Walkable Sacramento #3: pedestrian signals

Following on to the previous post on crosswalks, policies are needed for pedestrian signals, which are intended to provide some additional protection for pedestrians crossing at signalized intersections. I am not in favor of creating signalized intersections where they don’t exist (in fact, many should be considered for removal), but where they do exist, the pedestrian signals need to be done right.

It should be noted that the NCUTCD (National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) just today decided to not recommend that the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) require that signalized intersections have pedestrian signals. I’m not sure how I feel about this: sometimes I think that we over-sign and over-signalize roadways, causing lack of attention, but at the same time, such a limitation would never be accepted if it had to do with motor vehicle movement.

Pedestrian activation buttons are often called ‘beg buttons’ because the walker must ‘beg’ permission to cross by pressing the button and then waiting an uncertain length of time. Sometimes forever, because some buttons have failed or been disconnected, and no change has been made to the signal logic to address this. Motor vehicle drivers are not required to take any such action, they are detected in various ways, or the signal is set to change automatically without detection.

Some European cities have installed automatic pedestrian detection, which changes the signal based on the presence of a walker. I have heard that some of the detectors can even distinguish people in wheelchairs, with walkers and canes, or elderly, and adjust the cycle to accommodate. I’m not aware of any of these in the United States, but would be happy to hear about them if there are.

The policies are:

  • No crossing will require the pressing of a pedestrian button unless it is a roadway over over 30,000 ADT with a crossing frequency of less than 100 pedestrians per day, or is a mid-block crossing. 
  • All pedestrian buttons will be labeled to clearly indicate whether they have any effect on the signal cycle. Buttons may serve only the purpose of:
    • triggering infrequent crossings, as above, or
    • triggering audible information, or
    • lengthening the crossing time for walkers requiring a longer time, often seniors and the disabled
  • Existing buttons will be removed unless they provide one one of the functions above, and are signed to indicate their function. Removal of others within three years.
  • All pedestrian signals will have a countdown function, unless there is a crossing frequency of less than 50 pedestrians per day, within five years. 
  • Signals will normally have a cycle of 60 seconds or less in order to reduce pedestrian wait times. Revision within two years.
from Dhiru Thadani

Author: Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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