The octagonal red STOP signs at intersections in the United States conform to the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals. We share the same design with a number of nations, including Argentina, Belarus, China, Iran, and Mongolia: On foot or on fuel, you STOP. But what about those wobbly signs in the middle of the crosswalk that say, “State Law, Stop for (the pathetic little stick figure) on crosswalk”?
Hoboken pedestrians claim that drivers just blow through without even stopping, and Hoboken drivers claim that pedestrians do the same, texting and talking with an outsize sense of entitlement and an undersized sense of mortality.
There are around 40 of these signs—known as stop-for-pedestrian signs—in Hoboken, and they began popping up in 2010.
Pedestrians crossing Hoboken streets with these special stop signs didn’t mind talking about their experiences. “Sometimes I will stand at the corner as three or four cars pass, and none of them stop to let me go,” said a nanny crossing First Street at the intersection with Jackson Street—one of the busiest cross-town corridors. She didn’t want to give her name because of her employment, but she said that drivers, especially during rush hour, seem to take little notice of the signs.
“I guess they’re not really stop signs, so it’s OK?” she asked.
The point of the signs, according to the head of Hoboken Department of Parking and Transportation, John Morgan, is to alert motorists that they must stop for people in the crosswalk, as opposed to a traditional stop sign, which simply tells the driver they must stop before entering the intersection.
There are fines of up to $230 for both motorists and pedestrians guilty of ignoring these signs and barreling into the crosswalk, which shows that lawmakers are as concerned with pedestrians breaking the law as they are with motorists. In an admittedly unscientific survey I conducted, motorists usually stop only for the “real” stop signs that adhere to the Vienna Convention.
Do the stop-for-pedestrian signs work? In a 15-minute period on a late-summer Thursday morning, at the crosswalk on Hudson Street, across from Hoboken Terminal, a little fewer than 100 pedestrians crossed the street. About 50 crossed with no cars in sight, and close to 25 crossed when a car stopped for them, but the remainder either waited for one or multiple cars to pass, or ran across the street ahead of oncoming traffic. The terminal area sees more foot traffic than any other part of town, but the proportions were about the same uptown, on the west side, and near Hoboken High School, all areas of heavy pedestrian traffic.
At Third and Jackson, there’s a pedestrian sign smack dab in the middle of high-density apartment buildings and a popular mini strip mall across the street. The signs are there, at least partially, to keep pedestrian traffic moving. But during rush hour, is it more dangerous having the signs than not having them?
There’s one of these signs outside the Hudson Tea Building on Washington Street, where residents must cross in order to access the rest of town. You hear plenty of horns on Washington. Sometimes drivers are honking at one brazen guy who’s late for a meeting who has rushed into the crosswalk without looking. But all too often it’s texters, runners, and readers simply not paying attention.
Not surprisingly, Hoboken drivers who have just broken the law aren’t interested in giving interviews. They have no idea that the person waving them down like a lunatic is a journalist, and they’re not slowing down for anyone who doesn’t have lights and a siren. But one motorist, who did not want his name used, did agree to talk. He called the relationship between Hoboken’s drivers and walkers “adversarial.”
“I think pedestrians have become a bit obnoxious, to be honest,” he said. “They take the signs for granted and assume everyone’s going to stop, but that’s not how it works. I could be 10 feet away from the intersection, going the speed limit, with a car behind me so I can’t stop quickly enough, and they think just because that sign’s there, they can go.”
Originally from out of town, the driver said he’d never seen anything like Hoboken before.
“My whole life, I’ve never felt like, as a driver, it’s me against the pedestrians,” he said. “But that’s kind of how it feels here.”
As a kid, I walked from Hoboken Terminal to my elementary school on Third and Garden Streets every day, and often in a hurry. I rarely waited for the light, often ignored the crosswalk, and when I got a cell phone, I probably didn’t look up to see where I was going all that often. As an adult, I commute to Hoboken every day by car, driving from the southern end to my office on 14th Street. I use Jackson Street, then Clinton, and then Bloomfield to get uptown, a route specially designed to bypass as much pedestrian traffic as possible. I’m as guilty as the next guy of blowing through the “pedestrian-friendly” stop signs from time to time, but I find it useful to think about the type of pedestrian I used to be, and the grief I probably caused hundreds of drivers over the years.
The saga of the “pedestrian-friendly” stop signs points up the potentially dangerous divide between those who drive in Hoboken, and those who walk.
At the end of the day, drivers should probably deal with the fact that pedestrians often do not abide by the rules of the road—if only because it’s not the pedestrians who are driving the Escalades.—07030
PHOTOS BY Terri Saulino Bish