Nick Keenan writes Dr. Gridlock to set him straight on trail crossings.
I want to correct something that came up in your [July 19 online] chat. A reader complained about cyclists crossing a trail and not yielding. I know it's just a chat, but you owe it to your readers to keep them well informed.
In the three local jurisdictions, a trail crossing is a crosswalk. In all three, motorists must yield or stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.
In the District and Virginia explicitly, and implicitly in Maryland, cyclists using a crosswalk have the rights and duties of pedestrians. Motorists are required to stop or yield to cyclists in crosswalks. The law is unambiguous about this.
The only duty that pedestrians and cyclists have at a crosswalk is not to enter the road so suddenly that motorists are unable to yield. This might not be popular, and people might not agree that this is the way the law should be, but it is the law.
Stop signs at trail crossings are problematic, because, as your reader shows, they erroneously give motorists the impression they have right of way when they do not.
Dr. Gridlock replies:
The goal of all these laws is to keep people from crashing into each other, no matter how they are traveling. A driver approaching a crosswalk has an obligation -- moral, as well as legal -- to yield or stop for a person in a crosswalk. That is indeed unambiguous. As Keenan pointed out, the person planning to use the crosswalk also has an obligation not to step into the crosswalk if an approaching driver doesn't have sufficient stopping distance.
As the online commenter pointed out, many trail crossings differ from the typical crosswalk in that they have a red stop sign for trail users. Those signs also are unambiguous. They do not mean, "Calculate whether you can make it across the road before you get hit and then decide whether you actually have to stop."