Ohio Puts the Squeeze on People’s Right to Walk

As this video from Transit Miami shows, crossing the street on foot can be hazardous. A new law in Ohio is a step in the wrong direction.

The country’s seventh most populous state is rolling back pedestrians’ right-of-way within crosswalks when they have a walk signal. The state of Ohio recently updated its Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, putting in place new limits on people’s legal rights to walk without risk of being at fault in the event of a collision.

The new rules require pedestrians to yield to cars turning right or left on red at the beginning of the green signal. Columbus-area cycling advocate Patricia Kovacs, in a petition she is circulating, said the state of Ohio allows for walk signals as short as four seconds. Surrendering right of way at the beginning of the walk cycle might mean missing out on a chance for pedestrians to cross the street safely and legally.

“When is it okay for the pedestrian to start to walk?” said Portland-based attorney Ray Thomas, who specializes in bike and pedestrian law. “The law doesn’t say.”

In addition, under the new law, pedestrians do not have the right-of-way at the beginning of the walk signal, but have to “yield the right-of-way to vehicles lawfully within the intersection at the time that the walking person signal indication is first shown.” This is actually not a terribly unusual policy, Thomas said. It is generally good practice for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to allow the intersection to clear before beginning across.

But subordinating pedestrian right of way until the intersection is clear also assumes drivers are responsibly following traffic laws, meaning they slow down or stop on yellow rather than speeding up. In reality, a common response is to speed up.

“A driver could barrel out to make a left turn on a green,” Thomas said, ” if there was a collision, the driver could say, ‘Well the pedestrian should not have started [across the street] while I was still in the intersection.”

Kovacs is asking the Ohio General Assembly and ODOT to change the law back to its previous wording.

“The laws as they stand imply that if a pedestrian is hit by a motor vehicle, that the driver may not be liable if they claim that they were already in the intersection when the pedestrian received their green or WALK signal,” Kovacs writes. “It shouldn’t matter where the motor vehicle is located, the driver should always yield to pedestrians lawfully in the crosswalk.”

Last year, 115 pedestrians were killed on Ohio roadways. ODOT has not responded to inquiries about how the state’s 11.5 million residents would be informed of this changes, or what the agency plans to do to reduce pedestrian deaths.

13 thoughts on Ohio Puts the Squeeze on People’s Right to Walk

  1. Columbus was the only city in the country that used to enforce jaywalking laws in the downtown. Many of my out of town friends received warnings as they jumped the walk signal around the State House.

    This is the dumbest law. If the law does not give direction to the pedestrian to cross the street, then the state should now start removing all of the pedestrian signals.

    I urge everyone to sign the petition and demand change.

  2. It seems like one solution would be to have leading pedestrian intervals. The pedestrian walk signal would start about 3 seconds before the stoplight turns green, giving pedestrians a head start on getting into the crosswalk without having to deal with traffic. We use them at some intersections here in Arlington, VA

  3. Oh, by the way, the Ohio Department of Transportation never returned my calls inquiring about:

    A. What they are doing to inform the public about these changes.
    B. What they do to keep pedestrians safe.

    I left a message with their communications director Steve Faulkner, like they requested. They just never called me back. 

  4. our fair city has changed all the signals to allow pedestrians to go when all other lights are red.  Of course, the downtown also has almost no legal turn on red.  I think right turn on red should probably go altogether if cyclists or pedestrians are likely to be present.

  5. All crosswalks with a certain threshold of peak volume pedestrian activity should be required to have a separate walk cycle for pedestrians. I hear people tell me they avoid downtown areas because of the chaos and dangers traversing the areas. While, anecdotal, I hear it frequently in my profession. 

    Plus, increasing the ease of walking is usually a boon.

  6. As hard as many Ohio communities have worked to create safe, walkable neighborhoods, this is a total slap in the face to those efforts. Once again, it’s all about a transportation policy favoring the motor vehicle.

  7. My son was biking across the pedestrian walkway in broad daylight when he was hit by a car, Honda Pilot SUV. He was hit on his right thigh and was thrown from his bike. His bike went under the car, then bounced off. Fortunately, my son was not seriously injured. My son waited until the light turned to “Walk”. The driver was making a right turn. She first told my son, ” I thought I had the green light”. Later told the police she was certain she had the green light. She received no ticket. Police said it was a case of she said, he said. There were no witnesses. My husband tried to argue with the police. We then later called to speak to the Police Chief. The sargent said without evidence that she had the red light, there is nothing they could do. Case closed. This happened in Beavercreek, OH. I am angry. I will sign that petition.

  8. The law should require vehicles always yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. The only time a pedestrian should be at fault in a crosswalk is if they violate a red “don’t walk” signal.

  9. I was hit by a car 2 days ago. I was at a traffic light at an intersection. I waited for the green light( little white man for pedestrians) so I could cross to the other side of the road. I still look every time I cross a street even when there is a traffic light because you never know if a car runs a red light or something. So I looked and it was clear. There were stopped cars at the red light waiting for the green light. I walked right in front of these cars and everything is still ok. As I pass these cars and I’m almost on the other side of the road a car out of nowhere hits me. The driver was an 18 year old girl who claimed not seeing me. (Yes, of course she was not paying attention because she was on her phone!)
    All the people that were in their cars waiting for the green light came to help me and they saw everything.
    I filed a report and spend the entire day at the hospital! I really want to sue her because it was her fault but I don’t know where to start. I have all of her information (insurance, car info, personal info). Any suggestions?

  10. This is terrible and I hope something good came out of it. It doesn’t matter what he said, she said – the driver hit a pedestrian and there is evidence of frontal impact. Therefore, it should be a legitimate court case. It’s a shame the driver didn’t hold herself accountable for striking a child.

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