Photo from Street Smart.

No one questions the need for public education about pedestrian safety, but Washington-area agencies are missing a real opportunity to educate the public in this year’s annual “Street Smart” safety campaign.

Both drivers and pedestrians are ignorant of some important rules of sharing the road and only dimly aware of others. With the slogan “Obey pedestrian & traffic safety laws” now visible all over the city, Washington-area transportation agencies have substituted empty exhortation for education. Their publicity campaigns should teach pedestrians and drivers how to share the road.

Few drivers understand when they must yield to pedestrians and when pedestrians must yield to them; few pedestrians know when they can and cannot cross a street in the middle of a block.

A genuinely educational campaign could feature messages like “Never cross mid-block between two traffic lights” or “Come to full stop before turning right on red.” The slogan “Stop for pedestrians at marked and unmarked crosswalks” would stimulate the public’s curiosity, since few know about unmarked crosswalks (places where the pavement has none of the familiar crosswalk lines, but a crosswalk still legally exists, and drivers still must yield to pedestrians crossing the street).

Highway agencies recognize that education about pedestrian safety must accompany engineering and enforcement. But our region, especially outside the District and Arlington, has a spotty record in engineering and enforcement. That makes educating the public about pedestrian safety all that more important.