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Are Unmarked Crosswalks A Real Thing?

Updated on August 8, 2014
How many unmarked crosswalks do you see?
How many unmarked crosswalks do you see?

All photos and text copyright Chris Desatoff (the author)

I went out for a walk the other day in my neighborhood, as I've done many times in the past. On occasion I've looked around when crossing the street, and the lack of crosswalks was always obvious to me. Part of my brain -- the part that feels like it always has to follow the rules to the letter -- would always go a little cuckoo whenever I'd cross those little side streets.

"Why don't they have crosswalks around here? Do they really expect me to walk all the way around the block to the traffic light a mile away, just to get to the other side?"

Of course not. That would be absurd. So I just shook it off and forgot about it, until the next walk.

Well, I don't know what made the difference this time, but when I went out walking yesterday, I decided to go to the Almighty Google to look for answers to this pedestrian dilemma.

That's when I discovered the mystery known as, "The Unmarked Crosswalk."

What Is An Unmarked Crosswalk?

Chances are good that you've already walked on many unmarked crosswalks without even realizing it. Most unmarked crosswalks look exactly like marked crosswalks but with one huge, glaring, obvious exception: no painted lines on the road.

But the rest looks pretty much the same...

They typically are located at intersections, and there is usually a little "driveway" where the curb dips down to road level to allow for wheelchair access (or more commonly, bicycles, scooters, and skateboards).

So when you come to an unmarked crosswalk, it basically looks like there SHOULD be a crosswalk there, but maybe they got busy somewhere else and forgot to paint the lines on there.

Okay, so that's not what happened, but that's what it looks like.

Do Pedestrians Have The Right Of Way In Unmarked Crosswalks?

Yes!

Absolutely, pedestrians do have the right of way in an unmarked crosswalk. They may not KNOW that they have the right of way, but they do! And that means that drivers are still required to stop and yield to them, just as if they were crossing at a traditional, marked crosswalk with the painted lines and all that.

Now, that doesn't mean that you should just boldly step out there into the street in the path of a truck that's barreling down the highway towards you. You should still exercise caution when crossing the street at an unmarked crosswalk.

That's just common sense.

But don't let ignorant drivers intimidate you into thinking that you are in the wrong by crossing there. You have the legal right to use an unmarked crosswalk, and drivers are required to stop and wait for you to cross before proceeding.

They may yell at you. But nevermind those guys. They are just ignorant.

Are Unmarked Crosswalks Safe?

Now, if this is the first you've ever heard of unmarked crosswalks, it's likely that you will be asking yourself the obvious question: are unmarked crosswalks dangerous?

Common sense seems to indicate that they would in fact be dangerous, since they are not clearly marked -- not marked at all -- and so drivers would be more likely to keep on driving without even stopping for pedestrians there.

But the statistics defy so-called common sense.

Multiple studies in many states have all come to the same conclusion: unmarked crosswalks are actually LESS dangerous than marked crosswalks. Yes, that is right! Crazy, isn't it? Unmarked crosswalks are actually safer than regular ones.

How can that be possible?

Well, it is thought that many pedestrians step out into marked crosswalks a little too confidently sometimes, making the assumption that all the drivers already see them and are expecting them to cross. So they themselves are less cautious and sometimes step right out into the paths of oncoming cars.

Pedestrians walking in unmarked crosswalks, however, tend to be much more cautious and hesitant at these intersections. For that reason, they are more likely to make eye contact with drivers in approaching vehicles before stepping out into harm's way, and are therefore less likely to be involved in an accident at these kinds of crosswalks.

So the next time you head out the door for your leisurely morning stroll, don't second-guess yourself or worry about getting in trouble when you come to an intersection with no painted crosswalk. You are perfectly within your rights to cross that street. And no, you don't have to run across while vehicles are waiting, as if they are doing you a favor and letting you cross their road.

It's your road too, and you have just as much right to be there as anybody else.

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      Hassan 3 years ago

      You make some really vaablule points, both sides of the equation, the driver and the pedestrian need to be more careful and take responsibility for their safety.Thank you for linking directly to the pages where we can order these potentially life saving ideas.Good Work and thank you for being such an amazing advocate.Jackie

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      Jakub 3 years ago

      The diagonal arwors under non-vehicular crossing signs indicate that there is a concentration of people crossing the road at that location. It does not necessarily mean that there is a marked crosswalk at that location. The standard in Section 2C.50 of the CAMUTCD refers to a crossing point, not a crosswalk. There are many situations where it is helpful to warn the drivers to watch out for potential crossers, but a marked crosswalk is not necessary or desirable.

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      Susan 3 years ago

      A plain-clothes officer or a vuenotelr will cross the street at a designated crosswalk as assigned officers enforce violations of traffic laws. In addition, there will be added enforcement during routine patrols. Wait. So they are going to intentionally foist a person out in front of a probable law abiding citizen in an effort to trip somebody up and make a point that some pedestrians are reckless and some other drivers may be too? You don't need to stop us and tell us that: we're aware.Getting through this town is ALREADY a nightmare and now you're going to INTENTIONALLY try to trip up and further slow otherwise fine drivers down?Has anybody even remotely thought of the additional danger and congestion this education' program is going to cause the remainder of the drivers trying to get around manufactured offenders' in the middle of this small town?Have I missed all the news stories of the spike in local crosswalk accidents and fatalities? People need to yield to pedestrians and give room to them; however, there is no need to be further congesting traffic downtown in the name of education.' If an officer sees a problem on their regular patrol, address it then. Don't waste the time of good citizens to make a manufactured point.

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