Friday, August 28, 2015

The Word on the Crosswalks

The painting of the crosswalks was a topic of discussion at Wednesday night's Public Works Committee meeting, although it was not part of DPW superintendent Rob Perry's report. It was brought up by audience members.

Perry's explanation for the diagonal lines in the crosswalks--or zebras, as they are called--not being repainted was that the hot paint machine used to apply the lines had broken down, and rather than repair the antiquated machine, he was looking to lease a similar machine for the duration of the season. He also explained that temperature conditions had to be just right for the paint to be applied successfully. 

He went on to say that he wanted to migrate to a newer technique that involves sheets applied to the pavement with heat. The crosswalks at Park Place and Warren Street were done using this method two years ago and are proving to be more durable and long lasting than those done with a hot paint machine. But since the City has a significant amount of paint already purchased for the hot paint machine, Perry wants to use that up before switching to the new method.

An audience member challenged Perry's statement that the zebras couldn't be painted because of equipment failure. He said he witnessed DPW workers completing only the two parallel lines--the transverse lines--and going away. "This town needs as much safety for pedestrians as possible if it is to be a walkable city," he asserted and went on to question why all the markings for parking spaces had been done before the crosswalks had been painted.

Another audience member, Leo Carlin complained that the recently added signs marking the crosswalks at Union and Fourth streets "don't have any effect at all."

Gossips, remembering crosswalks in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, that were painted solid green between the two parallel white lines, asked if any studies had been done to determine what crosswalk patterns were most effective. Perry said there was a lot of research out there, but the issue for Hudson was resources. He noted that two years ago a number of new crosswalks were created with grants through the Kids in Motion program coordinated by Kari Rieser, but there was no money to sustain them. According to Perry, painting crosswalks, stop bars, and parking spaces costs from $10,000 to $15,000 a year.

Curious to learn about the relative effectiveness of crosswalk patterns, Gossips searched the Internet and found a white paper on the subject prepared in 2013 for the Federal Highway Administration: "An Overview and Recommendations of High-Visibility Crosswalk Marking Styles." According to this study, colored or textured pavement "may lead to a false sense of security" for pedestrians, "zebras," which is what Hudson has had in the past, are considered effective, but "transverse lines," which, because of equipment failure, is what we've got now, are, according to this study, "particularly difficult for motorists to see."

An interesting aside from the study is this: "In the Netherlands, motorists are supposed to stop and yield to pedestrians crossing the road when a zebra crossing is present. If a zebra crossing is not present, vehicles do not have to yield the right-of-way." It seems in Hudson drivers who have very likely never driven in the Netherlands are following those rules and totally ignoring crosswalks now that the diagonal zebra stripes are missing.

On the topic of crosswalks, here's another discovery. Not long ago, during a discussion of crosswalks at a Council meeting, the crosswalks on Main Street in Great Barrington, which is also U.S. Route 7, were mentioned as examples of the way things should be. These crosswalks, many of which are in the middle of a block, are scrupulously observed by drivers. Why, it was asked, can't the same to true for crosswalks in Hudson?

This question was answered by an alderman, who authoritatively declared that the laws were different in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts a pedestrian only had to appear to be about to enter the crosswalk in order to have the right of way, whereas in New York a pedestrian actually had to be in the crosswalk for a vehicle to be required to stop. 

Here's what appears in Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 89, Section 11:
When traffic control signals are not in place or not in operation the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be so to yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk marked in accordance with standards established by the department of highways if the pedestrian approaches from the opposite half of the traveled part of the way to within 10 feet of that half of the traveled part of the way on which said vehicle is traveling.
No driver of a vehicle shall pass any other vehicle which has stopped at a marked crosswalk to permit a pedestrian to cross, nor shall any such operator enter a marked crosswalk while a pedestrian is crossing or until there is sufficient space beyond the crosswalk to accommodate the vehicle he is operating, notwithstanding that a traffic control signal may indicate that vehicles may proceed.
Whoever violates any provision of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $200.
Here's the New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law, Article 27, on the same subject:
1151. Pedestrians' right of way in crosswalks. (a) When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk on the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, except that any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overpass has been provided shall yield the right of way to all vehicles.
(b) No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impractical for the driver to yield.
(c) Whenever any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass such stopped vehicle.
There isn't much difference between these two laws except in Massachusetts drivers who don't yield the right of way to pedestrians are subject to a $200 fine and in New York it seems necessary to include in the law what should be commonsense: "No pedestrian . . . shall walk or run into the path of a vehicle."

One may conclude from all this that, if there were sufficient money in the City budget and the zebra crosswalks could be properly maintained, the physical crosswalks in Hudson would be about as good as it gets, but as good as it gets falls short of the goal. When, at Wednesday's Public Works Committee meeting Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) opined that the problem of drivers ignoring crosswalks was "not a DPW issue but a police issue," Council president Don Moore mused, "There must be a way--a campaign--that can make this a pedestrian friendly city." Gossips agrees. There must be a way.


  1. While we're talking about pedestrian safety ... can we get the bike riders OFF the sidewalks. I walk a lot and more than once if been confronted by both old and young riders that ride carelessly....and I'm a bike rider.

  2. City of Hudson Code 78-16(A): "No person shall ride, drive or operate a bicycle along any public sidewalk or footpath intended for the use of pedestrians. This provision shall not apply to children 10 years of age or under nor to invalids or cripples who cannot walk." As is the case with motorists yielding to pedestrians, compliance can be achieved by a combination of public awareness and vigilant police enforcement.