Pedestrian signals improve pedestrian safety at traffic lights crossing. For many years, traffic volumes were much lower, and pedestrians could take their cues from the same traffic lights as motorists. Things are more complicated today, so pedestrian signals were introduced to provide means to separate the pedestrian from the motorists at the intersection.
How Do Pedestrian Signals Work?
A pedestrian signal provides a safer way for pedestrians to cross the street at signalized intersections. The pedestrian signal, when activated by a pedestrian pushing a detector button, provides time for the pedestrian to enter the street during the steady "WALK" and to finish crossing the street during the flashing "DON'T WALK" signal.
Pedestrian signal indicators consist of symbols displaying a person walking for "WALK" displayed in white, and a hand for "DON'T WALK" displayed in orange. Another feature, which the City recently added at some intersections, is a "countdown" timer which coincides with the flashing "DON'T WALK."
The pedestrian signal sequence begins when the "WALK" signals, steady illuminated, come on. This sequence is normally 4 to 7 seconds long and allows enough time for the pedestrian to leave the curb and begin crossing the street in the direction of the "WALK" indication. Pedestrians facing the signal may start walking across the street after checking to see that cross traffic has stopped.
Then, the orange "DON'T WALK" or upraised hand indication, begins to flash. A pedestrian should not start to cross the street at this time but pedestrians who began crossing during the "WALK" may continue walking to the opposite side of the street or to a safety median curb island. There will be sufficient time to complete the crossing before opposing traffic may begin moving. "Countdown" timers may be added to inform the pedestrian how much time remains to exit the street.
The City has recently started installing “countdown” crosswalk signals. These signals have a countdown timer that shows pedestrians how many seconds they have to cross the street before the signal changes to "DON'T WALK".
Finally, the orange “DON’T WALK” indication becomes steadily illuminated. This means that a pedestrian should not enter the roadway in the direction of this indication because the traffic signal starts to let vehicles moving through the intersection.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it really necessary for me to push a button to activate the pedestrian signal?
Yes. The button simply tells the traffic signal that you would like to cross the intersection. If the button is not pushed, the traffic signal assumes no pedestrian wishes to cross and it will skip the “WALK man” signal. You only have to push the button once to activate the “WALK man” signal. Be safe - press the button!
The signals assign your legal rights in the intersection; however, it is important to be always cautious when crossing busy intersections.
Why doesn’t the “WALK man” activate right away after I press the button?
It is important to understand that pressing the pedestrian pushbutton will not instantly preempt traffic flow. Rather, when you press the button, a call is put into the signal controller to let it know a pedestrian is waiting. The signal will then cycle through the programmed phasing sequence until it reaches the appropriate (safe) phase, at which time the “WALK man” will be displayed.
The “WALK man” might appear soon after you press the button, or you may have to wait a full cycle (up to 2½ minutes). If the “WALK man” does not appear after two full cycles, then the signal may not be working properly, and you should exercise extreme caution when crossing under these circumstances. Should you experience such a scenario, please notify Public Works staff at your earliest convenience so the problem can be fixed.
Why does it always change to “DON’T WALK” before I have completed crossing the street?
The flashing “Don’t Walk” is a warning to people who have not yet left the curb to cross the intersection that it is too late to safely cross the street. Signals are timed to allow plenty of time for people who have already started walking to safely cross the street.
What is that noise?
Some of our intersections have audible pedestrian signals. The sounds helps visually impaired people locate the pedestrian push button, and know when to cross.
The following suggestions are offered in the interest of safety:
- Cross intersections defensively.
- When crossing the street, regardless of the 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 does not protect you from the carelessness of some motorists.
The City is committed to providing the safest, most efficient, safest and advanced Transportation Circulation available. If you have any community traffic concerns, questions, or suggestions please call the Engineering Division at 626-307-1320.