If you’re in doubt about where to cross, follow the example set by other pedestrians – but not too closely, as Americans are among the world’s most ill-disciplined pedestrians.
It’s possible to be fined for ‘jaywalking’, i.e. crossing a road at an unauthorised place or against a pedestrian light, although you would have to lie down in the road to get booked in most cities. In large cities (e.g. New York), almost everyone ignores pedestrian lights, and motorists (who also ignore lights) are surprisingly tolerant of pedestrians wandering across the road.
A good indication of pedestrian anarchy is a sign stating ‘LOOK FOR PEOPLE CROSSING’ on freeways in California (they aren’t official pedestrian crossings – even Americans don’t put them on freeways!).
Busy pedestrian crossings usually have signs saying ‘WALK’ and ‘DON’T WALK’. Some have a red hand to indicate don’t walk and a white ‘walking man’ for walk. Some crossings have an audible signal for blind pedestrians. Pedestrian crossings are often badly marked and vary from state to state and even from city to city. Many consist of simply two white lines at junctions, perhaps joined by diagonal lines.
At pedestrian crossings without pedestrian lights, you should take care when crossing, as motorists may be disinclined to stop (although they’re generally better than motorists in most other countries). Signs and road markings for crossings are often abbreviated ‘PED XING’ for pedestrian crossings or ‘BIKE XING’ for bicycle crossings.
Parents should never allow young children out alone on roads and should walk between them and traffic, always keeping a tight hold on their hands. If you’re unable to do this, then use reins or secure them firmly in a pushchair.
Pedestrians must use footpaths (sidewalks) where provided and, if walking on a road without a footpath, should keep to the left-hand side, facing oncoming traffic. There are manned patrols at road crossings on busy roads outside or near schools.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in America. Click here to get a copy now.