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Travis Baker blogs about the problems and idiosyncrasies of Kitsap highways and byways.
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Pedestrians Should Walk Facing Traffic

March 13th, 2006 by sitedude

The in basket: Ginny Renoudet says “My husband and I walk daily, facing traffic on a road with no sidewalks.  We are frequently forced into the road by walkers facing the same direction as traffic.  As a youngster we were taught to walk facing traffic and ride bikes with traffic.  Have things changed?
The out basket: No, walking toward traffic still a good idea and I was surprised to find that state law even requires it.


The in basket: Ginny Renoudet says “My husband and I walk daily, facing traffic on a road with no sidewalks.  We are frequently forced into the road by walkers facing the same direction as traffic.  As a youngster we were taught to walk facing traffic and ride bikes with traffic.  Have things changed?
The out basket: No, walking toward traffic still a good idea and I was surprised to find that state law even requires it.
RCW 46.61.250 says, “Where sidewalks are not provided, any
pedestrian walking or otherwise moving along and upon a highway shall,
when practicable, walk or move only on the left side of the roadway or
its shoulder facing traffic which may approach from the opposite
direction and, upon meeting an oncoming vehicle, shall move clear of the
roadway.”
Scott Wilson, pubic information deputy with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office says “where practicable” is a key caveat.
“I would not expect someone whose vehicle had broken down on State Highway 3 / 16, or any of the major state routes or county roads, to attempt to cross the highway or roadway to get to the other side, just so they would be in compliance with the RCW, as they walk to the nearest telephone or service station,” he said. ” Common sense is the driving factor here.
“Similarly, if one shoulder of a roadway has ample room, and the opposite shoulder doesn’t, the pedestrian would be smart to use the side of the road with the ample shoulder width.”
He said he’s never personally seen a citation issued to a pedestrian for violating this law.
He urged cooperation when pedestrians meet going in opposite directions on the shoulder and suggested that the ones walking toward traffic, though the others are in the wrong, have the best view of approaching traffic and should consider making way for the others in the interests of safety.
“One other note,” he added. “remind your readers that pedestrians are doing themselves a very big safety favor in times of reduced visibility by carrying a lit flashlight, wearing safety reflectors or strobes, or wearing reflective clothing.
“There have been hundreds of occasions when patrol deputies have come upon a pedestrian at night on a roadway shoulder, wearing only dark clothing, with no means of being seen by motorists until the very last second when headlamp beams disclose their presence. In an extreme situation, this would be too late to avoid a car – pedestrian collision.
“If it happens with patrol deputies, it certainly occurs with all other drivers.”
Ginny also is right that bicyclists are supposed to ride in the same direction as cars. I’ve often wondered why, since I’d think ‘cyclists need to see oncoming traffic as much as pedestrians. Perhaps it’s to reduce the force of the impact when a car and bike do collide. Any thoughts, readers?

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7 Responses to “Pedestrians Should Walk Facing Traffic”

  1. Gary Lusk Says:

    When people ask me why I ride with traffic (other than it’s the law), I use the following scenario:

    Assume you are driving and come to a stop sign and plan on making a right turn. Your full attention is to the left waiting for a gap in traffic. If I am riding with traffic, you and I can make eye contact and I feel much safer. Now, you have a gap in traffic for your right turn. In most cases, I hope you take a quick glance to the right and then make your turn. If I am riding against traffic at 20mph, I have not made eye contact with you and you may be moving during your quick glance to the right and I don’t have much of a chance if I am right at the intersection. Riding with traffic is the legal thing to do and, in my opinion, much safer.

    Since I have your attention, I have three other subjects for your future investigation:

    1. Since Bremerton instituted a bicycle helmet law, it seems that there are more riders without a helmet than with a helmet. Has this law been rescinded?

    2. On the Brownsville highway just south of 308 there is an unused traffic signal at an unused Keyport gate. Couldn’t this signal be recycled to save money?

    3. Traveling southbound on 303 and taking the Ridgetop exit is confusing. My interpretation is that, since there is an “island” painted on the road, a free right turn onto Ridgetop into the right hand lane is acceptable. The problem is that people already on Ridgetop want to move over to that lane (crossing a solid white line) as soon as possible to go to the hospital and Costco. It seems that a sign could be installed on Ridgetop that shows that the offramp traffic has a lane and the through traffic should stay in the left lane similar to a freeway with an onramp lane that doesn’t end such as 303 northbound to Highway 3.

  2. Eldon Jacobson Says:

    You asked for thoughts about why bicycles and cars are supposed to travel the same direction. There are two important reasons I can think of.
    1. Even though motorists pulling out of a driveway (and turning right) into a road are supposed to look both ways for pedestrians and all other travelers, there are some poor drivers who only look to the left before turning right. A bicycle going the wrong way would not be detected and a collision could happen.
    2. Most importantly, when a bicycle and a car are traveling the same direction, there is more time for the driver to figure out how to avoid the bicycle by either slowing down or safely passing. For example, if a bicycle is traveling 10 miles per hour (mph) and a car is going 30 mph, the closing speed is 40 mph if they are headed towards each other, and 20 mph if they are going the same direction.

  3. Sunny Evsich Says:

    Regarding riding bicycles, when I was growing up in Bremerton it was drilled into us to ride FACING traffic so we could see what’s coming at us. Also, at crosswalks, we were told to dismount and WALK our bikes across the intersection as pedestrians. The police, including (legendeary Sheriff) Art Morken, used to come to our grade school every year and lecture us on that very fact. I was even literally cut off by a police car and given a stern command to ride facing traffic when I rode around the corner to my house in the same direction as traffic. Now, people on bicycles ride WITH traffic and even get into the left turn lanes in the middle of the street and ride in between the cars. Holy Moly, I would have gone to jail if I did that when I was a kid! When were the rules changed to the unbelievably dangerous situation that is now in practice of riding with traffic, as if a bicycle were a car?

  4. Don Van Doornik Says:

    I can think of a couple of reasons why bicyclists travel in the same direction as automobile traffic. The first is simply that bike riders are expected to follow the same traffic laws as automobiles, which means they have to be on the right hand side of the road.

    Second, if a cyclist is riding on a road without a paved shoulder, and thus are unable to move far enough to the right to allow cars to pass, cars approaching the cyclist from behind can slow down to match the cyclist’s speed until it is safe to cross the center lane and pass. If the cyclist were riding in the left lane, oncoming traffic would have to “thread the needle” between the cyclist and any oncoming traffic in the opposite lane to avoid a head on collision.

  5. John Says:

    I’ve found that walking facing traffic and carrying a sawed off shotgun seems to make the drivers a little more courteous.

  6. Ray Says:

    I have done some night walking and it’s risky to walk facing traffic. If there is poor lighting then the oncoming headlights will blind you and make for a terrifying experience. But walking with traffic allows you to see the road ahead of you as you’re backlit.

  7. Marshall Says:

    Walking toward traffic is foolhardy. Cars turning right toward you never see you because they have no reason to look that way. That’s why I no longer walk toward traffic.

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