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What is a Pedestrian Crosswalk?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A pedestrian crosswalk is an area of the street which is designated as a pedestrian crossing area. A common site for a crosswalk is at an intersection, where traffic may already be stopped, thus making it easy to accommodate pedestrians who need to get across the street. On particularly long streets, a pedestrian crosswalk can also appear in the middle of the street so that pedestrians can safely cross in the middle of the street. Pedestrian crosswalks can be found all over the world, in a wide variety of styles and locations.

In many regions, specific areas of the traffic law address pedestrian crosswalks. For example, traffic may be required to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and parking on or around a crosswalk is restricted so that pedestrians can move freely and safely see oncoming cars. Stopping in the middle of the crosswalk may also be grounds for a traffic ticket. Many traffic laws also forbid cars from moving into the crosswalk while a pedestrian is in it.

The design of a pedestrian crosswalk usually includes street signs to alert drivers to the fact that a crosswalk is coming up, and clear markings in the road which delineate the crosswalk. One of the most common markings is a striped pattern, which is why pedestrian crosswalks are sometimes known as “zebra crossings.” The crosswalk can also include signals to alert pedestrians when it is safe to walk.

At intersections controlled by traffic lights, the traffic lights are linked to indicators used by pedestrians which tell them when they can and cannot cross. These signals are usually visual and auditory so that blind people know when it is safe to cross the street, and they can include symbols or writing, often changing colors as well to make it even easier for people to read the signals. A pedestrian crosswalk is also required by law in many regions to be wheelchair accessible, which means that the curbs must slope where the sidewalk interfaces with the crosswalk so that people using wheelchairs can easily enter the crosswalk.

In areas with heavy traffic or frequent conflicts between pedestrians and drivers, a pedestrian crosswalk may be removed and replaced with a pedestrian underpass or overpass, which allows pedestrians to cross the street without interrupting the flow of traffic. This technique is often favored in busy urban areas where pedestrians could be endangered by reckless or thoughtless drivers.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By wavy58 — On Oct 26, 2011

@OeKc05 – It is possible to get a ticket in this situation, but it depends on the cop. Some are more lenient than others, especially if no cars are around for a good distance.

I once crossed the street without waiting for the signal, and a cop saw me. As soon as I saw him, I gasped and froze. He just laughed and motioned for me to go on across.

However, another time, I was crossing the same street when a different cop yelled out that the signal said, “Don't walk.” He gave me a ticket for jaywalking, even though there were no vehicles in sight.

By OeKc05 — On Oct 25, 2011

I have a question that has been brewing in my mind regarding crosswalks for a long time. Does anyone know if you can receive a ticket for jaywalking if you cross when the signal says “Don't walk,” even if there are no cars coming?

I work on a street without much traffic, but my office is near an intersection. Every morning, I feel silly waiting on the signal to cross when there is absolutely no traffic. When I'm sure that no one is watching, I go ahead and cross anyway.

By Perdido — On Oct 24, 2011

I often have to go to a university hospital to participate in a clinical trial for a drug to treat my condition. This hospital was the first place I have ever heard the audible pedestrian safety signals.

At a crosswalk near a big parking lot, you can push the button for the signal at the traffic light. When the “walk” signal flashes up on the screen, you hear a certain series of beeps along with the image to let you know you can cross.

When the “don't walk” signal comes on, the beeps cease. There is even a counter that lets you know how many seconds you have left to cross the road before the light turns.

By lighth0se33 — On Oct 23, 2011

I work in a college town, and on campus, pedestrians are more common than drivers. Most of the streets are used for parking, so what little traffic does go through there is slow. Since everyone but staff and the handicapped gets ticketed for parking nearby, most of the traffic flows around the campus, where people drive to park for free at the stadium.

The college students have gotten used to walking on the crosswalks without any issues. Unfortunately, their “no worries” mentality has carried over into the city, which is full of traffic. Students will walk out into a crosswalk whenever they please, because they know that drivers will be in huge trouble if they hit them.

Even though the streets have buttons people can push to get a signal that it is safe to walk across, students generally don't bother. They literally don't even look both ways before jogging out into the middle of the highway.

By drtroubles — On Oct 23, 2011

There has been a lot in the news recently about pedestrian traffic safety, and I am always worried about getting hurt when I try and cross a busy road in my neighborhood. I feel that the cars in my area don't have a lot of respect for pedestrian traffic lights and have no trouble running through them.

Does anyone know what to do if you if you spot a car driving through a crosswalk when they should have stopped?

I just know if something isn't done there are going to be more pedestrian accidents on my street. There has already been one girl struck by a car.

By lonelygod — On Oct 23, 2011

If you are visiting another country make sure you learn what the pedestrian traffic signals mean and whether or not the pedestrian right of way is in effect. I recently visited Australia and was really shocked at the amount of power pedestrians had on the street.

There is a kind of crosswalk with thick yellow lines on the ground and pedestrians have the right of way there automatically. Cars must stop for you. Not knowing this we stood and waited for a break in traffic until a local told us to just go ahead. It was really nice, but at home I know that would have gotten me squished.

By gravois — On Oct 22, 2011

In my neighborhood there is pretty much no regard at all for crosswalks. People cross the street whenever they want, wherever they want and at any speed they want. Honestly, it is really annoying. I have almost gotten into a few accidents because pedestrians appear out of nowhere, or don't yield when anyone would expect them to.

It must be a cultural thing. I have lived in other cities and it wasn't like this. I guess if you grow up really conscious of crosswalks you will be for the rest of your life. If you grow up not really caring why would you even start?

By turquoise — On Oct 22, 2011

@burcinc-- I know that in my state, it is illegal for other cars to pass a car which has stopped for a pedestrian. I think it must be the same in other states as well, so the cars that were passing the car which stopped for you were definitely breaking the law.

Most people don't know that these laws also apply even if there is no painted crosswalk on the road. So as a driver, when we see a pedestrian waiting to cross, we have to give way. It is also illegal for pedestrians to walk into the road when there is a car fast approaching. If a pedestrian suddenly jumps in front of a car that physically cannot stop, it's the pedestrian's fault.

The pedestrian crosswalk laws are really straightforward. It protects drivers as much as pedestrians. If people abide by them, there won't be any problems.

By bear78 — On Oct 21, 2011

@burcinc-- I agree with you, I think where there is heavy traffic and lots of pedestrians, the county should also build over-passes for crosswalks. It would also make life for drivers and pedestrians much easier, since waiting for our turn to drive or walk can be annoying and time consuming.

If there were more over-passes, people could continue to go where they are headed without worrying about traffic/pedestrians and feeling unsafe.

By burcinc — On Oct 21, 2011

I think that there is more respect for pedestrian crosswalks by drivers in rural areas than urban areas.

When I went to college in the Midwest, I stayed in a rural town and saw the kindest and most mindful drivers there. Even if it was their right to pass, they would stop and give way to pedestrians at crosswalks and did not mind waiting.

But after college, I moved to the big city where even if it's the pedestrian's right to walk, some drivers rush to pass. People are always in a hurry in the city and even though I'm a very careful pedestrian, I've almost been run over several times in the city.

It's not such a problem where there are indicators for pedestrians which is only on when there is a red light for cars. But in some back streets, where there are no indicators, cars seem to care little about pedestrian crosswalks.

I was once stranded between a two way road on the pedestrian crosswalk for ten minutes. One car on one lane would sometimes stop for me and would signal for me to cross. But the car in the other lane wouldn't stop. The driver who had stopped for me also became frustrated at the other cars and finally decided to keep going.

I also don't think that over-passes and under-passes are as common as they should be.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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