more LPIs

I wrote some while ago about leading pedestrian indicator (LPI) signals, which give the pedestrian a head start of a few seconds before the parallel traffic light turns green. So far as I know, Sacramento has not added any locations to the list of eleven.

But the city should. In fact, I’d argue that any traffic signal where there are a significant number of walkers, and a significant number of turning drivers, should have an LPI. Drivers often fail to yield to people in the crosswalk when turning, or cut in right behind them, and the more chance the walker has to get out into the crosswalk and visible, the better. Of course nothing about the LPI prevents the driver from turning on red, unless turns on red are prohibited. Prohibiting turns on red has been much discussed lately, but I don’t think that treatment is the most important that can happen at intersections.

I live a few blocks from Fremont Park, which is the block between 15th Street and 16th Street, and P Street and Q Street. In fact, many of the parks in the central city are located between pairs of one-way streets, called couplets. 16th is one of the busiest streets in the central city, and the other two are moderately busy, and these four intersections see a lot of turning vehicles. Since I walk nearly every day to and around the park, I get plenty of chance to see how drivers interact with walkers in the crosswalk. I’ve never seen anybody hit, but I often see conflicts, the driver trying to intimidate the walker, trying to beat them to the crosswalk, stopping just short of hitting them, or cutting in close behind them.

P Street and Q Street are two-lane arterials, while 15th Street and 16th Street are three-lane arterials, with higher traffic volumes and vehicle speeds. 16th was a state highway.

So, I’m asking the city to install LPI signals for the south crosswalk at 15th & P, the east crosswalk at 15th & Q, the north crosswalk at 16th & Q, and the west crosswalk at 16th & P. The photos below show the intersection of 15th & P from pedestrian level, and overhead. The video shows two pedestrians crossing, and mostly through the crosswalk before the driver encroaches. This was a low traffic time with only one turning vehicle. When I have a chance to capture a heavier traffic time with pedestrians, I’ll replace it.

P Street westbound, showing crosswalk over 15th St ahead
15th Street & P Street, south crosswalk
crosswalk over 15th Street at P Street

I often write about the Sacramento central city because that is where I live, and I have ample opportunity to observe transportation infrastructure and driver, walker and bicyclist behavior. However, I’d like to state that I DO NOT think that central city issues should be solved first. These issues occur in many places in Sacramento, where the traffic is higher speed, facilities are poorer, and neighborhoods have been disinvested. Drivers in the central city are just as bad as drivers elsewhere, in fact most of them are from elsewhere, the suburbs, but they have grown somewhat accustomed to seeing walkers and bicyclists, and are more careful around them.

Next: LPIs and bicyclists

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

Morse-Cottage pedestrian scramble

At the intersection of Morse Ave and Cottage Way in the Arden-Arcade community of Sacramento county, there is a pedestrian scramble. What this men’s is that the pedestrian signal is on, for walk, in all the directions at once. They are also called Barnes Dance, for Henry Barnes, the traffic engineer who popularized them, and exclusive pedestrian phases.

Sometimes these intersections have marked diagonal crosswalks, as a reminder that diagonal crossings are permitted, and sometimes they do not, but a pedestrian may cross diagonally whether the marked crosswalk is there or not.

I am most familiar with these from Reno (I lived in Carson City for some years), which has several along Virginia Street in downtown. I’ve seen them other places, but don’t recall exactly where right now. At every location where I’ve seen them, right turns are prohibited on red, by signing, so when pedestrians are crossing, no cars are moving at all, and there is no issue with drivers failing to yield to pedestrians using the crosswalk.

I think that every intersection that has heavy pedestrian traffic, particularly where many of the pedestrians are crossing one street and then the other, should have pedestrian scrambles. Yes, they slow traffic a bit, but they increase pedestrian safety and comfort, a great trade-off in my opinion. Many scrambled that existed in the past were removed by traffic engineers who wanted to prioritize vehicle flow over all other considerations, including safety, but it is time to bring them back, at least in select locations. See Governing Magazine, Cities Revive an Old Idea to Become More Pedestrian-Friendly, or search the Internet for pedestrian scramble for both recent and old installations.

The county had this to say about the intersection:

  1. The all-ways crossing, also known as a pedestrian scramble, at Cottage and Morse was in place/operation prior to the 2016 Cottage Way modification project. After doing some researched, we discovered it has been in place since the signal was installed in 1969.
  2. The pedestrian scramble operates 24 hours a day.
  3. The configuration of this intersection is unusual for the County. The scramble works for this location given the layout and right of way constraints that result in some of the corners only having one pedestrian push button to serve two directions.
  4. We currently do not have any plans to add diagonal crossings at this location.
  5. This is currently the only location in the County that has a pedestrian scramble.