To strictly follow Section 4-03 of the Rules of the City of New York, people would have to wait in the median for a full light cycle to cross streets like Atlantic Avenue, even when the countdown clock shows plenty of time to spare. Image: Google Maps
In some cases, New York City drivers may be getting away with harming people because city traffic rules say pedestrians shouldn’t step off the curb as soon as the walk signal turns into a flashing hand.
The Daily News reports that in these cases, city prosecutors say a New York City traffic statute undercuts their ability to apply the new Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor for a driver to injure or kill a person who is walking or biking with the right of way:
The statute — written decades before the creation of crosswalk countdown clocks — bars pedestrians from starting across a street or continuing through a safety island, on a flashing upraised hand or “DON’T WALK” signal.
Once they do, they’ve lost their right of way.
The outdated clause makes it hard to charge drivers under the city’s new Right of Way law, prosecutors told the Daily News, because they need to prove the pedestrian started crossing when the signal read “WALK.”
“It is my understanding after consultation with the police and other district attorneys’ offices that the numerical countdown is the equivalent of the flashing hand,” Brooklyn vehicular crimes chief Craig Esswein told the Daily News.
DOT has been implementing countdown clocks for the last few years to help people assess whether they will be able to reach the opposite sidewalk before cross traffic gets a green light. They tend to be used for longer crossings, and at a lot of these locations, most of the cycle is taken up by the countdown phase.
A literal interpretation of the law is at odds with what most New Yorkers would consider to be their rights as pedestrians. At the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn, for instance, the white “Walk” signal doesn’t last long enough for many people to reach the median, while the countdown phase lasts close to half a minute. Obeying the letter of the law, people would get to the median and then wait an entire light cycle before proceeding.