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Thread: Pedestrian countdown signals WWYD

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Pedestrian countdown signals WWYD

    Have any of you encountered these pedestrian countdown signals, see below.

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    I have, and at first I really liked them and though it was a good addition to pedestrian safety. I have reviewed an application for which we are requireing a signal to be revised and I am contemplating requiring these signals. It's a 4 lane and 3 lane intersection and parking on both sides so the gap to cross is quite wide. I read a study today though which deflated my confidance in these signals stating that it was either confusing to most people who don't understand the phases of a signal or gave them a false sense of security and the pedestrians didn't look out for conflicting motions with on coming traffic as much.

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    What are your thoughts and do you have any suggestions for making this intersection safer? I'm currently requiring wide cross walk lanes with bigger stripes, enough green/walk time, and a lane guide for motorists coming form the east and going south (top of image is north).
    Last edited by Tide; 02 Feb 2006 at 4:58 PM.
    @GigCityPlanner

  2. #2
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    I encounter one frequently at my college. I think it is definitely a good idea. I can see what you mean about people not watching out for traffic, but really that's their fault. The signal near me also has an automated voice. Maybe you could have the voice warn people to watch for traffic as well. Nevertheless, it is a great device and I think it's nice knowing at least how much time you have to cross. I'm not sure how much these cost though.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
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  3. #3
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I certainly prefer them to conventional "blinking hand" signals. I don't buy the sense of security arguement though. You could argue that just having a pedestrian signal creates a false sense of security.

    If it really bothers you though, you can always require a sign underneath saying "watch for vehicles".

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  4. #4
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman
    If it really bothers you though, you can always require a sign underneath saying "watch for vehicles".
    Or you could hire a crosswalk monitor to hold the pedestrians' hand.....

    the size of those streets are probably at the threshold of being barely pedestrian friendly anyhow, so the number of warnings one puts in the intersection will probably have marginal, if any, usefulness in terms of walkability. I think the symbol and timer would be ok.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    We have those on virtually on of our signalized intersections. We painted a couple of eyes and the word look on the street pavement and it seems to help with people just running across the road to beat the timer. I say put them in.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    These are helpful for all those rural folks who never understand how to cross the street to begin with. It is nice to actually know how quickly you need to move to get your butt of the street.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jringel
    These are helpful for all those rural folks who never understand how to cross the street to begin with. It is nice to actually know how quickly you need to move to get your butt of the street.
    A couple of years ago I was walking home from work when the walk signal came on. There was a country-ish family standing on the corner and the woman actually asked me if the signal meant that they could cross the street. I gave her what was probably the weirdest look that's ever crossed my face and said "Yes". I have to wonder what they thought of the AmTrak station just across the road.

    As far as the false sense of security goes, we do have a couple of the pedestrian crossing signals here with a pair of animated eyes looking back and forth but they're never paired with the countdown signals. I really like the countdown ones. If there is an increase in accidents at a crossing, I have to wonder if it is because pedestrians are paying more attention to the changing numbers than the automobiles around them. That's not really the same thing as a false sense of security... it's more of a distraction factor.

    We also have some apparently first generation LED pedestrian signals with so few LEDs that it's hard to tell what the shapes are. They are unsurprisingly the work of the state DOT.
    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    What, not the Canadian approach of pointing to signal that you are crossing the street?



    I have encountered many of the countdown crosswalks and always find them useful. When you are driving and afraid that you might get caught by a red light, you can see how long you have to make it to the intersection and then speed up accodingly.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I like the Bar Harbor method of pedestrians crossing whenever they want.

  10. #10
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by savemattoon
    I like the Bar Harbor method of pedestrians crossing whenever they want.
    hey, you talkin to me?!?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian
    hey, you talkin to me?!?
    Worse part is when you get home and you're used to cars actually stopping for pedestrians. Illinois drivers will set you strait, if they don't lay you out

    Back on topic, I like the timers, Like jringel said, its nice to know if you need to pick it up a little.

  12. #12
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by savemattoon
    Worse part is when you get home and you're used to cars actually stopping for pedestrians. Illinois drivers will set you strait, if they don't lay you out
    in the off-season (now) - they stop because they know you and they roll down the window to chat - very cool - people behind you patiently wait until you are done, too

    except when i'm in a controversy going on, like now, then they speed up as if they are going to run me over and we get a good laugh - yep, pop off the planning director, go ahead!

    but in answer to the original question - i like the countdown gig, but only for very wide interchanges so people can gauge the stats on crossings -

    and in your intersection in the picture, tide, bring in those corners just a little so you don't feel like you're crossing the Nile in your wellies - spruce up the place a little with some brick crosswalks (when your dpw director isn't looking of course)

  13. #13

    Ped signals overall

    Overall ped signals give a false sense of security anyway. People think that vehicles will stop when they have the walk signal, however that is not always the case, unless of course you have a protected ped phase (meaning that traffic cannot turn right on red and there are not conflicting ped (turning) movements). We don't have any ped signals in our city but we do have ped pushbuttons, which change the signals. Peds use good judgement and are cautious to cross only when the parallel phase has a green indication, turning vehicles should still yield the ROW to peds in the crosswalk, but peds need to use their own good judgement as to if and when to cross. Several of these buttons are along state routes that carry up to 2 times the traffic as normal during the tourist (high walking) season. We don't have huge ped traffic volumes (but are a tourist town with many out-of-town peds), but I can say we have had 0 ped/vehicle accidents at these locations in the almost 7 years I have been here, so they do work effectively.
    On a related note, this week I had a signal rep (Pathmaster-Econolite) give me a price for the audible and countdown setup of which you speak, the button TELLS you audibally what street you are crossing and the button vibrates to indicate it is clear (or when peds SHOULD cross). $700/per button. We're still skimming by the ADA minimums with $40 a piece 3" round buttons. Nothing fancy, but meeting the bare ADA requirements. Like I stated before, these are fine for low to medium ped volume intersections.
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  14. #14
    Those things are great for drivers too, they tell you exactly how much time you have left to speed up before the yellow light comes on.

  15. #15
    As a person who walks everywhere and can go a couple weeks at a time without getting into a car, I think the countdown signals are great. They make it much easier to cross a street and I would think they let waiting drivers know how much time before the light is going to change, perhaps keeping them calmer. I wish they were everywhere.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Saw a bunch of those when I visited Chicago, and it seemed to me that they gave me a false sense of how much time I had left. One moment I had 22 seconds, half way through I seemed to only have 6....so either the road's really THAT wide, or they can't count seconds over in Chicago.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    Those things are great for drivers too, they tell you exactly how much time you have left to speed up before the yellow light comes on.
    This is the main criticism I have seen of these - that cars actually speed up to make through the intersection on time. Here in Albuquerque, red light running is bordering on rampant, so when a car speeds up to make it through the "recently turned red" light (deemed perfectly acceptable, even by our most fervent traffic police), bad things can happen. In practice, though, we have had few accidents in the downtown where these countdown lights are located (although we are near the the top of list in general on traffic-related pedestrian fatalities - go Albuquerque!)

    I also like the ones that have a sound associated for the blind and visually impaired. Although you don't think so much about it, the quickening pace of the "beep beep beep" does tend to get your butt moving across that intersection...

    That intersection also looks a bit wide - are you requiring any other amenities like bulb-outs or refuges? I am a big fan of color and texture for the crosswalks rather than just zebra stripes (which can be an elaborate paver designs, stamped concrete, or painted crossings with "pimples" preceding - they need not be expensive). And of course the other usual hahoo like a speed table can be useful...

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    I just attended a Walkable Communities conference and these signals were brought up and were praised for being the best of what is out there as far as signals go. What most people think is confusing about them is the flashing hand along with the countdown. There should either be a walk signal or no signal at all with the countdown.

    Make sure there is enough time to get across the intersection and make sure left turns are minimized while walk signal is on.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    They are all over Cambridge, Somerville and Boston, MA.

    I know that there is some confusion regarding their programming in relation to the MUTCD. When they were first introduced in Boston, the countdown would begin with the "walk" signal and end with the solid "don't walk" signal.

    I guess that the MUTCD specifies that the countdown should only be visible during the "walk" phase, not during the flashing "don't walk" phase. While I don't agree, I believe that this is required to eliminate the "false sense of confidence" problem and the car "jumping the light" problem.

    As for the intersection above, I would recommend the following:

    1. An all-red pedestrian scramble phase with crossing in all directions (even diagonal), or
    2. Stoplines and crosswalks restriped perpendicular to the curbs instead of parallel to the intersecting street and ped barriers as used in the UK at corners to direct peds to the crossings. This would prevent jaywalking out side of the crosswalks, particularly for those moving between the NW and SE corners.
    3. I would also second the suggestion for a median or islands on the N-S roadway.
    Last edited by jmello; 03 Feb 2006 at 2:27 PM.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by savemattoon
    Worse part is when you get home and you're used to cars actually stopping for pedestrians. Illinois drivers will set you strait, if they don't lay you out
    I am facing a similar issue here. We moved down to NC from Boston few months back. As many of you know, in Beantown the peds rule the streets. I have been a little slow adapting to the disrespect for peds and the utter fear than most peds exhibit in my new hometown.

    I walk to and from work on small, urban streets with full crosswalks and ped controls. Almost daily, I am shocked by drivers passing the stop line, blocking the crosswalk, parking on the sidewalk, and exiting driveways without looking. Boston peds seldom yield and do not have to check around corners and down drivers before proceeding.

    I am also amazed at the lack of crosswalks at all intersections that lack signals. In Boston, undercover police would frequently prance into the street at unsignalized crosswalks, while uniformed officers waited downstream to ticket offenders.

    Th peds here are afraid to cross, even when I stop and wave them on (a Boston thing). Much to get used to.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday
    I also like the ones that have a sound associated for the blind and visually impaired. Although you don't think so much about it, the quickening pace of the "beep beep beep" does tend to get your butt moving across that intersection...
    Yeah, they're great unless you live near one and you have to hear the beeping all night long. During the day the ambient noise covers it up but at night, it could drive someone nuts. Luckily none of the ones outside my window beeps but there are a couple of them near condos in another part of downtown.
    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken

  22. #22
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    We have them in my city. As a pedestian and a cyclist I like them, especially when i am riding and trying to clear busy places.

    As for being to cross the street anywhere, Saint John NB is pretty much that way as well. Traffic calming up town is accomplished through people over car right of ways and diagnol on street parking that everyone waits for a person to pull out from.

    As for TO cross walks, the pointing is not so important anymore, now that we have flashing lights on them.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

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