Many years ago, when traffic volumes were much lower than they are today, pedestrians could use the same traffic lights as motorists. Today, however, traffic volumes have greatly increased and so has the use of special pedestrian signals. The following information answers some commonly asked questions.
Why are pedestrian signals available at some intersections and not at others?
Pedestrian signals are installed for two main reasons: 1) a high pedestrian volume at an intersection, 2) the signals directing motorists do not meet the needs of pedestrians. For example, some intersections have unusual angles, and traffic signals are not clearly seen by pedestrians. In some cases, turning lanes, merging lanes, and increased street widths make intersections so complex that special provisions must be made for pedestrians.
Shouldn't pedestrian signals be available at every intersection?
If existing traffic signals are easy to see and provide adequate time for pedestrians to cross safely, there is no need for pedestrian signals. Pedestrian signals do not improve safety in such cases, and are costly to install. It is generally the policy of the City to install pedestrian signals with all new traffic signals, where pedestrians are permitted to cross the street.
Both "word" and "symbol" signs are currently in use for pedestrian signals. Here is what they mean:
- A "Walk" or walking pedestrian symbol, means you may begin crossing.
- A flashing or steady "Don't Walk" or an upraised hand symbol, means it's too late to begin crossing. Do not enter the street but finish crossing if you have already started.
Why does it always say "DON'T WALK" before I've completed crossing the streets?
The flashing "Don't Walk" or upraised hand symbol is a warning to people who have not yet entered the intersection that it's too late to safely cross the street before the traffic signal changes and allows cars to proceed. Pedestrian signals are timed to allow adequate time for people who have already started walking to safely cross 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, traffic signals are timed for cars, not for people on foot. If you do not activate the pedestrian signal by pushing the button, the traffic light will not give you adequate time to safely cross the street. You only need to push the button once for it to be activated, but pushing more than once does no harm.
Can I count on a safe crossing if I carefully follow the pedestrian signals?
The signals assign you legal rights in the intersection, however, it is important to be cautious when crossing busy intersections. The following suggestions are offered in the interest of safety:
- Cross intersections defensively.
- When crossing the street, regardless of availability of signals, cross as quickly as possible. Minimize your time in the roadway.
- Always watch for turning vehicles. You have the legal right to be there, but that doesn't protect you from the careless or inattentive motorist.