Pedestrians also have a right to road, but should stay to left


August 20, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHAT ARE the laws pertaining to pedestrian use of a road where there are no sidewalks, no shoulders, no place to traverse except the road, which is a two-lane [one in each direction] beautiful, winding, shady public street?" wondered Gloria Berthold of Elkridge.

"The road that I am specifically speaking of is Lawyers Hill Road in Elkridge, and it is attracting many pedestrians - and the drivers using the road can be startled when rounding a curve and seeing walkers in the middle of the street - not to mention that it is dangerous as well."

Pedestrians are annoying, aren't they? Second only to shrieking babies on airplanes.

Even so, you have to share the road with them. Here's why: Nothing says they can't be there. But pedestrians do have a responsibility to keep to the left side of the road, said Michael Jackson, director of Bicycle and Pedestrian Access for the Maryland Department of Transportation. Basically, Maryland law requires pedestrians to walk along or on the left shoulder (facing traffic) where practicable, or as near as or on the edge of the roadway where practicable if no shoulder is present.

In a perfect world, every road would have sidewalks where pedestrians could stay out of the way in safety. Budget cuts and poor planning are the reality we're living in.

So for those inclined to perambulation, the American Automobile Association offers these rules to walk by:

Always use a crosswalk when it is available. But remember, painted lines can't stop cars.

Walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic, if sidewalks are not provided, so you can see oncoming cars.

Cross only at corners so drivers can see you.

Use a flashlight or wear or carry something reflective at night to help drivers see you.

For drivers tempted to run pedestrians down, slow down. If altruism doesn't work for you, think: lots of guilt and lawsuits. That should do it.

Four-way stop

Donna Jayanathan responded to the discussion in columns of the past two weeks about the four-way stop at St. Johns Lane and Dunloggin Road; she lives near the intersection.

"It used to be hard to make turns from Dunloggin onto St. Johns, and the four-way stop seems to have helped slightly in that regard," she said. "However, the problem with the intersection now isn't the stop signs but the four triangular islands in the middle of the roadway. To go straight on either street involves swerving to the right going into the intersection, to go around the first island, and swerving left again around a second island to get back on the road. Making a left takes a lot more time, because you again swerve right around the first island, but must continue swerving right around the island to your left as you turn."

She notes that she drives a full-size van, and has given up "the idea that my wheels would not go over one of the corners of the island, because I prefer that to going over the grass of my neighbors' yards," she said.

The islands have created unforeseen hazards, she said, and the intersection is an accident waiting to happen.

"Because the left-turners take so long, and swerve right before turning left, traffic from the other side going straight doesn't always realize what the oncoming traffic is doing and does not like to wait besides, and they speed through even as you are starting your left turn," she said. "I have seen many people go around on the wrong sides of the islands because the whole thing takes so long, including even the second car in the line going around the first going straight. A simple four-way stop without the islands would have been so much better."

Has anyone else experienced any problems there?

A word about warning

Howard County resident Mike Martin noted that at the end of the July 30 column, I requested that drivers moving much more slowly than others use their emergency flashers, alternately called hazard lights or warning lights.

"It has always been my understanding that Maryland state law forbids driving with flashers on," he said. "Please verify."

Judging from my travels on the county's parched highways and byways, you're not the only one who thinks using emergency flashers is illegal.

Luckily, you're wrong. (But thanks for asking anyway.)

Here's what Pfc. Diana Peters, Howard County police liaison, found out for us: Emergency flashers may be used "for the purpose of warning the drivers of other vehicles of the presence of a vehicular traffic hazard requiring the exercise of unusual care in approaching, overtaking or passing."

Furthermore, she noted that emergency flashers should be used when the posted speed limit is higher than 45 mph but the vehicle is traveling at least 20 mph below the posted speed limit.

So now you know.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at or send faxes to 410-715-2816. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044.

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