Pedestrian Thoughts on Driver Psychology

Ped Crossing(2)At last night’s Traffic and Transportation Committee, several items came up related to pedestrian conditions in Princeton:

  1. A resident on Valley Road voiced his concern that drivers in Princeton are not observing the law regarding stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks. Points made in the ensuing discussion included:
  • The police are generally not there to observe the infraction
  • Pedestrians can report drivers who violate the law to Princeton police – police will visit the alleged violators at their homes
  • Pedestrians who report failures to yield need to agree to appear in court, a step that many pedestrians find onerous
  • Engineering solutions are difficult to fund and get community agreement on
  • Driver psychology, local roads “culture,” and awareness of the law are the real issue, but it’s difficult to affect these quickly and reliably without enforcement
  1. Sergeant Murray reported that in June, July, and August of this year, traffic summonses were up compared to the same months last year. These included increases in summonses for violations such as speeding, drunk driving, driving uninsured, etc. Controlling these behaviors is important for improving pedestrian comfort and safety (see page 15 of the June report linked above for details on June).However, summonses issued for failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk and for driving while using a cell phone were flat compared to last year’s levels, or saw small declines.
  2. In response to a question about how many recipients of traffic summonses were from Princeton, and how many from elsewhere, Sergeant Murray answered that there aren’t any statistics available, but that in his experience about three quarters of violations are issued to people who live or work within about one square mile around the place where the summonses was issued (the italics are mine, for emphasis).

In other discussion:

A concern for bicyclists and pedestrians alike in town has been excessive speeds on roads signed for 25 mph (including roads like Valley Road, about which municipal staff are delivering a presentation this evening).

Related to this, Hamilton was repaved over the summer and re-striped with 10 foot-wide car travel lanes, a 7 foot-wide parking lane, and a 3 foot-wide shoulder. These travel lanes are narrower than in many other places in town, and more clearly delineated. The intent of the narrower lanes is to help drivers be more aware of their speed and position in the road, and to make driving safer for drivers and pedestrians alike.

The “share the road” markings for bicyclists on Hamilton – “sharrows” – are well within the travel lanes, indicating that bicyclists are supposed and allowed to be in the travel lanes.

A Couple of questions:

Do readers have any thoughts about how the new striping on Hamilton has affected driving behavior, either their own or of drivers they observe?

Regarding the psychology of speeding on our roads: our instinctive reaction is that people who speed on residential roads are “outsiders,” but the observation provided by Princeton Police last night is that the speeders are actually us.

How do readers react to the idea that the local speeders are mostly us? 

If we know we speed, what are we telling ourselves is ok about it?

If we’re not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks, what do we say to ourselves when we fail to yield?  (full disclosure: I’ve sinned in this regard. I said to myself: “the gasoline I’ll burn starting up again isn’t worth the insignificant loss of time to them.”)

And finally, how do we reconcile the widely-repeated goal of reducing auto speeds and making roads safer for all users with the discomfort of residents on streets like Hamilton, Valley Road, and Prospect Avenue when such redesigns are put forward as options?


  1. An issue I’ve always had with the pedestrian crosswalk law is the lack of uniformity in designating them. Sometimes it’s white paint on the road surface, and sometimes it’s just cobblestones laid into the road pavement. Sometimes there’s a yellow pedestrian-crossing sign next to it, but sometimes not.
    Contrast that with stop signs and streetlights. When you see one, it always means the same thing, there are no variations in the shape or colors of those signals, and you know what you are supposed to do right away when you see it.

  2. I’m very careful about stopping at crosswalks and waiting until people are on sidewalks on both sides of the street. But I think there’s another issue: Pedestrians needs to follow the law, and cross in the proper spots. I find myself stopping at the crosswalks, then seconds later someone pops out between two parked cars because they don’t want to walk 10 feet to a marked crosswalk. Everyone needs to play by the rules…and I include bicyclists, too, since they often are riding in the wrong lane, going to wrong way, or being on sidewalks downtown swerving dangerously around pedestrians.

  3. I agree with PrincetonNJFan…while I do my best to stop at crosswalks for pedestrians, it can be difficult to scan both sidewalks plus the street itself (especially with cars parked on both sides), plus some pedestrians give no clues that they are planning to cross. Some pedestrians lost in their iPhones can’t hear traffic, are distracted, and step into traffic without looking up to notice that a car is inches away.

    What about landscaping that obscures intersections? At the northern corner of Clearview and Grover, tall shrubs planted near the sidewalk obscure the street…I’ve heard and seen many a screech as cars brake at the last minute to avoid hitting pedestrians and other cars. Drivers on Clearview don’t realize they’ll need to inch up to avoid cars barreling down Grover toward Franklin.

    1. Excellent point, Ruthenium66. Clearing overgrowth is needed and will reduce traffic hazards. Laws about “sight triangles” exist, requiring corners of intersections to be clear. Whenever an accident occurs in Princeton, it would be great if our Police officers could do a quick visibility check. If they see that vehicles have to pull up into the crosswalk to see oncoming traffic, this needs to be reported to the property owner. And whenever driver’s in an accident report visibility problems, ACCESS or Police Officers should take this seriously. We all have a duty to follow through and report/address obstructions. Good visibility reduces damage & injury. You have shared a very important point about accident prevention.

  4. The awareness to follow the law should be enhanced on both sides – aided by active involvement of administration (say, police department, or, a public campaign). While drivers ought to be reminded to abide by the law to yield to pedestrians, pedestrians need to be reminded to interact with the oncoming car drivers (by visual and hand interaction) before they start crossing the roads. Crossing the road should be safe for all – pedestrians and drivers alike. We should acknowledge that (currently) drivers are humans too, and any omission on their part should not result in any injury in the first place.

    Pedestrians should be encouraged to display higher level of patience and responsibility while crossing roads. There should be regular campaigns (good habits need to be reminded of all the time) urging the pedestrians to cross roads at marked places only, and, that too, after interacting with oncoming vehicles. We see such violations by pedestrians in downtown all the time; it makes drivers’ life harder. One way of campaigning would be to place neatly designed and prominently placed posters on each crossing in downtown and on the streets where such infractions are noticed (eg Valley Road).

    Consistent and prominent road signs at places where more pedestrians are present will also be of help, but this may be a minor factor.

  5. I walk every morning on Hamilton. The new painted lines have definitely slowed cars down. Similar painting should be applied on other streets such as the wider parts of 2-lane N. Harrison St. to help slow down speeding traffic.

  6. Note too also that almost no one parks in the parking lanes on Hamilton St. Maybe on weekends if a house has a party. This after all the ruckus about taking away their parking. IMO they could do without that parking (i.e., use side streets like we do on Harrison St) with hardly a hitch. It’s a shame the bike lane did not go through.

  7. As a driver and pedestrian in Princeton, I am all too aware of the lack of courtesy afforded to pedestrians at crossings. No-one is suggesting that pedestrians have the right to jaywalk, but every day I witness cars speeding along Witherspoon, Jefferson, Valley, and Moore without slowing down for myself or my two young children attempting to cross safely on their way to and from school, the library, etc… I have taught my kids to make eye contact and wave to the driver to signal their intention before stepping forwards, and to acknowledge the driver who stops. Many drivers seem oblivious to the basics of road sense (e.g. lane discipline, the correct use of indicators). Many are distracted by using their cell phones whilst driving (illegal, but seen every day on the roads here). I strongly feel that drivers should take their responsibilities as road users seriously and learn to anticipate hazards wherever they may come from (cyclists, other vehicles, pedestrians). In the UK and the Netherlands, they have actually trialed removing road markings in key areas altogether in an attempt to improve safety for all road users by forcing drivers and pedestrians to pay attention, be engaged and THINK about what they’re doing.

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