With outdoor activities on the rise amid sunny summer weather, local law enforcement agencies are reminding motorists of who must yield to whom on Owensboro's popular Adkisson Greenbelt Park trail.
Officials with the Owensboro Police and Daviess County Sheriff's departments say, contrary to what may be popular belief, walking, running or bicycling pedestrians have the right-of-way on designated Greenbelt crosswalks, and motorists should come to a stop if they see someone ready to cross.
It's a dangerous point of confusion, says OPD Public Information Officer Andrew Boggess, that has lingered on since the 15-mile long continuous park was originally built. Calls asking for clarification are a regular occurrence, he said, and officers try to relay the same mantra each time: Drive cautiously and always yield to pedestrians.
"The pedestrian always has the right-of-way," he said. "We've done several videos and put out several informational things, but, regardless of how much we try to get information out there, there always seems to be confusion."
Brookhill resident Mark Vessels is one of those motorists confused. He said his commute along Fairview Drive is often interrupted by vehicles stopping suddenly to allow walkers or bicyclists to cross on the Greenbelt near Daviess County's Horse Fork Creek Park.
Sometimes, though, it's heart-stopping near misses caused by misunderstandings on the part of drivers or pedestrians -- or both.
"I just want to know what the rule is," 59-year-old Vessels said. "Sometimes you'll be driving along and one car will stop but the other one won't, so a pedestrian will walk out into the road without knowing if all the cars are going to stop. My biggest concern is that the confusion will get to a point that somebody gets hurt, and nobody wants that."
Nobody does, says Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain, and that's why pedestrian-first is should remain on motorists' minds.
Yellow "TRAIL X-ING" signs with pedestrian and bicycle graphics are meant to illustrate that point, he said. Motorists yield to pedestrians -- not the other way around.
But another Brookhill resident Ray Best, says it's exactly those signs that have led to his confusion. He encounters Greenbelt crossings on Fairview Drive and Old Hartford Road on a daily basis, but he's used the Greenbelt many times before, too, and there are signs for pedestrians at each crosswalk that tell people to stop and walk bikes across the road.
"Pedestrians have a sign that says stop and drivers have a sign that says yield," Best, 67, said. "That's why I thought pedestrians had to stop and wait for traffic to clear."
Rather, said Cain, the sign that reads "stop" is simply there to remind pedestrians to look out for drivers before they step out into the road. Unless pedestrians have a signal that indicates it's not safe to proceed, he said, they should always travel first, but be mindful that sadly not all motorists are paying attention.
"What we tell folks is that regardless of what the law says, nobody driving a vehicle wants to hit a pedestrian," the sheriff said. "It's just common courtesy to have situational awareness and slow down at crosswalks and stop if pedestrians are at them."
There are about a dozen Greenbelt crosswalks in and around the city, including those portions of the trail the county maintains on the far east side of Owensboro. That doesn't count the number of crosswalks at highway intersections, but law enforcement say the rules are the same. Where there's a crosswalk and there isn't a signal telling pedestrians to stop, motorists should assume they're going to go.
"I always watch, because you can never tell if a driver is going to stop or not," said regular Greenbelt biker Reggie Helm. "Some of them barrel through and some of them stop. You always wish there was just some kind of consistency."
Austin Ramsey, 270-691-7302, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @austinrramsey