In New York crosswalks - yes, they're there - walkers reign

In the capital of pedestrian fatalities, a new law aims to make crosswalks inviolate. But in the land of hustle, many doubt that antsy drivers will comply.

Norman Chonacky is stepping off the curb at a four-way stop. But after only two steps in the crosswalk, he has to stop: A blue driving-school car turns in front of him.

Until recently, this car-meets-man scenario was typically won by the vehicle - as any New Yorker will tell you. But now, there is a state law so new that even the driving-school instructors may not be aware of it: Pedestrians in a crosswalk that lacks a traffic light must reach the other side of the curb before those brake lights can come off.

Yes, in a city where millions of feet pound the pavement each day, score one for the walkers like Mr. Chonacky, a Columbia University physicist.

The new law modifies an old one, which stated that the pedestrian simply had to be out of the way for the car to have the go-ahead. If enforced - which some people think is very questionable - the revised measure will require a quantum change in behavior for many New York drivers.

It may be worth the hassle.

Manhattan has the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in the US - roughly 200 each year, according the New York Department of Transportation. Since the early 1990s, the DOT has been making major efforts to curb the number of pedestrian fatalities by passing new laws.

"The old law was fuzzy and confusing," says Peter Graves, deputy spokesman for the state DOT. "This makes it a little easier."

New York is not alone in wanting clarity. In passing this law, the Empire State joins about half of the states in the Union, which have similar laws, notes Mr. Graves.

Charles Komanoff, founder of Right of Way, a pedestrian-rights group, hopes the law will ease the stress of New York parents walking their children to school.

"I have a problem every day walking my two small boys across the intersection at Greenwich and Duane," he says. "There are hundreds of kids being walked by hundreds of parents."

Mr. Komanoff adds, "If this were enforced, it would mean ... it's always our turn to cross. Let [the drivers] sit in comfort with their stereos and heaters."

But the question remains: Will anyone pay attention to the new law? Brooklyn resident and car owner Michael Richardson doubts that the aggressive drivers in the Big Apple will slow down on their own.

"Everyone is in a hurry," he says. "As a driver, it seems a little persnickety to have to wait ... for the crosswalk to be empty."

Even Chonacky, himself cut off by a driver, agrees. "The law sounds unrealistic," he says. "Traffic would be backed up for hours."

The state DOT plans to launch an awareness campaign by the spring. But ultimately, it will be left up to the city police to crack down on delinquent motorists.

"New Yorkers are New Yorkers, so we'll see," says Detective Kevin Czartoryski with the New York City Police Department.

No matter what happens, Chonacky remains optimistic about the motorists he faces every morning on his walk to work. His recent experience "is unusual," he says. "The drivers around here are pretty good."

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