Washington Street Crosswalks a Daily Gauntlet

Pedestrians and drivers duel for supremacy.


Washington Street runs from Bridge Street where the is, down to Canal Street where it veers sharply to the left and continues past Mill Hill to Lafayette Street.

On that stretch of road, there are 11 different marked crossing points consisting of 14 crosswalks and four sets of traffic/pedestrian control signals.  

I am aware of eight separate serious accidents on this stretch of Salem roadway that have resulted in serious injury and one fatality over the last 10 years, the just a few weeks ago being the most recent.

It seems that every day drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians engage in a contest of wills while navigating from one point to another. Drivers turn right on red and ignore crosswalks, bicyclists select which rules of the road they will comply with and pedestrians step blindly into crosswalks seeming to expect magical protection from injury at the front end of a moving two-ton motor vehicle.  

Here is a breakdown and some observations of each crossing point.

Washington at Bridge — Taking this intersection as a whole, it seems more dangerous than it actually is. The crosswalks are long, but the traffic is controlled well by the signals. Most pedestrians seem to use the lights. Those crossing from the courthouse side would be well advised to beware drivers making a U-turn from the far side in order to head back towards Town House Square.

Washington at Federal — This is a deceptively dangerous intersection. Two separate crosswalks run from each corner of Federal Street and across the traffic islands. A friend of mine was struck and nearly killed here some years back by a driver taking a left off Washington. It is not unusual for drivers to ignore the stop sign on the eastern side as they turn right on Washington. 

Washington at Lynde — Now this is another deceptive intersection. Drivers need to beware of pedestrians who cross both Lynde and Church Streets without looking left or right for traffic. Drivers turning right on Lynde also need to slow down and anticipate that cars will be parked on the right despite the No Parking signs.

Washington at — This is the safest crosswalk on Washington Street. The street is flat and straight with easy sightlines for both drivers and pedestrians.

Town House Square — By some mystical force, the IQ of your average pedestrian drops dramatically when encountering this intersection. Stepping blindly from the curb, while texting, talking or scratching seems to be a requirement. Couple that with poor sightlines for drivers turning left off of Essex Street, add in those drivers who speed by traffic on the right in front of Eastern Bank, and you have a recipe for disaster. The frequent presence of large delivery vehicles on both Washington and Essex is an additional complication.

Washington at Front — We see here another short, but dangerous crossing point. Drivers on one side are focused on racing up Washington to jockey for position as they approach Town House Square. On the other side they eyeball the approaching traffic signal. Inattentive pedestrians only add to the dangerous mix.

Washington, New Derby and Norman — This is a daily rodeo of foolishness. This wide intersection also features a smaller crossing point by Margin Street that acts to confuse things more. I prefer not to cross here at all because of the overall anarchy that is a daily occurrence.

Washington at Canal and Mill — Crossing here is sure to test your heart. Drivers coming from Canal with the green can't see pedestrians who are crossing against the light until it is very late. Drivers coming off Mill experience the same thing. T-bone accidents are not uncommon here, and there are pedestrians struck fairly often, especially at night.

Washington at Pond — This is a nightmare for drivers coming up from Mill Street. The slight, curving uphill precludes seeing pedestrians until you are right on top of them.

Washington at Ropes — Sightlines make this crossing a sure bet for safety.

Washington at Lafayette — Traffic turning left from Lafayette has plenty of room to see and react to pedestrians. Those driving onto Lafayette from Washington are sometimes too focused on beating the light to be fully aware of pedestrians. The new signals have not been there long enough to evaluate.

Massachusetts General Law states that when pedestrian control signals are not in place, drivers will yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Salem Traffic Ordinances state that when pedestrian control signals are in place, pedestrians must use and obey them.

Each day, pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers duel on this street.

There are no winners in this sort of thing, only losers. We should all slow down a little. It will make for better days.

Choirboy April 30, 2012 at 11:12 AM
I don't see it. As both driver and pedestrian who lives downtown, I find drivers to be courteous to me when I'm on foot, and I return the favor when behind the wheel. One troubling thing I have noticed- most notably at the intersections of New Derby/Washington and New Derby/Lafayette- is the "Right on Red" traffic during controlled pedestrian crossings. If the city could make the traffic lights turn the traditional red AND yellow during pedestrian crossings, instead of just red, I think the problem, and danger, would virtually disappear.
Cheryl Michaels April 30, 2012 at 11:39 AM
Great article, perfect tone. Like you, I'll walk out of my way to avoid Washington at Norman. I came within inches of being hit when walking with the light. The driver was traveling west on New Derby and turning right onto Washington. She was on her cell phone and didn't even know I was there, until a fellow pedestrian gave chase and pounded on her car, yelling and gesturing.
Antoine M. Boisvert April 30, 2012 at 11:54 AM
Washington Street is probably the single slowest and most frustrating street to drive in the whole city. However, I find it is also the most avoidable; unless I have an actual need to travel to a business or location on Washington Street itself, with a car, there is almost need to use it at all. Only the stretch from Lafayette St to Riley Plaza is inescapable in my day-to-day driving. As a pedestrian, at least in the area between Town House Square and Front Street, I agree with Brian: drivers are courteous. Probably this partly due to the fact that during daylight hours vehicular traffic is nearly always at a standstill anyway. I think it is this that contributes to the pedestrian complacency that Mr. Legault describes. But really, I think the question remains, why drive on Washington St at all, especially between New Derby and Bridge?
christine April 30, 2012 at 12:05 PM
I haven't checked washington st for this problem The library side of Essex st has MBTA stops at every crosswalk and the speed is 25 MPH, the problem is every crosswalk is hidden by parked cars.
Don Nadeau April 30, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Thanks for an insightful article. It doesn't hurt to wear a bright orange backpack from The Army Barracks (for sale at one of your intersections)! Some room for improved safety: the shrub and No U-Turn sign at the crosswalk at Essex Street obscures pedestrians behind it - especially the more diminuitive ones. The new intersection at Bridge Street is missing several traffic islands - aptly called pedestrian refuges in highway engineering parlance - and the stacking lanes at the stop lines are canted up so headlights shine into oncoming drivers' eyes. Poor design or execution. And every last parking spot is not too precious to remove if it endangers pedestrians by obscuring sight lines to crosswalks.
Jen Meger April 30, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Great article! I cross Washington at Federal St. in the mornings with a stroller and won't set foot off the curb without making eye contact first with cars turning onto Washington from Federal and cars coming up Washington. Even taking that precaution, there are way too many times that a car will slow/stop for me on Washington and the car behind them then zooms wildly around them to pass, accelerating straight at me. I'll try moving down the street to crossing at City Hall to see if that helps.
Michael P Reilly April 30, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Antoine, for me, it is much easier to go from Bridge east-bound to turn onto Washington and then to turn left onto Church St than it is for the three extra lights to go down Bridge St and either Webb or Winter. I notice that many people follow this route as well since they added the extra lights on Bridge St. I find that most of the drivers are very courteous to the pedestrians at Federal and Lynde Streets. Where I see a common problem is from Norman side intersection of Washington. The police blacked out the "straight" arrow from the right lane (closest to the Post Office), but very often you'll have some yokel take the right lane to go into the middle lane at the light, sticking out either onto the cross-walk to block the left lane to go legally go straight, or by going into the 'no blocking' hashed section - this blocks either the pedestrians or the drivers turning onto Margin St and sometime blocking the right lane itself.
Thomas Vallor April 30, 2012 at 12:42 PM
For real, I have been a pedestrian in Salem for a decade and Washington, Lafayette, and North streets are an absolute HAZARD to try and cross. Same is true to a lesser extent for Bridge st and Loring ave. What do these streets all have in common? They are routes 1A and 114! The REAL problem is out-of-towners and commuters that use Salem as a short cut on their way to/from work!
Bill April 30, 2012 at 02:02 PM
There are too many crosswalks without signals. From the driver POV, there are a dozen things you need to be looking at and for when driving through this congested part of town. Many times I have looked up to see a ped standing right in front of my car who I didn't see until the last second. Usually because I was concerned about another car or multiple cars, or a bike or another person walking across a non-crosswalk area, etc.. Too many options in a small place. Just cross at the lights if you want to be safe.
Nancy Gilberg April 30, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Thanks, Bill - this is a discussion long overdue, and I hope positive change will come of it. There is a Salem Police Community Survey found here, http://www.salempd.org/. One of the questions allows you to comment on problems in your neighborhood such as traffic. It might be a good place for people to give feedback on this very issue.
CarleaSkunkrawk May 01, 2012 at 04:11 AM
I hate crossing new derby/lafayette headed toward Engine House, but my husband works right up the street and it's the quickest way to get there. I firmly feel that intersection should be "no turn on red," becuase one of these days I AM going to get hurt there. I always make sure I'm in the right with crossing signals and what not, but as soon as people see that light turn red they are plowing through the intersection and never have any clue of what they have done wrong. I'm that chick that yells, screams, and kicks cars. It really upsets me that people around here seem to have such ignorant driving skills/common sense. I wish they would post a cop there to just issue tickets all day for failure to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.
Feral Ginger May 14, 2012 at 03:04 PM
I've found the two crosswalks on Norman St. on either side of Holyoke Sq. to be a horror show. Drivers in both directions seem to have better things to do than wait for a pedestrian. I can't tell you how many times I've nearly been hit. I agree that maybe a nice boost in the number of failure to yield tickets issued would help drive it into people's heads.
Joseph Donoghue July 31, 2012 at 12:08 AM
I see the problem and commiserate with all motorists driving that route and others throughout Salem. My biggest pet peeve is with all those crosswalks and pedestrian lights for crossing,why are there so many clueless Jay-walkers? I believe that it is these individuals who add to driver's frustration, having to stop additionally for these scofflaws. The City of Salem should enforce the jaywalking ordinance and also enforce the bicyclist rules of the road. It is maddening that people walk and bicycle, through the city, as if wandering aimlessly, and expecting the motorists to look out for their safety. The fines collected would add to the city's coffers for emergencies such as costs for police at roadwork sites.


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