to use quotation marks for “pedestrian error” in past/future posts)
  • 5 were driver error
  • 4 were some combination of driver and pedestrian error
  • 3 had no “contributory factor” listed, including the noted case of Jay White killed leaving a Lobo basketball game while crossing Avenida Cesar Chavez
  • 2 cases involving non-roadway deaths (parking lot/ditchbank)

Of course, the findings above are for 2016, not the more recent period noted by Lt. Cottrell. BB is working on this more recent period. For 2016, as is true with a great many things, reality is a bit more complicated when one looks deeper.

Illustrative of this complication are the very laws pertaining to legal and illegal walking itself here. A look at all aspects of Burque Traffic Code pertaining to pedestrians is a truly bewildering mish-mash of vagueness and seeming contradiction. Continuing our look at the laws from a recent post, we find the following:

traffic code pedestrians.jpg

Let’s look at this fascinating tidbit of legality in a font-size we can actually read:

8-2-3-6  PEDESTRIAN IN CROSSWALK.
   (A)   In the absence of operating traffic controls at an intersection, the operator of a bicycle or vehicle shall slow down or stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

Yeah, the above is right there in Albuquerque’s Traffic Code. BB is currently making inquiries to City officials to get firm definitions for “marked or unmarked crosswalk,” (no specific definition of “marked and “unmarked” is in the Code itself) and will pass along what is related, but it certainly appears that cyclists and drivers “shall slow down or stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian” in ANY crosswalk.

So what’s a “crosswalk”?  The Code defines them thus:

CROSSWALK.  That part of the roadway at an intersection included within the prolongation or connection of the lateral lines of the sidewalks on opposite sides of the highway measured from the curbs, or in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the traversable roadway.  Any portion of a roadway, at an intersection or elsewhere, distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface.

Now you know why we’re trying to get a clearer official interpretation from current City officials. Perhaps the above made more sense back in 1964 when these codes were written (probably not), but the infinity-ton of confusion which results from reading the above and other parts of the Traffic Code pertaining to pedestrians has certainly not helped law enforcement and others understand what’s truly legal and illegal when walking our roadways.

And that’s for the very, very few of us who have bothered to read the codes. The far more prevalent understanding is simply “pedestrian error.”

We have our work cut out for us.

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