Recently I observed that the New York City Department of Transportation refuses to place signs in crosswalks reminding motorists of their responsibilities to yield to pedestrians. As David Levinson found, even in Brookline the engineers are afraid that motorists will not honor those obligations.
There were some good comments on my earlier post. Engineer Scotty argued that without the threat of a fine or jail time, drivers would not change their behavior.
Eric Fischer pointed out that many drivers already ignore stop signs and "turning vehicles must yield to pedestrians" signs, so why should we expect them to honor "yield to pedestrian in crosswalk" signs with out some effective enforcement mechanism?
I agree that enforcement would help. In New York City, the Police Department and the District Attorneys like Cyrus Vance have neglected pedestrian protections to a shocking degree. I haven't written much about it, only because the coverage from Streetsblog has been so comprehensive and insightful. If you care about this issue, you should absolutely follow their reporting on it.
Obviously it would be better if the NYPD and DAs like Richard Brown gave a shit about pedestrians' lives. But would that even be enough? Levinson's post also contained a critique of the idea that such a sign (or even a few lines of paint on a crosswalk) will get us what we want: drivers who believe that pedestrians have the right of way when crossing the street, and will yield that right of way.
I think Levinson is right that marking the crosswalks would be expensive, and will not automatically protect pedestrians. On the other hand, I disagree with his suggestion to simply leave all the crosswalks unmarked, with an occasional reminder sign that pedestrians have the right of way. That is essentially what we have had at these unsignalized intersections for many years. Until recently, the entire stretch of 48th Avenue in Sunnyside was completely devoid of paint. That did not make drivers any more likely to yield, within intersections or outside.
Maybe it's not a fair example because they were comparing it with marked crosswalks on other streets, but how about this one: parking lots. It's the norm for parking lots to have no marked pedestrian facilities. Do you feel comfortable walking through a parking lot? Didn't think so.