January 22, 2019

Those Mid Block Crossings~Did “Jaywalkers” Have it Right?


Let’s take a fresh look at that old fish tale about pedestrians not crossing a street midblock. Think about it~why are we insisting that pedestrians cross at corners? Is that not specifically to treat pedestrians and other vulnerable road users just like vehicular traffic and force them to behave as such, waiting their turn at an intersection?

There is a sad reality on  our fatality statistics in Metro Vancouver and basically anywhere on pedestrian crashes. You will find that the majority of fatalities are pedestrians over fifty years of age, mostly men, that are crossing at intersections WITH the  walk light. And how are pedestrians getting injured and  dying? It appears that the majority of crashes seem to occur with drivers  turning left through the intersection when the pedestrian has right of way.

This article by ggwash.org is worth revisiting~author Ben Ross who wrote Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism asks why we insist that pedestrians cross at intersections, suggesting that “careful jaywalking” saves lives. Ross observes that while there are “no definitive studies”,  statistical evidence collected from New York’s Vision Zero program can show the way.

That city, where residents routinely ignore signals when they cross streets, can be thought of as a natural experiment. The majority of pedestrian deaths, and a far larger majority of non-fatal crashes, occur while crossing the street legally in a crosswalk.”

The reason of course is that drivers hit pedestrians when they are turning their vehicles, and the constantly changing traffic lights “maximize” chances of crashes.

Other researchers, working in places with less foot traffic and fewer striped crosswalks than New York, got results that point in a similar direction. They found that pedestrians crossing big highways are more likely to be struck at marked crosswalks than at unmarked ones. On smaller roads, they found little advantage either way.”

The term “jaywalking” referring to mid-block pedestrian crossings was developed in the 1920’s to free up the street for rapidly moving vehicles. Pesky pedestrians were relegated to intersections that were controlled by engineering traffic standards, with the concept that traffic engineers were better judges of pedestrian safety than the pedestrians themselves.The American  Federal Highway Administration (FHA) striped highway pavements with the assumption that pedestrians are safer crossing at intersections with traffic lights and all kinds of turning movements versus mid block two-way vehicular traffic.

Almost a century has now passed, and our traffic laws are still not geared to safety. As this article by Nate Vander Broek points out a midblock crossing is safer, more visible and direct for pedestrians to cross without having to walk to an intersection.

In the early 1990’s the US Transportation Research Board estimated that nearly 27 percent of all pedestrian accidents were caused by the “midblock dash”. Installing correct midblock pedestrian crossings would mitigate that impact, and the FHA estimates that these crossings are workable at speeds of 30 mph (50 km/h). Mid-block crossings can also be hard to use for visually impaired people, and do require education for drivers to be alert for them.

Is it time to revisit the mid-block pedestrian crossing?


Images: Michigancompletestreets.com, NACTO.org


Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on


  1. It is indeed worth studying. There really is not a reason to not have cross walks mid block, except between traffic light controlled intersections perhaps.

  2. How about we put crosswalks in where people are already crossing? The Lynn Valley library is a classic case of forcing people to go far out of their way to cross at an intersection when a couple of crosswalks would work better.

    the majority of fatalities are pedestrians …that are crossing at intersections WITH the walk light. … It appears that the majority of crashes seem to occur with drivers turning left through the intersection when the pedestrian has right of way.

    To me that looks like an argument for setting traffic signals to bring all cars to a halt while pedestrians are crossing the road. Or, even better, not allowing cars to move until after all pedestrians have crossed. As it stands now it really does seem that the crosswalks and walk signals are viewed as an imposition on the natural state of affairs of unimpeded car movement.

    Aside from outraged grumbling, what would happen if our intersections functioned by a) Stopping all cars from moving b) all pedestrians are allowed to cross c) pedestrian walk signals go red. d) cars are allowed to move again.

    Or, just to turn things on their head, how about we measure the efficacy of traffic control systems by the efficiency of pedestrian travelers and not just cars?

  3. I totally agree about designating mid-block crossings in business areas and where there’s an obvious “desire line” on busier streets.

    Nor should crossing be limited to corners in low volume areas of residential neighbourhoods. Roads were originally designed for ‘people’ as a means of access amongst houses and businesses. There’s generally no reason vehicles, motorized or not, should ‘own’ the roads.

    1. It’s a function of volume !

      If 100 people in cars use a street section in a 15 minute interval and 15-20 pedestrians or 5 folks on bikes on that same block don’t 100 folks need to get priority over 20, or 5?

      Roads are a multi-use corridors, from electricity, sewer, gas and water lines below to bike paths, sidewalks and vehicle lanes .. ALL have to be accommodated.

      In European cities on the Middle Ages, before cars, roads where used by people, horses and as sewer lines .. all on the same unseparated surface. Not necessarily better …

  4. Whatever happened to the mid block crossing in Davie Village? I thought there was a plan to put one between Thurlow and Bute.

  5. I believe a great opportunity will present itself with respect to dramatically increasing the pedestrian realm on central Broadway once the M-Line subway is completed — hopefully all the way to the UBC campus. This would include mid-block crosswalks to complement the expected large increase in transit passengers flooding the hospital precinct and Broadway businesses. The area between Cambie and Oak already has a significant number of elderly or infirm people going to their respective medical clinics, and mid-block crossings would be very helpful indeed to shorten the walking distance and make their journey more manageable.

    Generous curb bump-outs at corners and mid-block will give pedestrians refuge while waiting for the lights to change and in my view should also receive special treatment with accent paving, seating, informative signage, trees and public art. The bump-outs will also greatly benefit the loading / unloading movements of the Number 9 bus which will provide that vital slow local transit service complementary to the fast regional subway, in all a vast increase in the quality of transit service.

    This, of course, means talking out the through-traffic capacity of the curb lanes (down to four from six) in these sections of Broadway, with the expectation that more people will leave their car at home in favour of a far more efficient transit asset. But it also would create opportunities for well-defined, permanent commercial and passenger loading bays, bike share stations and short-term parking areas between the bump-outs.


  6. The obvious reason why crosswalks are at corners is because they can easily serve people coming from 2 directions.
    If you prohibited crossing at the corners you are forcing people to detour to the middle of the block to cross.
    The classic example is the closure of the Portage & Main intersection in Winnipeg in favour of the underground walkway system. People who cannot or do not want to use the underpasses have complained of the detour to cross at the next block.


    PS – in a plebiscite, Winnipegger voted to keep the intersection closed to foot traffic.

  7. There’s a line from Kunstler about standing at the curb cut between a Wal-Mart on one end and a Chucky Cheese at the other – a distance so vast you can see the curvature of the Earth – a space not worth caring about.
    Closer to home, I’ve found myself at the intersection of Lougheed and Westwood in Coquitlam on a number of occasions. As a pedestrian, if you don’t catch the lights right, it can take eight minutes to cross.
    It’s the only place where I’ve seen police walking between cars looking for cell phone miscreants.

  8. A great place to put a mid-block crossing is Point Grey Village – the commercial strip with shops and restaurants along West 10th Avenue between Tolmie Street and Discovery Street. The block is long, and so people cross in all places across four lanes of traffic and two lanes of parking. A mid block bulge would make the crossing safer and more convenient, and it would cue drivers to watch for pedestrians. The same could be applied to many of our other shopping streets – Kits, Broadway, Dunbar and so on. Too bad if it slows the UBC through-traffic and B-Line buses racing to their UBC layover. And how about Kingsway, with its long stretches between pedestrian crossings? It could certainly use some humanizing.

Subscribe to Viewpoint Vancouver

Get breaking news and fresh views, direct to your inbox.

Join 7,301 other subscribers

Show your Support

Check our Patreon page for stylish coffee mugs, private city tours, and more – or, make a one-time or recurring donation. Thank you for helping shape this place we love.

Popular Articles

See All

All Articles