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Drivesmart column: The invisible pedestrian

The van driver had one hand on the steering wheel, one hand on his cell phone

By Tim Schewe

On a morning walk I found myself facing a young woman across a busy intersection while we waited for the traffic signal to change. She was facing me but keeping an eye on the van waiting beside her at the red light signalling a right turn. As I watched the situation unfold I was impressed with this woman’s street smarts.

When the light changed to green for the van and to walk for her, she stood her ground instead of stepping into the crosswalk. It’s a good thing because the van driver had one hand on the steering wheel, one hand on his cell phone and likely both eyes on the traffic light. She may as well have been invisible.

As soon as the light changed the driver accelerated and turned right without even bothering to shoulder check. Even that should not have mattered had he scanned his environment and considered his situation while he waited. He would have realized that he needed to wait for the pedestrian to cross before he made his turn.

Unlike crosswalks that are not controlled by traffic signals there is no need for the pedestrian to step into the crosswalk before traffic is required to yield. When the walk light comes on, vehicular traffic is required to yield to pedestrians who will use the crosswalk as they have the right of way.

A simple step that can increase pedestrian safety by up to 60 per cent is to change the existing signal timing to implement a leading pedestrian interval (LPI). The walk signal for pedestrians appears three to seven seconds before a green light is given to vehicles moving in the same direction. This makes the pedestrians more visible to drivers.

LPIs work best at intersections where right turns on red are forbidden.

If there is a cycle lane through the intersection, a leading bike interval can be implemented to coincide with the leading pedestrian interval. This has protection benefits for cyclists too.

We shook our heads as we passed by each other and she rolled her eyes when I asked what had happened to the requirement to yield to pedestrians. My second thought is that this van was boldly marked with the name of the business it was associated with. This is the kind of advertising that a business would not want!

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit