As I wrote the other day, Queens is full of "unsignalized" intersections, where one street has a stop sign and the other has none. Practically speaking, pedestrians have no rights at all when crossing at these intersections, even though under the law we have the right of way.
Since around 2003, New York State law has said that cars must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Under the law, a crosswalk is "That part of a roadway at an intersection included within the connections of the lateral lines of the sidewalks on opposite sides of the highway between the curbs or, in the absence of curbs, between the edges of the traversable roadway." So you know that piece of pavement in between the sidewalks, with no markings on it? Yeah, that's a crosswalk.
Other towns post little signs at intersections to notify drivers of their obligations, like this one:
This one is in New Canaan, Connecticut, but I've seen them in other places, including towns in New York State.
So why can't the New York City DOT just put them out in every unsignalized intersection in Queens? A neighbor of mine asked them to put one on his corner, and they said that it was "not warranted." That's a technical term in traffic engineering meaning that the conditions aren't right for it, but what are the "warrants" for one of these?
My understanding is that traffic engineers are afraid of being blamed for a pedestrian getting hurt or even killed. They imagine that someone will see the sign, think that they're in Northampton, and try to cross the street. Crazy New York drivers will try to run them off the road, but the pedestrians will stand their ground, because, you know, the sign. And they'll get hurt and it'll be the engineer's fault.
Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "these engineers care whether pedestrians get hurt? Really? Then why the FUCK don't they care about deathtraps like Brighton Beach Avenue and West Street? Why do they keep widening roads and taking away parking lanes?"
The answer is that they don't actually care about the pedestrians, they care about their reputations. If a pedestrian gets killed trusting one of these signs, that hurts the engineer's reputation. If a pedestrian gets killed because of the parking restriction on Northern Boulevard, the engineer's reputation is protected through the magic of LOS.
LOS stands for "level of service," and it refers to how smoothly traffic is flowing. Most of the shitty, dangerous road designs you've had the displeasure of experiencing are justified by maintaining a good LOS. The LOS is designed for highways, so it says nothing about pedestrian throughput, safety or comfort. And that means that if pedestrians get killed on Northern Boulevard, everyone up to Janette Sadik-Khan says, "well, it's a shame she had to die, but at least she gave her life for the LOS." No matter how many pedestrians die, the LOS will protect the engineer's reputation. And that's why we can't have real crosswalks in New York City.