For most pedestrians in the Las Vegas Valley, the issue is as black and white as asphalt and painted striping.
For O.C. White, manager of the city of Las Vegas' Traffic Engineering Department, the literal lines of accommodation and access are not drawn so distinctly. Whether or not to add an off-intersection crosswalk on a major thoroughfare is not a call borne of casual whim or community whining.
"It's always viewed as a matter of safety over convenience," White says. "There's no other way to look at it."
Among the complaints the Road Warrior received following a recent column on pedestrian safety - which cited several early-year fatalities due to ultra-risky jaywalking - the loudest was about the valley not having enough off-intersection or midblock crosswalks. Pedestrians wouldn't feel the need to jaywalk, readers contended, if they didn't have to walk as much as a quarter-mile to get to an intersection to cross the street, only to walk back some distance on the other side to get to their desired destination.
Mention that the reward isn't worth the risk in this real-life version of Frogger, and pedestrians get up in arms - or is that "legs"? - over a perceived lack of understanding and appreciation of what they have to go through to get from Point A to Point B on major city streets.
Or, as reader Earl wrote, "I bet you drive everywhere. You don't have to walk anywhere of great distance, do you?"
In fairness to Earl, no the Road Warrior doesn't, although his waistline indicates he should. But that's a topic for a future Monday Health section story.
This is about folks who do walk and swear they are inconvenienced by long hikes to intersections, a problem more common on the valley's avenues and boulevards and parkways and, specifically, Boulder Highway, than on residential roads and streets.
The desire of many pedestrians to take the shortest distance between two points - that being a straight line, regardless of interceding traffic - is often exacerbated by the valley's oppressive summer heat.
The letter of the law in Nevada is that every intersection, whether striped or not, whether indicated by traffic signals or "WALK/DON'T WALK" signs, has a crosswalk, and motorists must yield the right of way to pedestrians who are in the crosswalk when the pedestrian is in the same half of the roadway as the motorist.
In most instances, that should be enough, including long stretches of avenue or boulevard where residential side streets create periodic intersections for crossing.
But just because a long run of road doesn't have an intersection, thereby creating a crosswalk, doesn't mean it needs or deserves one, White says. And even at those locations where a striped crosswalk and, on occasion, flashing pedestrian lights are added doesn't mean all pedestrians will use them.
"We average probably a couple of requests a month (for special crosswalks), so we go out and look," says White, who adds he doesn't have a number for off-intersection crosswalks in the city. "But we have to take everything into consideration, weighing most heavily on the importance of safety.
"Convenience doesn't always work with safety."
A call to a Clark County traffic engineer about that agency's stance on midblock crosswalks was not returned, although a county spokesman provided information on the definition of crosswalks.
Since most major thoroughfares in the valley have speed limits of 35 to 45 mph, White and his engineering team have to consider how a midblock crosswalk in the city would affect braking distance for cars should a pedestrian step out into one at any given moment.
"When you start adding crosswalks that aren't at intersections," White explains, "you give pedestrians a false sense of confidence in thinking that drivers will see them" - the crosswalk, as well as the pedestrian using it - "in time to stop. That's just not the case in many instances.
"We all know what happens when a vehicle hits a pedestrian. The vehicle always wins."
In addition to the safety issue of simply striping a crosswalk at midblock, other factors must be considered: Is there proper lighting for night crossing? Does it require flashing lights, which come at an additional cost? How will another crosswalk impact traffic flow, considering motorists already experience enough stop-and-go movement (or lack thereof), especially during rush hour? Is there enough foot traffic to even consider a crosswalk?
White and his staff entertain all requests, he says. Some can be dismissed out of hand because they've already been requested by others and found not to be in the best interest of both pedestrians and motorists.
Occasionally, his agency will partner with another - Clark County, the county's school district, etc. - to provide additional or, in some cases, better placement of crosswalks as the valley's needs change. He cites an instance on Washington Avenue, where a fire station and residents of a senior complex are able to share a dual-purpose light, with priority given to the fire station. That setup provides seniors a crosswalk with a safe means of using it.
White says he hears the cries of pedestrians who want more crosswalks, and he'll continue to entertain all suggestions from people who contact his office at 229-6327. Just don't expect all requests to be honored.
"At the end of the day, we have to do what is best for both pedestrians and motorists," he says. "When I say 'best,' I mean 'safest.' "
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