Are These Signs Useful or Worthless?


Yesterday @MathewFriedman tweeted us:

“Are these ever going back up? NJ Ave and Warner NW.”

Some discussion followed and I’m curious what folks think here – do these signs actually work? Personally when I would cross at New Hampshire with these signs, every single time I felt like there was a significant possibility of getting killed. Do they give a false sense of safety? What can be done to improve their usefulness or do you think they should be scrapped altogether for something else.

83 Comment

  • A lot of people seem ignorant that it is D.C. law that you must stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. So I do like that these point out that it is the law. Maybe after driving by them enough, it will sink in with some drivers.

    • It’s not that they’re ignorant, they simply DON’T CARE. Case in point, yesterday when I was crossing 14th St NW at Quincy yesterday, I was halfway through the crosswalk when a woman in a BMW station wagon blew through the crosswalk. She didn’t care to stop, her whole attitude was “If I’m not going to hit him at the rate of speed I’m going, I’m not going to neither slow down nor stop.”

      They simply don’t care.

      • +1
        Exactly zero f#cks are given by drivers. Personally, I think the flashing lights (embedded in the ground) that are activated by pushing a button are more effective.

        • Agree. And gosh I saw those in Europe at least 20 years ago. Have yet to see it in the U.S.

          • They actually have one the William and Mary campus on a blind curve. Very effective. I’ve never seen them on an actual public road.

          • There is one on Georgia Ave. It works marginally well but certainly better than the zebra crossings alone.

          • There is one at MacArthur Blvd & U St ( in front of the Palisades Safeway).

      • Some certainly don’t care. But the law is not the same everywhere, so I still like the lesson they give. Even if it is frequently ignored by many who do not care.

    • I think suburban drivers (MD/VA) tend to be the worst offenders. Maybe they aren’t used to driving around as many pedestrians out in the sticks.

  • I think they would be useful if MPD did some targeted enforcement. As is they are useful only if you want to put your life into some MD drivers hands.

    • So what you are saying is they are never useful.

    • As someone who received a ($50!) ticket for this a few years ago, I can vouch for its effectiveness. I actually didn’t know that it was the law to stop for people not only *in* the crosswalk, but on the sidewalk waiting to cross, and have been much more conscientious about it since.

      • I say this as a driver, a pedestrian and a casual bike rider: my only frustration with these signs is they can embolden pedestrians to enter into the crosswalk without looking whatsoever or when cars are clearly on-coming only a few feet away and it makes a vehicle screeching to a halt also a dangerous situation …and it seems to often happen with a pedestrian “just cause I can” attitude. instead, often times it seems pedestrian crossing 10 seconds later when on-coming vehicles have passed and the road is clear would be much safer. i feel that we pedestrians also have a shared responsibility to cross roads in a safe manner…what we learned when young, stop and look then cross safely. but, when pedestrians are clearly already in the crosswalk waiting these signs are good reminders for drivers what their side of roadway responsibility is.

        • Agree entirely with this. I for one don’t need to prove the phrase “dead right” just to try to get across the street 2 seconds faster.

      • what about people standing at the edge of a crosswalk on their phone, and who don’t move to cross when you stop for them? the worst…well not as bad as hitting somebody, so not the worst, but when I stop so people can cross and they don’t cross…ugh.

  • Aglets

    THey would be useful if i could pick them up and swing them at the cars trying to run me over as I cross Rhode Island Avenue in the crosswalks

    • ^this! their usual state (banged and beat to hell) shows you just how useful they are: not much. drivers hit them all the time, likely as they’re swerving to avoid the person trying to use the crosswalk instead of stopping and yielding like they’re supposed to.

  • I’d say they are fairly useful in reminding drivers to slow down. They seem to work best when they are on the yellow lines (vs laying on the side of the road)

  • When driving down 16th street most intersections have lights/crosswalks, but the few that don’t have these signs and they are a helpful reminder as I’m coming up to them to stop if people look like they are going to cross. As a pedestrian, I always take my right of way liberally, which inst the smartest thing. Who cares if I’m in the right if I’m smashed into the pavement..

  • Useless. Especially on Connecticut Ave. It’s like a last minute challenge to hit a DC resident before the escape into Maryland.

  • What’s most concerning is that drivers seem to run over/knock down these signs constantly. If they can’t avoid the signs, they’re unlikely to avoid mowing down pedestrians.

  • Scrap them. I hated them as a pedestrian, and I hate them still as a driver. If an intersection has significant enough pedestrian traffic, then it merits either a real stop sign or, in the case of larger/commuter roads, a traffic light. Relying on a halfway measure creates uncertainty for drivers as to their responsibilities, and leads to dangerous situations for pedestrians and other drivers when that uncertainty is demonstrated on the road.

    • “Relying on a halfway measure creates uncertainty for drivers as to their responsibilities, and leads to dangerous situations for pedestrians and other drivers when that uncertainty is demonstrated on the road.”?

      The whole point of the sign is to take away the uncertainty – it is law that drivers are required to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. However, I agree that enforcement (aka: ticketing) is necessary to make drivers follow through and obey laws they should already know.

      • Yes, but must drivers stop or slow down if pedestrians are obviously waiting to cross, but haven’t entered the crosswalk? Must pedestrians actually step into oncoming traffic to signal their intention, and trigger the drivers’ obligation? I’m sure there are answers to these (and similar) questions, but those answers are not conveyed by a simple sign, and as such, in real time are at the discretion of those drivers, pedestrians, and enforcement officials. I think that situation isn’t sustainable, and I think that conclusion is supported by the rest of the comments here.

        I stand by my original recommendation. Scrap them.

        • Easy answer: Yes. Drivers must stop if someone is at the crosswalk, whether they have started to cross or not. No. Pedestrians do not have to walk into traffic to show that they want to cross. It seems clear to me from the signs and from the laws that if someone is standing at the crosswalk, drivers must stop.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Easy answers are not always correct answers. I would encourage you to look up the actual law and report back.

          • Actually it is “in” the crosswalk, but there is a wide disparity between the general public as to what “in” the crosswalk means. The technicality is if a person is waiting on the sidewalk but not in the crosswalk, drivers do not have to stop. This is where confusion reigns and it becomes dangerous to use these as a crossing point. Personally, I am far more bold at crossing than I should be but I also tend to walk up or down the street to a light whenever one is within sight because it is the safer option.

          • Someone quoted the applicable law here in a different discussion a while ago and IIRC it is actually not clear that drivers have to stop for pedestrians who are not actually *in* the crosswalk.

          • Wrong. The law states that the pedestrian must be *in* the crosswalk. The presumption is that the pedestrian on the sidewalk defers to the approaching traffic in the road. Which if you think about it actually makes sense — you cross behind the car as it moves away. But many pedestrians think that they have absolute carte blanche to just stroll out into the road without so much as a glance.

            In Maryland the law is more well-defined, it is clearly the responsibility of the pedestrian to defer to vehicles when you are not at a crosswalk or if the car cannot reasonably stop as you enter the roadway (Md State Code 21-502). DC and Va are more ambiguous.

            My biggest problem with these signs is that people in cars think they are stop signs and stop at them even if there is no pedestrian present. I’ve almost rear-ended someone a couple times because of this.

        • This is why we need mandatory continuing driver’s education. And education in DC law for those transferring their out of state licenses here.

        • They do? Not in Petworth they don’t. NH ave is basically like taking your chances at living or dying every time you cross. Md. Drivers don’t give a F*ck.

    • The problem is that there all kinds of trade-offs with stoplights and stop signs, and if you don’t give pedestrians appropriate crossing opportunities, they will jaywalk. (And if you follow popville, you may know how hard it is to get a stop sign installed.) If you set up a system where pedestrians can only cross at controlled intersections, you will have: 1) even more congested traffic; 2) more stop-sign running; and 3) rampant jaywalking.

      • saf

        ” how hard it is to get a stop sign installed”

        I dunno. An awful lot of stop signs have popped up unexpectedly in the last few years. They seemed for a while to just be growing like trees.

      • Agreed. Folks on Georgia Ave frequently jaywalk when they’re a mere 10 ft away from an actual crosswalk. I shudder to think of how jaywalking frequency would increase if pedestrian crossings were further limited. And adding more lights/stop signs there is generally infeasible.

  • The way they’re designed is what makes them useless. They’re difficult to read from a distance, especially for those drivers not immediately familiar with this particular road signage (i.e. drivers not from the area).

  • I requested one of these on my fairly busy street. It only lasted about 24 hours before a car destroyed it. DDOT never replaced it.

  • HaileUnlikely

    Not completely worthless, but not very useful. They’re one of those things that state and local transportation agencies love – they don’t help much (studies suggest that they have statistically non-zero effects but the proportion of drivers who fail to yield is still huge), but they’re really cheap and provide the appearance of “doing something.”

  • I realized that this isn’t realistic for many reasons, but I would love them to be big concrete bollards and may of them, so that a car actually has to slow down to get through.

    The fact that so many of these are knocked off the road should be a good indicator how dangerous it is for a pedestrian.

    Enforcement would be nice. Lots of cameras would be nice. Maybe even a stop sign in problem areas.

    I don’t have any hopes that vision zero is anything but lip service.

    • I’m with you on the concrete bollards. I think that’s a great idea, but I doubt PD and FD would think so.

  • DC1

    They’re a nice reminder, but do absolutely nothing. I’ve had several close calls on 15th & Swann, even with MPD cars that just don’t seem to care.

  • Pablo Raw

    Since their natural state is on the ground after they get knocked down by cars, maybe it would be more useful to paint the crossroads yellow.

  • I can’t speak for other parts of DC but those signs are as useless as it can be especially on Georgia Ave. Even MPD doesn’t follow their own law – stop for pedestrian at crosswalk.

  • But I like the stop signs in the middle of the street, in addition to on the curbs. Sometimes you can’t see the standardly-placed signs due to trees or parked trucks. I don’t drive much, and I appreciate all these things.

  • Most of the MPD officers don’t stop at stop signs. There’s no reason to think that other drivers would stop for these, and they don’t.

  • Very useful. As a driver, I like every reminder possible that it’s my duty to stop for peds in a crosswalk. These signs are fantastic.

  • I regularly cross 15th (NW) at N St., and the sign there is too small to really be noticed.

    I’ve almost been hit several times, and I’ve witnessed others also almost hit.

    • HaileUnlikely

      The crosswalks at intersections without traffic lights on 15th are crazy insane death traps – the road is too wide, there are too many lanes, and traffic moves too fast for it to ever be safe to cross there. I doubt these signs are of much value there. In some other locations, where they are placed in the middle of streets at unsignalized intersections with one lane in each direction, they still don’t solve the problem, but they are definitely more useful / less useless than they are on 15th.

    • Mootje1

      +1000. 15th and N is AWFUL.

    • I have an idea. Walk up or down ONE HALF BLOCK to the light and cross. They are on every lettered street on 15th Street. It won’t work on all streets and in all neighborhoods, but I think we just have too many of these unnecessary crossing areas now, and they disrupt the already challenged flow of traffic.

  • According to the Federal Highway Administration, these knockdown signs are “made from flexible materials, [and] the signs bounce back up if knocked down by a vehicle.” This may be true to a degree, but clearly the signs frequently get “knocked off.”

  • Totally worthless and maybe even dangerous. On East Capitol during rush hour its the rare car that actually stops for pedestrians already standing several feet off the curb and hesitantly trying to commence crossing in earnest without getting killed.

    And worse, the cars coming from cross streets often misinterpret these signs as full-stop signs and so don’t yield to oncoming traffic (since they expect it to stop).

  • These definitely help some considerate drivers to at least be mindful of pedestrians who may or may not be attempting to cross. Some drivers, however, just don’t care.

  • nightborn

    Worthless. Pretty much no one stops, and I’ve been honked at for crossing before – even when I’m already crossing when the car starts to approach.

  • These signs are useless and if you think that they or painted lines across a busy street like Wisconsin Ave is going to keep you safe, then you’re a fool. Every one I’ve seen gets trashed to hell and needs to be replaced, try making a turn onto a street with one of these signs and see how narrow your turning radius gets. The signs and crosswalks definitely give pedestrians a false sense of security.

  • I was crossing 14th St. just north of Florida Ave a few weeks ago and the crosswalk had one of these signs in it. It was all clear when I entered the crosswalk but but the time I was halfway through a guy who had to have been going at least 70 came by and had to slam on the brakes, calling me a “f-in a-hole” (non-censored obvi). I was standing right next to one of these signs.

    Ugh, I hate people.

  • tonyr

    It would help if they re-painted the cross walk stripes (after resurfacing the east lanes, some time back) going north on 14th. It’s difficult to spot the crosswalk when only half of it is painted.

  • They may not make things safer, but they do give me something to point to when I stop smack in the middle of the crosswalk and yell “f* you! I have the right of way!!!!” That said, I only cross when I know the car has enough distance to stop in time, so for example, never near the Jefferson Memorial where cars pay no attention to the yield to pedestrian sign and speed through.

    • I sure hope you (and everyone else!) only cross when you know the car has enough distance to stop in time, assuming your judgement is decent. Otherwise you are asking to be hit by a car, no?

  • Who cares? There is no enforcement of cars or bikers running lights and smashing into pedestrians anyway. Without consequences nothing will improve. Just this week I was nearly run down by two cyclists and a car, all at different places in the city when legally using a crosswalk displaying a walk sign.

  • I feel the signs are useful. We are in the push-and-pull phase of adjustment to the new law. I have noticed, though, that as time passes, drivers seem to adapt to the new rules (not so new now!) But as this photo indicates, it’s not perfect.

    This rule alas coincided with advent of GPS, iPhones and such gadgets to distract drivers. That has not helped.

  • These are good reminders for those drivers that are considerate of pedestrians. Some times even the most considerate driver needs a little reminder. But to all the others they are simply another sign to ignore. I used to live off Lincoln Park and could stand next to or even lean on one of these signs as cars zipped by me. I’d count all the cars who refused to stop. I now live in Deanwood and have to cross Nannie Helen Burroughs to get to the bike share. Their are multiple cross walks with these signs and I have literally counted 20+ cars who have zipped past me while I stand right behind one of these signs. It has gotten so bad on Nannie Helen Burroughs that MPD has, on multiple occasions now, set up stings to hand out tickets to people refusing to stop for pedestrians.

  • I initially got these signs installed, and NO they don’t make people stop for pedestrians. The street just got paved so I requested through 311 to have these signs reinstalled.

  • I don’t know about everywhere else, but where I’m from up North this doesn’t exist. I think in a city where so many people come from other places this actually causes more danger than it tries to prevent. People who aren’t use to these aren’t expecting it. If they do manage to make out the message and there are pedestrians present the driver will most likely have to slam on their brakes or race through the crosswalk before the pedestrian can cross. I think this should be done with completely.

    • Well, pedestrians still have the right of way regardless of whether there is a sign or not. So how does doing away with the signs help things?

  • Don’t think they help much, if at all, but I have noticed some improvement crossing Sherman Circle, where the signs not only point out that pedestrians have the right of way, but that it’s a $250 fine if you don’t. There was also some targeted enforcement by the MPD when the signs initially went up that helped as well.

    Of course, I’ve also seen several near-accidents when drivers coming up behind someone who has stopped for me don’t realize what’s happening and have to slam on the brakes, or tries to go around them and has to stop for me. I tend to fast walk/jog across those crosswalks even if a car has stopped for me, just in case.

    • What we REALLY need to do is allow pedestrians to submit video of cars who fail to yield in a crosswalk, have the video reviewed by an MPD officer at a desk to confirm it meets the criteria (clear infraction, clear license plate, etc), and then have MPD send out $50-$100 tickets. THAT would get people’s attention.

  • Separate question. with the HAWK crossing lights, can someone tell me exactly what the car requirements are at each phase? When there is no light at all it’s full go right? But a pedestrian can still walk if they feel like it and I have to stop? Also, what about flashing yellow, which I think means it’s about to change? Full red I get, but flashing red, that is a stopsign or just telling me I can almost go?

    I feel like these things have been installed without any proper direction on how exactly they work.

    • I’m not sure what the confusion is here.

      When there’s no light, it’s just like any other crosswalk. If a pedestrian is in it, they have the right of way.

      Flashing yellow/yellow – proceed with caution.
      Full red – stop light
      Flashing red – stop sign

      N.B. – when power is out and an intersection is flashing red, that means it is a four way stop. It boggles my mind how many people can’t get this right.

  • **This is a law in MD, and they have these signs in a lot of crosswalks as well, so saying MD drivers are the only ones who run them is outright stupidity. Plus I’d venture a guess that it’s busses and plow trucks that hit them the most since they are usually wider than the actual lane** I’d say the signs generally don’t help much, especially in the middle of a two lane road where you might not be able to see it from the right lane. If they put lights on poles on each side of the crosswalk and made you press a button to cross, it would help immensely because every driver would be able to see the lights and a flashing light clearly draws more attention. But most pedestrians in DC don’t even use crosswalks, so why bother spending the money?

  • I think these signs do exactly what they’re supposed to. Which is to say that they don’t slow down car traffic and allow DC to avoid making any actual infrastructure improvements.

  • I’ve seen those signs work to varying degrees.

    When I lived on CT Avenue near Chevy Chase, I recall this being an issue and some folks got together and added stick with orange flags. Whenever someone needed to cross the intersection, they grabbed the stick and waved the flag as they were crossing the street and placed in a holder for the next person. It was on the part of CT Avenue near the Chevy Chase Library and the circle.

  • Haha. I’ve been thinking the same things about these very signs on New Jersey by my house. They need to be put back up because my bitchy resting face is not enough to make people slow down for me there.

  • They took one of these signs down at Florida Ave and 5th St. NW recently. Especially for such a busy street, it was very useful for us daily pedestrians. Hope they put it back up soon!

  • Emmaleigh504

    They work well for me on 24th and Calvert. On Calvert I try to wait until the cars are out of the road before stepping into the crosswalk b/c when I’m there it’s not that busy. I had a super nice 18 wheeler stop for me Monday even though I was not in the crosswalk.
    The biggest problem I have with these signs is the mofo cyclists who seem to think I’m in their way when I’m in the cross walk. The Calvert crosswalk is pretty much the only place I see entitled cyclists anymore. They make me a little homicidal. Just swerve around me if you are too good to stop at the stop sign for pedestrians!! No need to yell at me for following the law. asshats

  • I think they help! People would get angry and honk when I’d use the painted crosswalk outside my old office… when I wrote 311, they installed these and it helped make sure people know they are SUPPOSED to stop for crosswalks

  • I agree that the signs are hard to read and could be designed better. However, I think they do encourage traffic to slow a little bit – if not because of the reality of pedestrians, than because there’s a thing in the middle of the road. I’m not saying they do that much, but for out-of-towners or some other classes of well-meaning but clueless drivers, they may have some traffic calming effect a la lane narrowing.

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