Why must we play crosswalk roulette?

Source: bomble.com

I don’t know about other parts of the country, but here in Greater Lansing, crossing (or crosswalk) signals seem to be timed based on Olympic sprinters. Personally, I cannot even make it across while riding my bike before the dumb signal starts blinking (please note – here we have extra wide shared-use sidewalks for bikes and pedestrians).

Sadly,  in many suburban and some urban areas, pedestrians and cyclists must play a game of crosswalk roulette to get across busy streets.  Far too often, people will forgo the healthier options so not to risk losing at crosswalk roulette and instead they drive to their destination.

Exactly how do traffic engineers expect senior citizens, those that are wheelchair bound, people using walkers, or small children to safely cross a busy street if the stupid signal expects them to cross it at warp speed? I have even observed some impatient drivers behind the lead car waiting to turn right honk at them for not moving fast enough because I am in the crosswalk. Granted that is an education issue, but it should not be that way.

It is my belief that those communities who modify their infrastructure to be more accommodating to non-motorized transportation options will reap the benefits of being more vibrant and healthy. Meanwhile, those places that continue to latch onto the dated custom of designing solely around the automobile will eventually end up in the landfill of outdated thought.

There are many options out there from just adjusting the timing of the signals, to adopting a complete streets ordinance, to employing traffic calming techniques, to enhancing the non-motorized infrastructure, to tighter enforcement policies, to good old common sense. Personally, I will be glad when more jurisdictions here locally adopt such efforts and actually coordinate them with one another – oh there’s a fresh concept.

The saddest part of this whole issue is that our society must actually take concerted steps to become (or remain)  walkable. Frankly, that should be a no-brainer. But in far too often, being and/or staying walkable is a challenge rather than a fact.

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7 Responses to Why must we play crosswalk roulette?

  1. Arthur Slabosky says:

    Pedestrian signals start blinking when the remaining signal time is considered enough to allow a “typical” pedestrian to cross. If a street gets its green time based on the minimum pedestrian crossing time, then the walk signal WILL start blinking just after it goes on. This may be confusing, but when the ped signal STARTS bllinking is irrelevant because you are supposed to keep going if you already started. Of course the pedestrian may have trouble understanding how much time is left before the signal goes to solid don’t walk. that’s why countdown signals are such an improvement. There also are places where you can push a button for extended walk time if you are slower than the marjority for whom the signal is timed. We should have more of those.

    BTW, the federal government recently reduced standard walk speed for design purposes from 4.0 feet per second to 3.5


  2. Eric Shupps says:

    [Great|Awesome|Good|Fantastic|Excellent] post. Thanks!


  3. Bike/Ped Planner says:

    Not only did the 2009 MUTCD change the walking speed to 3.5’/sec, the calculation for timing is now based on reaching the far curb, not the middle of the far lane as it used to be. TE’s have discretion in a number of factors regarding how long the walk and clearance intervals are. Overall, the total crossing time should be based upon the distance (at a minimum) if not simply concurrent with the green phasing of the parallel traffic movement which often provides more than enough time to cross (except on bigger arterials and collectors).

    As Art mentioned the change to a clearance interval shouldn’t be seen as a hurry up and cross. An engineer may use the minimum walk interval and a longer clearance interval (when it starts flashing). Countdowns are now required for new and replaced ped heads and all ped heads are supposed to be retrofitted by the end of 2013. They provide much more info on how much actual time is left before the phase change and a conflicting vehcile movement will commence. If you can’t cross at a modest walking pace then contact your DPW-TE staff and have them adjust the timing.


  4. Jon Spangler says:


    A call to your local public works department should produce a prompt response if the signal timing is too short for a normal person to cross the street(s) in question. This would be especially true if the Greater Lansing PW department(s) has/have not yet incorporated the new MUTCD standards.

    If more effort and political muscle is required, check with your local commission(s) on disabilities or similar groups or officials that work to promote compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    Nationally there are many groups (bike groups among them) that promote safe streets, complete streets, walkable cities, and similar goals. You will find plenty of support if your local officials need extra “encouragement” to do the right thing…

    BTW, It is generally much safer to cross an intersection riding with traffic in the traffic lanes when you are riding your bike than to cross an intersection in the crosswalk.


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