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Pedestrian Signals

Pedestrian Signals - A Sign of the Times
In a simpler time, there was considerably less traffic and pedestrians could take their cues from the same traffic light as motorists. Things are more complicated these days, so it shouldn't be surprising that we get a number of questions about pedestrian signals.

Pedestrian signals are installed for two main reasons:

  1. A high volume of foot traffic at an intersection, or the signals directing motorists don't meet the needs of the pedestrians. For example, some intersections are laid out at odd angles so traffic signals can't be seen by pedestrians.
  2. In other cases, turning and merging lanes make intersections so complex that special provisions must be made for pedestrians.

Shouldn't pedestrian signals be available at every intersection? Won't that be safer? -
If existing traffic signals meet the needs of people on foot, the signals are easy to see and provide plenty of time to cross safely so there is no need for pedestrian signals. Pedestrian signals won't improve safety in such cases, and are costly to purchase, install and operate.

Why does the signal switch to 'Don't Walk' before I get across the street? -
Traffic flashing 'Don't Walk' or upraised hand is a warning to people who have not yet entered the crosswalk. At a normal walking speed, these folks won't have time to cross the intersection if they enter after the message changes. Signals are times to allow plenty of time for people who are already in the crosswalk to get safely across the street.

Is it really necessary for me to push a button to activate the pedestrian signal? Can't I just wait for the light to change?
Where buttons are available to pedestrians, it's because the traffic signal is timed for cars, not for people on foot. If you don't activate the pedestrian signal, chances are the timing of the traffic light won't give you enough time to cross safely.

So, can I count on a safe crossing if I carefully follow the pedestrian signals?
The signals assign your legal rights in the intersection but in any contest of right-of-way between pedestrians and vehicles, the pedestrian will likely lose. The following suggestions are offered in the interest of safety:

  1. Cross intersections defensively
  2. When crossing a street, regardless of the availability of signals, cross as quickly as possible. Minimize your time in the roadway
  3. Always watch for oncoming cars. You have a legal right to be there, but that doesn't protect your from the illegal acts of others.