Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Getting Cross About Crosswalks

via http://www.tcstreetsforpeople.org

Our pals at Twin Cities Streets for People recently highlighted the not-a-crosswalk-crosswalks now in existence along the Cedar Lake Trail. I’ve ranted some about this in the past.

Minnesota state law is pretty clear about how crosswalks work. The key pieces of law that define crosswalks, as well as regulate behavior of road users and pedestrians as regard crosswalks, are found in Minnesota Statute 169.21. The highlights of that statute include:

  • If there’s a traffic signal, obey it.
  • If there is no signal and a marked crosswalk at an intersection (or anywhere else), drivers must stop and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway.
  • If there is no marked crosswalk at an intersection without a traffic signal, drivers still must stop and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway.
  • Pedestrians who cross between intersections must yield to vehicular traffic (and are taking their own lives in their hands).

Basically, the statute says that if there is an intersection, whether there’s paint or not, there is a crosswalk.

In the case of the Cedar Lake Trail, which now has signs declaring the at-grade street crossings NOT CROSSWALKS, past arguments for the not-a-crosswalk theory is that these aren’t intersections. If it’s not an intersection, what is it? At several crossings, an issue would be this latter section of 169.21:

Between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk.

At several points, this would create an expectation that someone would right- or left-turn off the trail, go to the adjacent controlled intersection, cross, then return back to the trail. What?

Another argument is that cars needn’t stop for cyclists in crosswalks. I don’t know where that argument comes from. It certainly doesn’t come from Minnesota Statute 169.222, which says:

A person lawfully operating a bicycle on a sidewalk, or across a roadway or shoulder on a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.

Basically, what this says is that 169.21 applies to bicycles legally using crosswalks.

Meanwhile, as the final extension of the CLT was opened, it was proclaimed to be a “bicycle freeway.” Gosh, under law, that sure sounds like an intersection, then.

Beyond all this, the rule for vehicles is that they’re supposed to yield at this kind of crossing. Are there special signs on the roadway telling them to floor it on through? This doesn’t just represent an exception for the pedestrians and cyclists using the trail, it demands that motorists behave differently than the law would require in every other crossing situation. It adds a level of decision-making complexity for the operators of motor vehicles!

No one’s taken on the signs as yet. I don’t know of any opinion from MNDOT or an appropriate authority that says that a municipality can just declare a trail crossing not an intersection/crosswalk. At the same time, without some thwack from the long arm of the law, the signs are sure to stay up. While many of these at-grade crossings are poorly constructed, have questionable visibility, and rate as downright dangerous… declaring them ‘not crosswalks’ doesn’t seem to address any of the real issues.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.


  1. I agree that these intersections are pushing the legal boundaries. This is an entirely new type of intersection that the existing MN State Statutes clearly weren’t anticipating. With the existing state statutes, I think they’re on pretty sound footing expecting cyclists to yield to motorized traffic, but as you point out, not so much for pedestrians.

  2. Except, as I’ve said, 169.222 assigns cyclists the rights and responsibilities of a pedestrian when legally using a crosswalk, which then puts the cyclist under the rules of 169.21.

    And this makes a lot of sense — basically, if someone is going to be using the crosswalk, a motorized vehicle must yield. It reduces the decision-making matrix. A motorist should not have to use multi-tiered logic when making these decisions. “Is that a bike? Then I can boogie! Wait, that person is on foot. Hey, those look like… skis? Roller skates? Do I have to stop?” The entire point of the combination of 169.222 and 169.21 is to reduce these decisions to “stop” or “violate.”

  3. Perhaps cyclists shouldn’t have the sidewalk and crosswalk privileges we do. Sidewalk riding is useful for children and maybe should be limited to them. Then we would have only vehicles-at-an-intersection rules to deal with.

  4. @Julie – My point is that these trail crossings are an entirely new type of intersection that aren’t adequately addressed by state statutes. It’s not as simple as saying “this is an intersection therefore it’s an unmarked crosswalk.” “Intersection” as defined in 169.011 says nothing about trails or paths, and the definition for “crosswalk” depends on whether or not it’s a “sidewalk” (it’s not…) or whether it’s intended for use by pedestrians (it is). My point is that this is extremely muddy water. I understand the logical argument you’re making, and I’m not saying it’s without merit. I’m just saying that we’re clearly applying the laws in ways that they were very clearly never intended to be applied.

    I would very much prefer that St. Louis Park and Hopkins treat these crossings as crosswalks, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned.

    Consider the following situation: would it make a difference if instead of a mixed-use trail with only a skipped yellow centerline, the trail was striped with a solid white line in addition to the skipped yellow centerline so as to separate the trail into distinct space for pedestrians and cyclists (think: how the midtown greenway is currently striped)? Is only the portion of the roadway where the pedestrians would cross a crosswalk while the adjacent space where bikes would cross not part of the crosswalk? Using the current laws, it could very easily be argued that cars would be required to stop for peds but not bikes.

    Also, say, how about a “subscribe to comments” feature here so that I can receive follow-up comments via email?

  5. @hokan – Generally, I prefer to receive follow-up comments to specific posts that I’ve commented on via email, rather than to follow all comments on all posts via rss. It’s just a personal preference. It’s just a suggestion.