Safe crossings: Police, city take strides to educate community on trails

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Erin Murphy and her two children, Ashten and Jayden Verplank, follow the signs to correctly cross a trail in Westfield. (Photo by Sadie Hunter)

By Anna Skinner

When it comes to the correct way for pedestrians to cross the street on a trail crosswalk, not many are educated on the state law. The City of Westfield has recently taken an initiative to educate pedestrians and drivers on right-of-way legalities.

The City of Westfield has multiple signs alerting pedestrians wanting to cross the street that cars have the right-of-way. (Photo by Sadie Hunter)

The initiative began when residents complained on the social media app Nextdoor. The more the city looked into it, the more it was clear there was confusion on the law.

Westfield Police Dept. Chief Joel Rush said pedestrians do not have the right-of-way at crosswalks. Drivers do.

“Trail users have to stop,” Rush said. “The drivers of vehicles have to be prepared to stop if someone enters the crosswalk, but the burden is on the trail user to stop. If I’m driving and no one is in the crosswalk, I can go and don’t have to stop. But if someone is in the crosswalk, me being the driver, I have to stop. Once a person on a trail comes into the crosswalk they have the right-of-way.”

There are already signs in place alerting trail users that cross traffic isn’t required to stop. But when pedestrians are already in the crosswalk, Rush said the drivers must yield. With regard to trail safety, Rush said confusion often stems from polite drivers waving pedestrians to cross when drivers coming from the opposite way don’t plan to stop.

The City of Westfield is placing additional signage along major trail crossings within the city to alert drivers of state law when it comes to pedestrians in crosswalks. (Submitted photo)

“People don’t like it when one car stops and waits for someone to go, and that’s the big debate now is what happens if someone is trying to be polite and sees (a pedestrian) coming and stops,” Rush said. “What the trail user sees is a stopped car, and they think it’s clear for them to walk across. Public safety’s worst fear is one (driver) waves (the pedestrian) on, they don’t look the other way and get hit. If you see someone stopping, you need to stop, too, to make sure it’s clear. That’s just being kind to other people.”

Rush is an active trail user and runs the trail multiple times a week. He said he prefers drivers not stop if they see him or other users on the trail.

Rush said there’s frustration on both sides, with drivers angry when another driver stops when they have the right-of-way. There’s also anger about pedestrians not being educated on the law and crossing when they do not have the right of way.

Bill Kirsch, a Westfield resident and frequent trail user, recalled a situation when a driver stopped to let him cross and was then rear-ended by another driver.

Bill Kirsch runs along the Monon Trail in Westfield. (Submitted photo)

“What happens is the car behind the first car may not slow down (to let the pedestrian cross), and then you have a problem,” Kirsch said. “It happened to me on the Midland a couple winters ago where it crosses Carey Road. I was running east and the first car stopped and let me go across. I looked the other way and there was a car going northbound that wouldn’t slow down, so I turned back and motioned to her to go. The car behind her ran into her. Cars think they have to stop, but a lot of it is common sense. It’s not a red light, it’s a yellow light. Just slow down, and if someone is crossing (in the crosswalk), they have the right-of-way. But if they are using the trail, there are stop signs. Vehicles have the right-of-way.”

To aid in educating the public, the city ordered new “yield to pedestrians within crosswalk” signs to be placed in Monon Trail crosswalks to alert drivers to be aware and yield to pedestrians if they are already in the crosswalks. However, there are already stop signs in place to alert pedestrians they must stop. The first sign will be placed at the 161st Street crosswalk in the coming weeks. City spokesperson Erin Murphy said this effort is to focus on safety until a permanent solution is funded.

For more, visit westfield.in.gov/parks/division.php?structureid=279.

Westfield Trails by the numbers

  • 93.82 miles of trails in Washington Township
  • 85.63 miles of trails in Westfield city limits
  • 20 Crosswalk signs to be placed along Monon crossings in Westfield

Major Westfield trails: Grassy Branch Trail, Monon Trail, Midland Trace Trail, Cool Creek Trail, Natalie Wheeler Trail

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