Hordes of pedestrians pass through intersections on Purdue’s campus, following different variations of a common path.
At a four-way stop light with an all-pedestrian phase, people who intend to walk to the opposite corner of the intersection tend to cross diagonally. But some may not know whether that action is legal, frowned upon or outlawed. Most seem to do it without a second thought.
“I don’t know, it just seems normal to me,” said Emma Wrege, a senior in the College of Science. “It would take more time not to (cross diagonally). Everyone else does it, so I do it.”
Several students reiterated that remaining on the painted crosswalks was a maneuver serving no purpose but to waste time. One student said the 25 seconds allotted for pedestrians to cross is an inadequate amount of time to do anything but walk — or run — diagonally.
“If you think about it, it’s actually not long enough,” said Daniel Peng, a freshman in the College of Engineering. “If you start at the first second, then maybe it’s fine. But if you arrive and there’s only like ten seconds left, then you have to go diagonal, or else you probably can’t make it.”
Purdue Police Chief John Cox said “pedestrians can cross in any direction at an all-pedestrian phased intersection.” But Indiana State Code is less clear on the matter.
“A pedestrian may not cross a roadway intersection diagonally unless authorized by official traffic control devices,” reads the statute.
The devices controlling the direction and timing of crosswalks at State and Grant streets are designed only to inform people walking on the painted crossings. There is no technical signage indicating that a diagonal path is an option.
“Freshman year, I was terrified to do it,” said Emma Maggart, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts. “As the years passed, I got less worried about it. But yeah, freshman year, I never did it one time.”
She said although she initially frowned upon it, the popularity of the trend eventually moved her to walk diagonally. Likening the intersection to a “cattle crossing,” her strategy for traversing it involves weaving in and out of aimless wanderers and deliberate speed-walkers alike.
The city government of West Lafayette decided in early December to introduce the four-way all-pedestrian phase framework to several other intersections. Project engineer Dan Auckley said the idea was implemented from the crossing at State Street and Chauncey Avenue to the intersection at State and University streets, totaling seven stoplights.
Auckley said the decision was meant to ensure the safety of crossing pedestrians and avoid traffic buildup behind cars attempting to turn and being forced to yield the right-of-way to walkers who simultaneously had the signal to go.
The city’s engineering department is aware of the option to paint an X over the intersection and formalize the path most people opt to travel, said Auckley. But it resisted, not wanting to encourage the diagonal pattern.
“People do it, it’s really set up not to be that way, you’re supposed to use the crosswalks,” Auckley said. “Obviously students don’t do that, but we still don’t want to encourage them to walk diagonally.”
Auckley said the primary reason for resisting any new signage is to avoid the necessity of adding more time to the traffic signal’s countdown. The 25-second period that pedestrians currently have to walk, jog or ride across the street would need to be extended, meaning automobile traffic would stall for an additional few seconds.
“If we wanted to encourage it, we’d put diagonal crosswalks in and extend the timing for pedestrians to walk,” Auckley added. “But we don’t want to do that.”
The horde of people crossing in unconventional directions can complicate the normally perfunctory task of walking across the street. Cox said there is always a risk of collision since walkers, joggers, bikers and skateboarders have to navigate the same confined space. He urged each group to remember their responsibility to exercise due caution.
As for the possibility of new signage being introduced, Auckley said the city will have to evaluate if the lack thereof is a legitimate safety concern. Until then, students like Wrege may just have to continue to view the intersection as a minor nuisance.
“It’s kind of annoying when people are right in front of me and I have to stop,” Wrege said. “I just dodge them.”