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Drivers must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks

Maryland Highway Safety Office regional traffic safety program manager reminds motorists of 2003 law

December 01, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • The crosswalk between Long Meadow Shopping Center and Stone House Square allows walkers 30 seconds to cross the street but still permits traffic leaving either shopping center to exit and cross the pedestrian walkway.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

As Irene Giffin was crossing Leitersburg Pike’s northbound lanes in her motorized wheelchair in a crosswalk, vehicles coming out of a shopping center would pass in front of or behind her, the Hagerstown resident said.

“At one time, it was so close to me I could touch the car and it scared the living bejeebers out of me,” said Giffin, who uses a red flag that flies 3 feet to 4 feet above her wheelchair when she is in traffic situations.

Giffin said she thought at first she made a mistake or the traffic signals’ synchronization was mixed up.

But each time the electronic pedestrian sign gave her the go ahead to cross, the traffic signal turned green for traffic leaving both Long Meadow Shopping Center and Stone House Square.

George Small, assistant district engineer for the Maryland State Highway Administration’s Western Maryland district, said the SHA generally does not provide red light signals in all directions that would give pedestrians exclusive time to cross the street at isolated intersections.

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“I understand what she’s faced with,” Small said, noting that he’s heard “more of this type of thing throughout the Hagerstown area.”

“I think it’s just poor driving,” Small said.

“The old thing about an ounce of prevention. It needs some enforcement, a couple of tickets,” Small said.

“You pay out the nose a couple of times, then maybe you’ll realize that a motorist is supposed to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. That’s the law.”

Hagerstown Police Capt. Mark Holtzman, who is the acting police chief, said the police department doesn’t set specific checks for crosswalk enforcement. However, keeping an eye out for crosswalk violators is a normal part of officers’ patrols, he said.

Educating the public is key, Holtzman said.

Holtzman said the police department will have auxiliary officers visit the two shopping centers on Dec. 11 to hand out pedestrian safety literature to shoppers.

The concern

Giffin, 62, said she often uses the crosswalk that stretches across Md. 60 — also known as Leitersburg Pike and Potomac Avenue in the area of the shopping centers from the Columbia Bank near Long Meadow Shopping Center to Stone House Square.

There are buttons on both sides of the crosswalk for pedestrians to push to activate the pedestrian crossing signal. That signal gives a verbal warning and a countdown for pedestrians to cross.

Giffin said the amount of time provided to cross is not the issue.

At least three times recently, vehicles drove in front of her wheelchair or behind her as she attempted to cross using the crosswalk, Giffin said.

“I looked up and I hollered, ‘Whoa,’ to this person coming in front of me,” she said. “Then, I looked up and absolutely he had the green light, but I also had the pedestrian light to cross.”

Giffin said she went home and called the city of Hagerstown and then the state highway administration because she thought there was a problem with the synchronization of the traffic and pedestrian signals.

Sharing the road

Small said the State Highway Administration doesn’t usually provide pedestrians exclusive time to use a crosswalk by giving motorists in every direction red lights.

“For one thing, it just absorbs an immense amount of time,” Small said.

And giving pedestrians exclusive time to cross at every intersection would disrupt traffic flow, he said.

Arranging red traffic signals to give pedestrians exclusive time to cross at crosswalks generally is done for places with a huge volume of pedestrians, such as downtown Baltimore, he said.

Pedestrians also wouldn’t know, from intersection to intersection, whether they had the exclusive right to cross when the pedestrian signal gives the go ahead to cross, Small said.

Giffin said she was upset and puzzled when told by a state highway official that pedestrians in the Hagerstown area don’t have an exclusive period of time to use crosswalks.

“Why have all that fancy powerful paraphernalia with the lights, the pole and the push button to wait for the pedestrian light, and the talking machine?” she said. “Why have all that if it’s just a fluke?”

Giffin said the pedestrian light gave her a “false sense of security.”

“And the drivers are angry because they’re assuming I’m going against the light,” she said.

Crosswalk obligation

Mike Bible, regional traffic safety program manager for the Maryland Highway Safety Office, said he understands Giffin’s concern.

“I guess we could first start off by saying in any county or city or whatever, the vehicle or motorist need to realize it is their obligation to come to a complete stop when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk,” Bible said.

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