A contrarian asks: Should there even be “walk” signals for pedestrians?


Here’s another way of looking at how best to walk across the street.

In a four-part opinion piece at GreaterGreaterWashington.org, Ben Ross considers signals and crosswalks, and argues on behalf of the principle that “negotiating the use of shared space makes roads safer.”

Utopian or practical? You be the judge. Here are links to the four parts, each with a brief teaser.

Part 1. Careful jaywalking saves lives

Pedestrians put themselves in danger if they wait for a walk signal instead of crossing the street whenever and wherever it looks safest. There are no definitive studies, but that is what available evidence strongly suggests …

… Drivers hit pedestrians when turning more often than when they are driving straight ahead. At a red light, drivers who are about to turn wait alongside pedestrians. The changing signal sends both into the intersection at the same time—maximizing the opportunities for collisions.

Part 2. Walk signals are bad for walking

Many pedestrians think the walk-don’t walk light helps by letting them know when it’s safe to cross the street. But its actual effect is to curtail the right to make that crossing.

Part 3. Timing signals to work for pedestrians is impossible

It is possible, as New York and a few other cities have shown, for complex signals to make walking easier. Pedestrians get a few seconds to enter a crosswalk before cars can turn. Or turns are banned while people are crossing. But if you try to orchestrate movement on foot in this way at every streetcorner, the traffic engineers’ job becomes entirely unmanageable. They cannot possibly find the time to adjust every walk signal for the proper balance between walking and driving.

Part 4. To make streets walkable, empower pedestrians to cross anywhere

As the previous posts in this series have shown, these simpler streets would be far safer. They could operate with only limited changes in the rules of the road. Drivers would follow traffic signals as they do today—pedestrians would have the right of way when they cross on green, but yield to drivers when the light is against them. The rule for crosswalks with no signal would not change at all; those on foot would still have the right of way at all times. Elsewhere, foot crossings would be allowed at any location, but pedestrians would have to yield.