Crossing the street can be a challenge for cyclists and pedestrians, even if there is a crosswalk. One man in Sterling recently decided that the solution is to encourage drivers to not slow down at all, even at major intersections.

The W&OD Trail runs from Alexandria to Purcellville in Northern Virginia. It's one of the region's most popular trails since it connects so many communities and provides a mostly traffic-free way to ride a bicycle, walk, or jog. It also crosses a number of major roads. Some of these crossings have bridges allowing trail users to avoid traffic entirely while others have traffic signals that let people cross while cars wait at a red light.

Other roads simply have a crosswalk. That's the case at Sterling Boulevard, where Ray Johnson put up the signs commanding drivers to not slow down when they see pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross the road.

The crosswalk at the W&OD Trail and Sterling Boulevard. Image by Google Maps.

Mr. Johnson told News4 that he put the signs up because he believes something should be done about pedestrian and cyclist safety at the intersection. His logic, it seems, is that drivers should always fly through so that for those who want to cross, it will be more obvious when the coast is clear.

But these signs are illegal, and they make the road unsafe for everybody.

Surprise! You need to stop for pedestrians.

Virginia law is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen at a crosswalk: while pedestrians can't step into a crosswalk if it's not reasonable to think a driver has time to see them and slow down, drivers must yield to anyone using a crosswalk.

In Maryland and DC, it's even more clear: rather than just yield, drivers must stop the moment a pedestrian enters a crosswalk.

For trails like the W&OD there is a bit of nuance; for example, there might be a stop sign on the trail. But beyond that, the principle is the same: if you're driving and you see someone using or about to use a crosswalk, whether they're coming from a trail or not, you need to slow down and let them through.

That's the law. Unfortunately, a lot of people ignore it. They may stop if forced by a particularly brave pedestrian, but overall it often seems that crosswalks "don't count" the way stop lights or stop signs do when it comes to slowing down or stopping. 

But crosswalks aren't just pretty paint marks in the road. They are traffic control devices, just like stop signs and lights. Ignoring crosswalks puts people who can't walk particularly fast or accurately judge how fast a car is moving in harms way.

When people don't slow down or stop at crosswalks it can have tragic consequences. Two years ago in Maryland, a driver struck and killed a cyclist  on the Matthew Henson Trail when he was using the crosswalk. The driver in the right lane had stopped, but the one in the left lane did not slow down.

Biking and walking should not be risky activities, and disregarding a major part of our roadway infrastructure meant to give people better chances at crossing the street needlessly makes them so.

Clearly, Ray Johnson and everyone else who drives a car needs to hear this: if a person is using a crosswalk that you want to drive through, stop and wait for them. You can most certainly imagine the kind of damage a speeding car could do to you. It can do the same to someone else when you're behind the wheel.

Thumbnail: Image by Umberto Brayj licensed under Creative Commons.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Falls Church.