City Council Unanimously Passes Bill to Expand Pedestrians’ Right of Way

Today's legislation ensures that pedestrians who enter a crosswalk during the flashing “Pedestrian Change Interval” have the right of way under New York City law. Image: DOT
Today’s legislation ensures that pedestrians who enter a crosswalk during the flashing “Pedestrian Change Interval” have the right of way under New York City law. Image: DOT

The City Council voted to expand pedestrians’ right of way today, unanimously supporting Intro 997-A, Public Advocate Letitia James’ proposal to bolster legal protections for people in crosswalks. The legislation is expected to be enacted by the mayor, with DOT and NYPD having both endorsed it.

Public Advocate Tish James
Public Advocate Tish James

Currently, pedestrians who cross the street when signals are flashing a red hand are denied legal protections by NYC law enforcement agencies. James’s bill changes that, closing a loophole in city rules.

While the 2014 Right of Way Law made it a misdemeanor for motorists to injure a pedestrian or cyclist crossing with the right of way, district attorneys and NYPD have declined to bring cases against drivers in many cases, citing Section 4-03 of the Rules of the City of New York, which says that “no pedestrian shall enter or cross the roadway” during the flashing “Don’t Walk” phase.

Intro 997-A expands the definition of pedestrians’ right of way so anyone who steps off the curb during the “Don’t Walk” phase has the protection of the law.

The change is especially important given the rapid expansion of countdown clocks that tell pedestrians how much time is left to cross. The clocks tend to shorten the steady “Walk” phase and lengthen the flashing phase. As interpreted by city law enforcement, this effectively curtailed the legal right of way.

At a City Council hearing in April, DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo and Inspector Dennis Fulton of the NYPD Transportation Bureau endorsed the legislation. The bill would “align the law with the acknowledged reality on our streets,” Russo said.

The “out-of-date” rule on the books “defies common sense,” James said at a press conference outside City Hall just before the vote today.

“This [law] will help investigators and law enforcement at the scene of crashes, and this will help prosecutors to hold reckless drivers accountable, and bring justice to the [families] of victims,” James said.

The updated rule will especially benefit seniors, said AARP New York State President Leo Asen. “It is well-documented that many older adults move at a slower pace than their younger counterparts,” he said. “Pedestrian safety is an important feature of any age-friendly community.”

The council also voted this afternoon in favor of a package of bills addressing bike access inside buildings. Jumaane Williams’ Intro 795-A allows people to exit buildings with their bikes using the passenger elevator when freight elevators are not in service; Helen Rosenthal’s Intro 405 guarantees access to passenger elevators for people with folding bikes; and Ydanis Rodriguez’ Intro 695 guarantees bike access to residential elevators. We’ll have more on those bills in a separate post.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Let people cycling proceed on LPIs next!

  • qrt145

    I’m very happy about Intro 695. I live in a building where the proprietary lease forbids “velocipedes” in the elevators. The management has never tried to enforce the rule, so I’ve never brought it up, hoping no one else has read it. 🙂 But it’s better to know that there will soon be a city law invalidating such a silly rule. (Due to the architecture of the building, I couldn’t take the stairs even if I wanted to.)

  • Jack

    This is a bad idea. It seems that this is another measure in an effort to boost revenues. NYC public servants are out of touch with reality and common sense. NYC already have a traffic congestion problem, this new bill will only add to that problem exponentially. I firmly believe that it is their effort to drive people to mass commute. MTA is set to raise their fares again, sounds to me like they’re all in to milk the working man/woman and destroy people’s livelihood. Imagine vehicles trying to make a turn, now they will have a long line behind waiting while one vehicle turn per light change.

  • JudenChino

    So you’re saying you’ll be voting for Trump.

  • notsurprised

    NYPD + DAs already looking into how they can avoid applying Right of Way update

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    This is legalizing what is already happening on the streets. The only difference is that now they can’t call it jaywalking and blame the pedestrian when someone runs them down.

  • Jack

    You must’ve not driven through Manhattan before, where all sorts of nuts run into the middle of the road regardless of lights.

  • Jack

    What does voting for Trump or Hillary have to do with this? You can’t stay on topic huh? In case you’re wondering, I think both of them are unfit to be president, if that helps.

  • Jesse

    I firmly believe that it is their effort to drive people to mass commute.

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

  • Jack

    So you’re saying you’re okay with not having free will? Have you tried commuting from say, Howard Beach to Manhattan by means of mass transit? Try it sometimes, when you spend 3 hours to get where you’re going, in which would otherwise take 40 minutes, there’s a problem there.

    Mass commute isn’t a problem, but when you strip all other choices from people and hike up fares as you like, then that is a problem.

  • Jesse

    If you’re saying that the only convenient option you have to get to Manhattan is by private car, then it sounds like you have a free will problem.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    What does that have to do with this law? It’s still jaywalking to cross on a red light.

  • Jack

    You think jaywalking is enforced in NYC? Clearly you must not live in NYC. Maybe they should start hitting those crazy people who are so busy on their phones and not paying attention with crazy fines for causing accidents.

  • Jack

    It is no longer a “convenient option” nor free-will when new imposed restrictions makes it more difficult than mass transit.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I said nothing about enforcement. I’m talking about legalizing the way people already cross so that they don’t get screwed over by the legal system in the event of a crash.

  • Jesse

    Sounds like you just had an epiphany. Choices are always constrained.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    It’s not the governments job to make driving as easy as possible, nor is them doing so an example of enabling free will.

  • Joe R.

    Have you ever considered that “your convenience” to drive into Manhattan comes at an enormous cost to everyone else? All those private automobiles delay buses, bikes, and pedestrians. That’s why we should impose restrictions on private car use. Even if you hypothetically saved an hour each way compared to public transit, which is doubtful given traffic speeds during peak hours, you likely impose a cumulative delay of several hours on other road users. Your time isn’t more important than anyone else’s. NYC isn’t Nebraska. Private automobiles don’t scale here. At best they’re inherently elitist because they can only serve a tiny fraction of the population but that convenience comes at a terrible price to everyone else.

    Get used to a NYC where it becomes increasingly more difficult and costly to get around by private car as the city reapportions street space to other users. Free will doesn’t mean you have the right to unfettered car use in the nation’s most densely populated urban area.

  • Jack

    And what will stop them from now crossing when they’re not supposed to? I’m curious how many of these accidents were really caused by a driver deliberately running someone over. Lets see here, do you really think a person leaves their home with the intention of running over pedestrians? I’m sure they’re more worried about their driving privileges and insurance and want to avoid that problem at all costs. Just because pedestrians neglect to follow simple rules of the road, doesn’t mean drivers should pay for it.

  • Jack

    Here’s the problem with your flawed logic, if my time isn’t as important as others, their time isn’t as important as mine either.. get it?

    All of the congestion problems you listed above will only be amplified by the new bill. If you’re wondering how so, see the original post.

  • Joe R.

    What stopped them before? Perhaps a desire not to get ran over? You seem to think because of one change in a law which basically just legalizes what pedestrians already do there will be chaos.

    I hear the same nonsense whenever someone proposes letting cyclists treat red lights as yields. Again, that’s basically legalizing what many already do. The end result won’t be chaos there, either.

  • Jack

    Nor is it the government’s job to make life of pedestrians easy. We don’t cater for some Americans while others are left out cold. You know life, liberty and justice for “ALL” not “SOME”

  • Jesse

    Yeah but here’s the problem with your logic. Of course your time isn’t worth less than other people’s time. But because your car takes up way, WAY more space than my bike or my body, your car ends up gaining you a lot of time, just for you, at the expense of a lot of other people. So the time cost to others is much greater than the time benefit to you. That traffic jam caused by your car (carrying only you) is delaying a bus (carrying many people who are not you).

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Just because pedestrians neglect to follow simple rules of the road, doesn’t mean drivers should pay for it.

    The rules have changed. If you see enough time left on the countdown to cross, do you really stand at the curb and wait for the next cycle?

  • Joe R.

    We’re prioritizing the most space efficient users (pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders) over single occupancy private automobiles. The time of a bus full of 50 people is most certainly more important than your time. Same thing when a dozen pedestrians have to wait to cross so you can save two seconds.

  • Jesse

    Actually, I would argue that protecting people’s lives is a much higher imperative of government than making it easier to make a right turn.

  • Jack

    Maybe we should outlaw all motor vehicles then, since the MTA bus takes up more space than my car. That will solve the problem for you? While we’re at it we should also get rid of homes, they take up more space than anything else.

  • Jesse

    Maybe we should outlaw all motor vehicles then, since the MTA bus takes up more space than my car.

    You get it. Cars are fundamentally incompatible with cities. Glad we finally agree on something.

    [Edit: I have no idea what this statement means. Buses carry a lot of people whose time is worth no more nor less than yours but whose cumulative time is certainly worth more than yours individually. Are you saying the MTA should ban buses? Should the MTA also ban the subway and pave over the tracks so you can drive there?]

  • Joe R.

    We actually should outlaw private automobile use, at least in Manhattan. Again, this is about giving space to the most space efficient users.

  • Jack

    What did people do before the countdown? They waited right? I’m certainly sure that countdown wasn’t added until a few years ago. I’d be curious to know how many of these accidents are caused by pedestrian not paying attention to the road. I don’t have any real data on that to cite it right now, but when I do I will be sure to post.

  • Jack

    So in your logic, if people go around punching each other, we should also legalize is because people are already doing it.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen
  • Jack

    Seems to be exactly what I said about Manhattan, and I doubt very much this new law will help. All it will do is encourage pedestrian to run across the road when they’re not supposed to.

  • Jack

    That was your argument, I was just inflating your logic so you can see the issue with it.

  • Joe R.

    No, just behaviors which aren’t inherently harmful, like allowing pedestrians or cyclists to pass red lights when nothing is coming.

  • Jack

    Maybe the government should give out to each citizens, a padded cell then, make sure that they don’t hurt themselves.

  • Jack

    That is never a case in Manhattan. Something is always coming.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    when they’re not supposed to.

    It seems like you don’t know how the law works or have not read this article about this law.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    This just isn’t literally true. There are frequently empty side streets in Manhattan with the light on the Avenue red.

  • Greg M

    The terrifying fact of this law not mentioned in the article is that it now mandates pedestrians to jump into the path of moving vehicles, says the dancing monkey in Jack’s head.

  • notsurprised

    Do you think pedestrians (sorry, people) leave their homes with the intention of getting run over?

  • Daniel

    You appear to be unaware of how countdown signals work. Before they were implemented there was a long “walk” period and a short blinking “don’t walk” period, but with countdown signals the blinking “don’t walk” period has been extended so as to maximize the time in which there is a countdown timer. The countdown timer is not shown during the “walk” period due to federal guidelines specify that the countdown timer should not be shown until the blinking “don’t walk” appears for consistency with non-urban signaling systems where each walk cycle is intended for a single pedestrian. If the city were to disregard this guideline they would need a waiver whenever they wanted to utilize federal funds. This change in the law will just extend the same legal protections to a pedestrian utilizing a crosswalk with a countdown timer that they currently enjoy when using a crosswalk without a countdown timer.

  • AMH

    This is so great. People shouldn’t get away with running down pedestrians on a technicality. The diagram is a good illustration of how little “Walk” time is given during most light cycles.

  • AMH

    Great explanation. I know it would take a change to federal law, but I really wish there were countdown timers during both the “Walk” and steady “Don’t Walk” phases, as there are in some Turkish cities. That information would make signals much more user-friendly by allowing people to decide whether to wait to cross or keep going to another intersection.

  • NYperson

    Howard Beach to Midtown is a relatively reliable 1 hour subway ride or a 1 hour drive that could easily take longer depending on congestion.

    But tell us more about how your convenience outweighs the right of pedestrians to not get run down.

  • vbtwo31984

    Yep, was in Ukraine and they’re adding countdown clocks there to both the green and red phases. No point of having a blinking red phase if you see a countdown with the green phase and can see if you’ll have enough time to cross. Also makes waiting for a green more tolerable when you know how long you have to wait.

    They’re also adding countdown clocks to car traffic lights, so you can see from a block away if you’ll make the green light or not and don’t go full speed and then have to either speed up through a yellow or hit your brakes at the end of a block.

  • BKBedStuy

    “sounds to me like they’re all in to milk the working man/woman and destroy people’s livelihood”

    This literally does the opposite. Costs of owning a car are beyond most people’s ability here in NYC. If you can afford one, then your qualification for being under financial duress is questionable, at best. Further, working men and women, small business owners, city coffers, and just about everyone financially benefits from improvements to walkability. Total commute times usually hold steady, or sometimes actually improve, with pedestrian improvements.

    You can claim that “the man” is coming down on you, but it’s just not true. You can call this “not having free will,” but how exactly is being a slave to a car note, insurance, taxes, tag fees, gas, parking tickets, maintenance, and on and on, being free? How is spending so much time sitting in traffic, looking for parking, negotiating with all these pesky pedestrians being free? Your reaction doesn’t speak well of how amazingly free the act of driving a car in the city feels.

    And if you are a small business that relies on cars/trucks, then you should want pedestrian improvements, bike lanes, and transit everywhere. The more people walk, bike, and take transit the clearer the roads will be for your fleet. In fact, you should be pushing for a ban on private vehicles, as that would allow your commercial vehicles free reign!

    Bottom line: having the choice to walk, bike, take transit, cab, Uber, car share, rollerblade, skateboard, or other means of non-private automobile travel is *more* free, *less* money, and stimulates the local economy (possibly negating your need to travel far from your house to begin with) *more* than everybody choosing to drive their personal vehicles.

  • neroden

    NYPD will just do its usual thing of completely ignoring the law entirely, refusing to investigate, and concealing the identity of the killer so that they can prevent civil lawsuits.

    NYPD is just a crime gang.

  • neroden

    If you think you need to run over pedestrians in order to save time so that you can joyride in your car (which is slower than the subway), you’re a horrible person.

  • Miles Bader

    Yup, they have these “all phases count down” ped signals in Japan too, and I love them, because I can see the timer from a distance, and this lets me decide if I want to hustle to get to the intersection (e.g. I can see it will turn green shortly) or can just take my time (start of red period, no point in hurrying, it’ll probably be green when I arrive).