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Amid mixed signals, some crosswalk clarity: Try not to hit anyone

Sat., March 7, 2009

Next time the police embark on one of those pedestrian-crosswalk emphasis patrols, I beg them – please show me some mercy.

I try to do the right thing, I really do. But, like 90 percent of Spokane drivers, I have NO CLUE WHAT THE RIGHT THING IS.

Let me give you a few true-life examples, which I have experienced as both pedestrian and driver.

•Example No. 1: I am driving along Monroe Street. Someone is standing on the corner at a marked crosswalk, peering anxiously down the road. I stop, under the assumption that I am supposed to let the person cross. A car behind me screeches to a halt. Horns honk. I motion to the pedestrian to cross. The pedestrian stares at me like I’m an idiot. The guy’s waiting for the bus.

Example No. 2: I am walking my dog and waiting on a corner for traffic to clear. There are no crosswalk stripes (or if there are, I can’t see them, this being March in Spokane). An eastbound car stops. While I appreciate the courtesy, I figure I should just wait. I wave the driver through. The driver waves me through. We wave each other through another three more times. The drivers behind him are getting annoyed. Finally, I figure, “OK, fine,” and we start across the street. We are nearly splattered across the pavement by a westbound car that never even slows down.

Example No. 3: I am driving down a North Spokane side street. A pedestrian is at the corner. There are no crosswalk stripes. I figure, “I must have the right of way.” He steps into the intersection anyway and I slam on my brakes. I stop in time, but somehow I find myself covered with a hideous red liquid. My Sonic Drive-In bag has hurtled itself against the dashboard, covering me with ketchup.

Example No. 4: A pedestrian stands poised on the sidewalk, clearly contemplating a blatant midblock jaywalk on a downtown street. The driver to my right screeches to a halt, causing me to wonder – should I stop, too? I decide to err on the side of caution and stop, too. All of the other drivers simply blast on past us in the belief that the jaywalker is fair game. The jaywalker retreats to the sidewalk. He has wisely decided to live.

Did I obey the law? What in heaven’s name is the law?

So I called a Spokane police officer, who helpfully went on a long and detailed analysis of the state’s pedestrian laws, but then resorted to the one line I feared most: “Actually, the law is a little confusing.”

No kidding.

But here are some rules to live by, so to speak, based on the officer’s synopsis, my own reading of the Washington state laws (RCW 46.61.230 through RCW 46.61.269) and just plain common sense.

•It doesn’t matter whether an intersection has crosswalk stripes. Most regular intersections are legally considered to be crosswalks, even if unmarked. Drivers should stop anyway.

•If the pedestrian is standing in the middle of a block, or about to cross against the signal at a stop light, or otherwise poised to jaywalk, he does not have the right of way. This does not, however, make the pedestrian fair game. You do not accrue “points” if you hit him. Drivers must still “exercise due care.”

•A pedestrian at a marked or unmarked crosswalk should try to signal an intention to cross, thus avoiding that “I’m just waiting for a bus” problem. A step toward the street, for instance, would be a clear signal. So would being poised on the curb, butt in the air, like an Olympic sprinter. A hand gesture might work, too – depending on which finger is involved.

•If a car ahead of you stops for a lawful pedestrian, you must stop, too, of course. To this I might personally add, you shouldn’t blow on around the stopped car even if the pedestrian is unlawful, as tempting as that might be.

So, those are the general rules. I’m still not 100 percent certain of what to do in every situation. Yet at least I no longer need to worry about whether those crosswalk stripes are obscured with March grime. I should be stopping, anyway.

Jim Kershner can be reached at (509) 459-5493 or Find an archive of his columns at

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