The thing about pedestrian crosswalks is that they only work if both pedestrians and motorists pay attention to them.
At their meeting Tuesday, Lawrence city commissioners will consider two issues related to downtown crosswalks. The Traffic Safety Commission has recommended that a mid-block crosswalk be added on New Hampshire Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets and that an existing crosswalk in front of the Lawrence Arts Center be equipped with a pedestrian-activated traffic signal.
The purpose of the crosswalk in the 700 block is to accommodate heavy pedestrian traffic in that area, particularly in the evening hours. This can be confirmed about any evening by the number of pedestrians crossing the street between parking lots east of New Hampshire and destinations on Massachusetts Street. Channeling this pedestrian traffic into a mid-block crosswalk would increase safety for pedestrians and convenience for motorists. The key is for pedestrians to use the crosswalks rather than continuing to bolt across the street anywhere in the middle of the block.
A crosswalk in front of the Lawrence Arts Center illustrates the other side of this coin. There is a fully marked, raised crosswalk that runs between the arts center and the multi-level garage that provides parking for people participating in the center's classes and events. The only problem, according to numerous speakers at the Traffic Safety Commission meeting, is that motorists don't stop for people waiting to cross the street.
This is not news to people who use about any crosswalk in downtown Lawrence. A signal on the Arts Center crosswalk could help get the attention of motorists, especially after dark, and perhaps increase the safety of pedestrians, including many people with small children. Interestingly, signal lights were removed some time ago from mid-block crosswalks on Massachusetts Street because city traffic officials decided they gave pedestrians a false sense of security - meaning that when the light was red, they actually expected motorists to stop. What a concept.
Building one new crosswalk and adding a signal to another seem like reasonable steps to try to channel pedestrian traffic in downtown's long north-south blocks. Ensuring pedestrian safety, however, still is a two-way street. Pedestrians need to use the crosswalks rather than jaywalking, and motorists need to travel at low enough speeds to allow them to stop when pedestrians enter those crosswalks.
It also never hurts to be a defensive driver or walker and be ready for someone else to do something they shouldn't. Even if you're right and they're wrong, avoiding an unfortunate pedestrian-vehicle accident is well worth the effort.