At Large with Tom Williams > > Understanding that crosswalk law

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pedestrian crossing Drivers need to be ready to stop at every intersection. If you’ve driven south or north on a street that is within a few blocks of the beach, your journey has probably been slower than it was a few years ago. It happens in Brigantine, Ventnor, Ocean City, Sea Isle City, Wildwood and Cape May – in all beach resorts. And it probably is a good thing.

It takes longer because drivers (at least, most drivers) are paying a lot more attention to what is happening in the crosswalks and those crosswalks are busy with people going to and coming from the beach. The extra attention is because of a law that went into effect in April 2010. It was created in memory of Casey Feldman, who was hit and killed by a car while crossing Central Avenue in Ocean City on 14th Street.

Here’s the way it’s supposed to work.

If a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, or off the curb at an intersection, that pedestrian has the right of way. Drivers must stop and wait until they cross safely.

This does not apply to those on bicycles. They do not have the right of way. Bike riders must follow the same rules of the road as automobile drivers follow. They must stop at stop signs and at red lights. They must stay off the sidewalks, and they must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.

By the way, while this right of way for pedestrians applies at intersections without marked crosswalks, it does not apply to those crossing in the middle of a block. That is, unless there is a crosswalk in the middle of the block.

As a matter of fact, pedestrians who cross in the middle of the block without a crosswalk are committing a crime. It’s called jaywalking. You likely won’t get a ticket, but should you be hit by a vehicle, you would probably be held responsible because you are fault for breaking the law.

“We’re trying to mark as many crosswalks as we can,” said Ocean City Police Capt. Steve Ang. “The big problem we’ve encountered is that some pedestrians feel empowered by the law. They know they have the right of way and they just walk into the street. They are supposed to make sure the cars are stopping. They need to show courtesy and patience and they should make eye contact with the driver. They need to make sure the driver sees them.”

While this new law has covered the entire state for more than three years, it still poses a challenge for resort towns.

“We have a lot of out-of-state drivers,” said Capt. Ang, “and even some from outside the country. Not only do they not all understand the law, but they might also be looking for an address or a business. That is why it is important that the pedestrian be careful.”

Pedestrians and drivers need to work together to improve traffic safety.

“They have to share the road,” said Ocean City Police Sgt. Brian Hopely, supervisor of the city’s Traffic Safety Unit. “If we all just use common sense, this law can make everybody safer.”

Statewide, pedestrian deaths are at a record high so far this year.

“But in Cape May, Cumberland, Salem and Atlantic counties, there have only been four pedestrian deaths since January, which is very good,” said Sgt. Hopely. “In Ocean City, we haven’t had a pedestrian death since Casey Feldman in 2009.”

There are a couple other things about traffic laws we all probably don’t know. For example, if you are stopped at a stop street going east and a car going north is stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross who is going in the same direction you’re going, you do not have the right to go. You are at a stop sign and cannot go until that other car clears the intersection.

“People also don’t understand that when they are pedestrians they need to watch the pedestrian signals where we have them,” Capt. Ang said. “At some of these intersections there are green arrows for cars to turn, so if the pedestrian watches the stop light he could be in trouble if a car is turning. And at some intersections, pedestrians need to press the button to let the controller know they are there. Otherwise, the pedestrian signal will never allow them to cross.”

Obviously, Capt. Ang and Sgt. Hopely have a lot of other concerns regarding traffic safety such as driving while under the influence, speeding, seat belt violations, cell phone use and other distractions. But these are laws that pretty much exist everywhere. This crosswalk law is a New Jersey law.

So, let’s recap. Drivers need to be ready to stop at every intersection. Pedestrians, while they have the right of way, should hesitate and make eye contact, because having the right of way won’t mean much if you run into a 3,000-pound vehicle. Any pedestrian who just walks into a crosswalk without checking traffic is, to put it bluntly, a gold-plated idiot.

And, while most shore communities go out of their way to encourage the riding of bikes, which is healthier for everyone, those on bikes must follow all traffic laws.

Most important of all, to quote Sgt. Hopely, “just use common sense.”

A few weeks ago, things that aren’t there anymore was the topic in this column and it will be revisited again next month. In the meantime, here’s another one.

The pay phone outside the Ocean City Post Office on Ocean Avenue has been removed. Was it the last pay phone in Ocean City, or maybe the last one at the shore?

And here’s another question. Why is gasoline always cheaper in Hammonton? It’s almost always 10 to 15 cents a gallon less in the Blueberry Capital of the World than anywhere else in South Jersey, especially the shore. You don’t think they’re thinning it out with a little blueberry juice, do you?

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Words of Wisdom: “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”

– H.G. Wells, author

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