There are two sets of rules when it comes to being a pedestrian in Fort Collins. There’s the rules of the road that have been codified, approved, and (at least in theory) are enforced. Then there are the unspoken rules that are more about life and death than law and order.
I walk a lot. And over this past summer, I have been nearly hit too many times to count. Each time I was in a pedestrian crosswalk and I legally had the right of way. Clearly people either can’t be bothered to follow the rules, or they just don’t know them. I can’t do much about the first option, but hopefully helping to educate folks will make some headway with the second.
Probably the absolute most important rule of the road when it comes to pedestrians is one that I don’t see in the code anywhere and that’s to LOOK for pedestrians. (The code focuses on right and wrong. It doesn’t give tips about how to do the right or wrong thing.)
It’s all well and good when the code explains who has the right of way in particular situations. But if a pedestrian has the right of way and the driver doesn’t see them, then it really doesn’t matter. The pedestrian is still in trouble. In most of the incidences where someone almost hit me while I was walking this summer, it was because they didn’t have a clue that I was in the middle of the road. I’ve had to wave my arms and try to make eye contact as they head towards me so that they’ll notice me and either slow down (which some did, but not all) or at least swerve to avoid me.
When there are stop lights
Follow the pedestrian signals if there are any. White walking light means pedestrians can enter the intersection. Flashing orange/red hand means folks in the intersection can keep going, but no one new should enter. And a solid red hand means all pedestrians should be out of the street and onto the sidewalk.
When peds get the white walking sign, motorists often get the green light at the same time. So be on the lookout for anyone making a right or left hand turn. Just because you have a legal right to enter the street doesn’t mean that it’s safe to do so. Of course the dilemma is that if you wait for the folks to turn before you enter the intersection, you may end up having to wait until the point when the red hand flashes, and then you’ve lost your right of way until the light fully cycles all the way around again.
Another problem is that not all lights are timed well. Some ped lights read solid red hand while the motorist lights in the same direction are still full-on green for another 20-30 seconds. In cases like that, pedestrians often give up and cross. It’s illegal, but understandable. A positive approach to this problem would be to alert the City using Access Fort Collins. (I’m not saying you’ll get a positive response. I’ve been waiting since February for some ped lights to be fixed. But that’s the recommended route of action from the City.)
When there are flashing pedestrian lights
There are some places in town where there are flashing lights that alert motorists to pedestrians, but there is no green-yellow-red signal. Examples are along W. Laurel just north of campus, on W. Elizabeth new Campus West and King Soopers, and probably the most used flashing signals in the city, on E. Mountain between the parking structure and Coopersmiths. As far as I can tell from looking through the code, however, these lights do nothing more than emphasize to motorists that pedestrians are allowed the right of way in a crosswalk.
When there is a marked crosswalk
When there’s a marked crosswalk, whether it’s at an intersection or mid-block, as long as the pedestrian isn’t jumping right out in front of a vehicle that is so close it’s a toss up whether it’ll have time to stop, then the pedestrian has the right of way. In other words, as long as the car is far enough down the road that it has time to see and stop for the pedestrian, then the pedestrian can legally step out into the street.
The unspoken rule, though, is that a pedestrian isn’t allowed to step out into a crosswalk unless they can trot across before the car reaches that point. This is a cultural rule, and it might keep you safer, but the law provides for better protection than this. Unfortunately what the law provides for and what people do when they’re driving are pretty widely divergent when it comes to pedestrian crossings. Unless there’s a stop sign or stop light, it’s rare that a car will stop. And when they do, the driver may start moving before you’ve barely cleared the way in front of them, which can be incredibly scary and utterly dangerous if they misjudge the clearance.
When there is an unmarked crosswalk
Unmarked crosswalks are tricky entities. According to the Federal Highway Administration, “Crosswalks are implied at all intersections whether or not they are marked.” So in the above Google image of W. Mountain Avenue, there are stop signs in place for motor traffic doing north-south (up-down). Although not all drivers behave this way, I think most people would agree that where you step off of the sidewalk and walk across the street to the adjoining sidewalk, that’s a crosswalk. And since cars are supposed to stop in that north-south direction anyway, they should be stopping for pedestrians that are crossing east-west.
But, according to this FHA definition, pedestrians traveling from sidewalk to sidewalk going north-south (across Mountain) are also in a crosswalk. But because there is no stop sign there for motorists, you’d probably have a very hard time convincing motorists of the fact that you have the right of way. In other words, though pedestrians legally have the right of way there, it’s far safer to allow the motorists right of way instead.
Any other time a pedestrian crosses a street and they’re not at an intersection or in a marked mid-block crosswalk, then cars have the right of way. Pedestrians are also expected to cross the street using the shortest path possible (which means crossing at right angles).
If you’d like to look through the Municipal Traffic Code yourself, scroll down to the 800s/Part 8 to find the section on pedestrians.