Sunday, November 01, 2009

Kaus is off; clockwise the way to cross through intersection on foot

Mickey Kaus profers some poor advice for navigating four-way intersections on foot (via Steve):
Just realized that pedestrians should always go around intersections counterclockwise. Otherwise left-turners get you. You're welcome.
As one who has run and biked regularly for a decade, I vehemently dispute this. The following is applicable whether you are obeying pedestrian traffic laws or not (I admit I rarely do and simply cross as soon as I am able to, without obstructing traffic of course. When I'm on bike at a light, I hop the curb and become a pedestrian until I've made it through the intersection, at which point I merge back on to the road again). First, an analysis of the counterclockwise move (sorry for not bringing the helicopter a little lower before snapping these shots):

You're on the southeast corner, attempting to head north (orange arrow). You can see the car potentially turning left from the north end of the intersection to head east (blue lines), so he's not going to hit you. However, the car coming from the south and looking to turn right and head east may go at any time, irrespective of whether or not his light is red. That you are able to see his traffic signal makes no difference. As he is preparing to turn, he is primarily looking at the car on the west side of the intersection (purple arrows). Additionally, if this is a two-lane road, he is checking to see the car on the north end is not about to make a left and head east just as he is (if there are four or more lanes, this isn't much of an issue and he is entirely focused on the west end car). Unless he is especially wary of pedestrians, he is definitely not looking to his east, where you are crossing, since there is no chance another car will be coming at him from there.

This is the essence of why you should always progress through an intersection in a clockwise direction--those making right-hand turns are the only ones who are consistently not looking where they're going. Even if there is not a car waiting to turn right when you begin crossing, it doesn't take long for one to appear. Because drivers often roll through right turns on red*, you are vulnerable.

As you cross the lane(s) heading east and into the lane(s) heading west, you are again at risk of a car on the east end of the intersection wanting to turn right and head north. He is looking in your general direction, but he's not looking at you. And as pedestrians and drivers alike know, until a driver makes eye contact with a man on foot, the safe bet is that the driver has not seen him.

Finally, when moving counterclockwise, if the light changes on you halfway across, you're faced with cars a couple of feet away whose paths are through you.

Now the more prudent clockwise move:

As you begin to cross, you are able to easily navigate past your biggest threat, the south end car turning right to head east. You have an opportunity (which you should take) to make eye contact with him, or if need be you can just run behind him.

The west end car turning right to head south is a potential problem because he is not going to be looking at you as he turns. However, you have been directly in front of him for as long as he's been sitting there and continue to be as you cross. Thus there is a better chance he will see you than the east end car heading north will in the counterclockwise scenario. More importantly, you are easily able to see him during the entire duration of your crossing.

The east end car turning left and heading south is really you're only concern. You are able to see his light, so if this is a left-turn signal only intersection, you're golden. If left turners just have to yield on green, you have the west end traffic heading east directly in view. If there is a steady flow of cars moving through in this direction, they protect you and again you're golden. If not, you have to turn your head at a 90 degree angle to see whether or not a left turner is coming toward you as you go through the second half of the crossing. If he is initially waiting at the east end, you should attempt to make eye contact with him before you begin.

If the light changes on you halfway through, the cars bearing down on you have the length of the intersection--rather than just a few feet--to go before flattening you.

* When I was a senior in high school, I got the only two traffic tickets I've ever received. Seeing there were no cars coming from my left, I rolled (slowly) through a right on red. A cop was behind me, but I'd always driven in such a manner and so thought nothing of it. Exactly one mile later I did the same thing. The officer then pulled me over and handed me two citations for the same damn thing--running a red light! Truly a dick, I know.


Jim said...

Not so fast.

For the right-on-red ... you aren't crossing. The light is red! Even the non-turning traffic will kill you.

So the question is do you want to cross the "turned into lane" first (Kaus's choice) or last (your choice).

I agree with Kaus -- it's better to cross into it first. If you do that the potential right turners are right beside you while the light is red. They can see you there. The left turners will tend to be looking across the intersection right *at* you because that's where they are turning. And all these people -- at the beginning of the light -- are *stopped*.

If you do it your way, you first cross in front of the stopped cross traffic -- great. But then a few seconds into the green light you are crossing the "turned into" lane. The right turners may see you but a few of them try and squeeze in their right turns before you get there. The left turners (who are behind you when you start), may also try and squeeze before you get there. And then the ones behind them, have no idea you are crossing. Furthermore, if a left turner comes up mid-way during the light, their concern is 100% hitting a break in traffic. And if they get one they are *not stopped* but going at speed ... and they have little inclination to look *more* left than their target lane and see that you are half way across.

I walk everyday, and that's my one worry -- the left turner behind me who comes up mid-way through the light at speed and zips into where i'm trying to cross.

Audacious Epigone said...


Yes, I should distinguish between those who are crossing when they are able to and those who are relying on pedestrian signals to cross, instead of lumping them together. In the former case (which is the one I regularly find myself in), I've found crossing clockwise is much easier to navigate. Also, if the intersection is one in which left-turners are only able to go with the signal, again I think clockwise is the better bet.

Are you even with those turning right? Usually you're a few feet in front of them, so you have to look at about a 110 degree angle to make eye contact.

I see the argument for crossing with signals on a left turn yield though. Still, I'm always going clockwise because I've found it so damned difficult to get right turners to notice me, even when they have a green--it is instinctual for many people to look to their left as they turn right, even though the traffic coming from that direction is stopped--being able to turn right on red trains people to do so.

Steve Sailer said...

Right turners are probably more dangerous in actuality than left turners, but left turners are scarier because you are stuck out there in the middle of the street at their mercy, while you can avoid getting hit by a right turner by simply not stepping off the curb.

Steve Sailer said...

By the way, the way to catch the eye of drivers when you are a pedestrian is to raise your arm straight out and point your finger at their eyes. People's brains are wired to pick this up from their peripheral vision as a potentially hostile gesture.

David said...

No wonder I failed by driving test!

Audacious Epigone said...


Great point re: the arm waving. For the same reason, it is also useful when someone is trying to make a free shot or free kick in a variety of sports.

Steve Sailer said...

Now that I think about it, the distinction should be made between pedestrians and bike riders. Pedestrians are up on the curb until they start to walk, so they aren't in much danger of careless right turners unless they step off the curb. Bicyclists are in the street and can be hit by right turners even without moving as the driver squeezes to the right to get into the turning lane.