When is a Crosswalk a Crosswalk?

Someone trying to cross Central Avenue at Buena Vista was struck and injured by an A.R.T. bus last week. Here’s KRQE’s Jackie Kent reporting on the incident pointing at the median notch which helps make this a very popular walking/rolling crossing to get to/from University of New Mexico.

jackie krqe

And here’s a bird’s eye look at the notch. Note the short, slightly off-set paved paths that gets users of the notch to/from Redondo Dr. NE on-campus. Also note the distance from Buena Vista to the closest signalized crossing at Yale is just over *500 feet.

buena vista and central

The median notch Ms. Kent is gesturing to above is new. Before A.R.T., the notch was a left-turn lane for westbound Central users to head southbound on Buena Vista.

buena vista pre ART
Google Streetview March 2015: Walkers and cyclist circled in red

As shown above, crossing Central at Buena Vista has always been popular.  So popular that when A.R.T. construction closed the left-turn lane to Buena Vista, some pushing by walking/rolling advocates persuaded the City to provide the median notch, bollard (yellow pole) included.

So is this a crosswalk? A City-authorized and constructed crosswalk? 

It would seem so, even though it doesn’t include any sort of signal (e.g., HAWK) or “piano” striping which denotes “marked crosswalks.” We use lots of quotation marks here, because confusion and gray areas exist throughout issues regarding mid-block crossings (i.e., crossings at streets/roads without signals/striping).

In fact, there is much debate over what exactly constitutes a mid-block crossing. If a government spends a ton of money on new roadway construction that includes plopping a median notch, bollard included, does doing so make this a “marked crosswalk”? Moreover, does it matter in terms of fault for someone, say, struck by an A.R.T. bus while using this median notch?

Here are a few sections of New Mexico State Law relevant to this topic:

  • (66-7-333 NMSA 1978)  When using a crosswalk, pedestrians must walk on the right side of the crosswalk whenever possible.  (66-7-338 NMSA 1978)
  • When crossing where there are traffic control devices, pedestrians must obey the signals.  This includes “walk/don’t walk” signals, as well as regular traffic control lights (red, green, and yellow lights and turn arrows).  (66-7-333 and 66-7-105 NMSA 1978)
  • Pedestrians have the right-of-way when crossing a street within a crosswalk:
    • As long as the pedestrian does not suddenly leave the curb and get in the path of a vehicle that does not have time to react and stop; and
    •  Only for the half of the roadway that they are actually on.  (Vehicles on the other side do not have to yield until the pedestrian is close enough to be in danger).  (66-7-334 NMSA 1978)
  • Pedestrians must go to and use a crosswalk if there are traffic control signals at intersections on either side of where they are.  (66-7-335.C NMSA 1978)
  • If not otherwise prohibited, pedestrians may cross a street at any point, but must yield to all vehicles.  In other words, vehicles have the right-of-way if a pedestrian is crossing at any place except at an intersection or crosswalk.  (66-7-335.A NMSA 1978)
  • Even if at an intersection, pedestrians must still yield to vehicles if pedestrian tunnels or overhead bridges are provided.  (66-7-335.B NMSA 1978)

We’ve bolded two provisions above, identifying the admittedly vague legal status for those using “crosswalks” as opposed to “a street at any point.” Legally speaking, it would possibly seem to matter whether Central/Buena Vista is now legally considered a crosswalk.

That is, not knowing the specifics, the person hit by the A.R.T. bus might have grounds to sue the City and ABQRide for installing the notch in the first place. Such litigation might actually be helped by the City doing so without aiding in the safety of its use through installation of piano striping and signals.

Perhaps even more important than the legal aspect (and, yes, there are things more important than the law), are community misunderstanding and norms around “jaywalking.” Generally speaking, jaywalking is deemed universally bad and:

Jaywalkers deserve to be killed

Most in the community see jaywalkers like burglars breaking into a house. If you get shot by the homeowners, good. Serves you right. Hence community norms around jaywalkers, and resulting driver behavior does not jibe with “If not otherwise prohibited, pedestrians may cross a street at any point.” The general community norm regarding the  provision that “vehicles have the right-of-way if a pedestrian is crossing at any place except at an intersection or crosswalk,” is that “we (drivers) are going to try to go around you, if necessary, but if we don’t, serves you right.”

These norms and the law reach an interesting nexus when considering the median notch at Central/Buena Vista. As we are also always thinking money in such situations, BB would argue that the costs of installing safety striping and signals at this very popular crossing will end up being less than that of taxpayer legal expenses and settlements almost sure to result from installing a notch (with bollard) thus.

We’re asking for it, really, because the law is vague and the community norms unfortunately hostile to walking/rolling our roadways. It will be interesting to see what happens to this little notch and travel across Central Avenue in coming years.


*Interestingly, the HAWK signal crossing at the Bryn Mawr A.R.T. station is only ~400 feet from the next signalized crossing at Wellesley.



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