The Spokesman-Review

Opinion

Editorial: Safety at crosswalks is worthy of more patrols

As if Gonzaga University students didn’t have enough on their minds with grades, finances and the fortunes of their basketball teams, they can add pedestrian safety to the list of things to fret about.

After 10 pedestrian-vehicle accidents in the campus district during the past two years, the Gonzaga Student Body Association has begun distributing safety lights to students who live off campus and must navigate the neighborhood intersections on foot. Maybe those blinking red flashers will arrest some careless drivers’ attention enough to head off a catastrophe or two.

Speaking of arresting, the law requires motorists to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in unsignaled crosswalks. It’s a law that is seldom enforced, however.

From time to time, Spokane police conduct emphasis patrols in which officers stake themselves out at particular intersections and ticket a few motorists who fail to stop for pretend pedestrians. After part of a day in a single location, though, the operation ends, and the real pedestrians scattered throughout the city are left to fend for themselves. 

Whether to pull such violators over is considered a matter of “officer discretion.” That’s only right. With a limited number of officers, a hold-up in progress or a domestic violence call probably shouldn’t be neglected because of a traffic violation.

But there’s more going on than on-the-spot prioritizing. Experienced pedestrians in Spokane know how widely the crosswalk law is ignored, sometimes in full view of nearby officers.

Failure to let a pedestrian cross – or jaywalking, for that matter – may not be a felony, but when a motor vehicle and a person collide, the consequences can be tragic.

To drive that point home, it would help if police made issuing citations a routine practice, not just during emphasis patrols. Once word got around that flouting the law has a stiff price tag, intersection jeopardy would decline.

Anyone who doubts it should take a trip up Grand Boulevard and observe how conspicuously traffic slows as it passes Manito Park. That’s where an accident involving a sledder several winters ago led to intensive enforcement of the 20 mph speed limit there.  The change in motorist behavior has been lasting.

If pedestrians’ well-being is valued, not just near Gonzaga but all over the city, the Spokane Police Department ought to be visible and consistent in ticketing both motorists and pedestrians who violate laws designed to promote safety. 

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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