Crossing signals at street intersections should never default in favor of cars



Far too often, crossing signals at street intersections are being pre-set to default in favor of cars and other motor vehicles. In other words, the pedestrian or bicyclist must activate the crossing signal before it will allow them to cross at an intersection. This is totally bass ackwards! Even more confusing and unsafe is the fact that at some locations, one street has its signals pre-set to activate, while you must press a button to activate the crosswalk signalization going across the other street.

Since motor vehicles should yield to pedestrians, then crossing signals at intersections should always be active and not need to be pressed. Such a change would not apply to signalized mid-block crossings, which should be activated by those wishing to cross the street.

Taking the simple step of always having street intersection crosswalk signals activated has the following benefits:

  • Drivers would become accustomed to (or preconditioned to) waiting for/yielding to pedestrians and those cyclists not riding on the road to safely cross before proceeding to turn.
  • The would be no more second-guessing on the part of drivers, walkers, or cyclists.
  • All signals would be uniform and consistent from place-to-place, state-to-state, and country-to-country.
  • The added cost of installing push-buttons for signal activation would be eliminated at street intersections thus easing road budgets.

Am I missing anything here?

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2 Responses to Crossing signals at street intersections should never default in favor of cars

  1. Nick Falbo says:

    The reason this is done:

    Pedestrians are slow. On wide streets, the pedestrian crossing time is the limiting factor for how quickly the signal can change phases. By limiting the pedestrian signal to require activation, the system can finish the phase when all cars have gone. This is particularly true in the middle of the night, where there might be no one driving or walking, but those that are traveling (pedestrians included) must wait, and wait, and wait, for the signal to turn, even though the cross street is empty.

    There is technology out there that can passively and automatically detect pedestrians, which might be the best of both worlds. Pedestrians won’t need to press a button and the signal will turn on automatically, but when they are not around, the signal system wont spend time on an un-used phase.


  2. VI says:

    Yes. You are missing that not all crossings are in pedestrian-friendly/frequented places. There are signaled intersections along stretches of what amount to rural highway that still need to allow the odd pedestrian to preempt the normal timing of signals on the order of a few times per day (eg, school bus stop access). When these are multi-lane highways with medians, the preemption can be as long as 60 seconds, while the side traffic may need only about 10 to clear the intersection. This means adding 50 seconds of traffic interruption, dozens of times per hour, along a heavily traveled highway. It creates the perverse incentive to include no pedestrian infrastructure, since any pedestrian accommodation effectively decimates the intersection capacity via bureaucratic fiat. So while the criteria for pedestrian cycles default vs preemption should almost certainly be moved more towards default, it is definitely +not a good idea to eliminate preemption.


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