Let’s get something straight: Pedestrians always have the right of way at intersections

We explain the rule and share people’s crosswalk stories. Reoccurring complaint? People crossing streets while looking at their phones.

Few Washington driving laws are ignored like the rule giving pedestrians the right of way at intersections.

Legally, people can step off a curb and cross the street at any intersection, no matter their traffic or design. That means even crossings without walk signals, lights or zebra stripes give walkers the upper hand, according to state law.

But at busy street corners, the question of crossing is not what is in law books — it’s a matter of steering clear of heavy, fast-moving metal. And as Seattle’s swelling population packs sidewalks and roads, proper street etiquette is important now more than ever.

“If it’s a red hand, they are jaywalking,” a Seattle Redditt user wrote. “You don’t get to hit them. But a stern gaze is fair. A horn honk (if) you’re feeling saucy.”

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

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Via social media, comment threads and emails to Traffic Lab, Seattleites are sharing crosswalk stories and going over drivers’ duty to stop. Some complain too many pedestrians here don’t pay attention while crossing the street.

“People with headphones in their ears, or their face buried in an iPhone, walking out into the street without looking up,” said Jim Strichartz, who lives in Greenwood and works in Queen Anne.

Strichartz, who has a mobility disability and drives wherever he goes, said he’s noticed the most distracted walkers on Capitol Hill. When he moved to the city from Michigan in 1978, he said, law-enforcement officers seemed more diligent about enforcing jaywalking laws downtown.

Washington law makes it illegal for people to dart out into roadways or suddenly enter crosswalks so that it’s impossible for drivers to stop.

Also, once “don’t walk” signals flash at intersections with traffic lights, it is no longer lawful for people…

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