Rules of the Road

Rules of the Road: Do crosswalk buttons really activate the signal?

Question: On a recent Diane Sawyer ABC News show, she said some cities that have those push buttons to activate on crossing the street at an intersection do not really work. In fact, she said the New York City street buttons have been disconnected for more than a decade, but they leave them there so the pedestrian feels like they have “power” in crossing the street in a timely fashion. Can you tell us if any of the Bellingham crossing buttons are disconnected, too? Are we wasting our time pushing them, since they’re all on computer systems now?

Answer: The intersections that have the pedestrian call buttons are those intersections that will not routinely activate a “WALK” signal for the pedestrians to legally cross the controlled intersection. For those intersections that have the call buttons, if you do not push it, you will not get a “WALK” signal. If it shows “DON’T WALK” or is flashing “DON’T WALK,” it is illegal for pedestrians or bicyclists who are using the sidewalk/crosswalk to begin crossing the street. Bicycles that are on the sidewalk must follow the pedestrian rules, on the roadway they must follow the vehicle rules.

Question: I’m in the left-turn lane. The turn-lane light is red. The other through lanes have a green light. There is no oncoming traffic. Can I legally make that left turn against the red light?

Answer: No, unless you are turning onto a one-way road and there are no signs prohibiting the turn.


Rules of the Road is a regular column with questions and answers on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices.

Answers come from David Wright, a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who is now serving on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.

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