Don’t Wait For The Walk Signal

Why would anyone wait for the walk signal at the typical Boston-area crosswalk?  It’s a fair question.  I don’t have a good answer.  The “walk” signals often are elusive and unhelpful.

When the crosswalk button works — and often it does not — the walk signal takes a long time.  Waiting, waiting, all the while wondering when that signal light ever will illuminate, and seeing multiple opportunities to cross safely without it.

At least one intersection in Newton requires three entire light cycles to cross from corner to corner.  Here is a dramitization of the process.  Press a button.  Wait a minute.  Cross.  Stop.  Press another button.  Wait a minute.  Cross.  Stop.  Press a third button.  Wait a minute.  Cross ….  Whew, that was exhausting.  And it was only 150 feet of walking.  That is a walk signal functioning (by some meaning of the word) as designed, and it is not really much of an outlier as crosswalk signals go.  Many other crosswalks require at least two cycles to go from corner to corner.

I figure that after patiently pressing buttons and waiting for that light, a pedestrian ought to get a real prize.  When a driver waits for a green light he gets free passage through the intersection without competing traffic.  The light is green, and cars in other directions stop and wait.

No such luck for a pedestrian.  When a pedestrian waits patiently at the “Do Not Walk” sign, and then crosses with the white “Walk” signal, he is as often as not likely to see more oncoming traffic.  To facilitate traffic flow, many signals don’t actually stop competing cars and trucks, and to the contrary they send them through the crosswalk with the “Walk” signal with no appreciable change in frequency.  When you see a “Walk” signal and look down the crosswalk, just as often there will be a car driving through.

What do you get by pausing for a “Walk” signal?  Too often, not much.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Wait For The Walk Signal

  1. Pingback: » Pedestrians Caught in the Crosswalk

  2. There was a study done a few years ago that found that in the US crossing a road in a crosswalk was actually more dangerous than crossing outside of one. The studies authors speculated that people who cross the street at “non-standard” locations are paying more attention while those in crosswalks are expect the crosswalk to protect them.

  3. I wonder if it is true in some instances like cyclists. When you provide even basic infrastructure infractions (such as jaywalking in this case) go down. I think it would, if the intersection were labeled as such and people knew they would get a true walk signal after every car turn. If anything preventing right turns on red in busy pedestrian environments in addition would do more to keep all road users safe.

    Thanks for writing about this!

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