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The “out-of-date” rule on the books “defies common sense,” James said at a press conference outside City Hall just before the vote today.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