Pedestrian Signals

Description

A pedestrian signal that includes a countdown timer in Portland, Oregon

Pedestrian signals should be clearly visible to the pedestrian at all times when in the crosswalk or waiting on the far side of the street. Large pedestrian signals can be beneficial in some circumstances (e.g., where the streets are wide). The international pedestrian symbol signal is preferable and is recommended in the MUTCD. Existing WALK and DON’T WALK messages may remain for the rest of their useful life, but countdown pedestrian indications are required for all newly installed traffic signals where pedestrian signals are installed. They must be designed to begin counting down at the beginning of the clearance (flashing DON'T WALK) interval and can be on fixed-time, or pushbutton operation. Countdown signals have been demonstrated to reduce pedestrian crossings when only a few seconds remain.

A pedestrian push button

Pedestrian detectors at traffic signals may be pushbuttons or passive detection devices, which register the presence of a pedestrian in a position indicative of a desire to cross, without requiring the pedestrian to push a button. Pedestrian pushbuttons should be well-designed and within reach and operable from a flat surface for pedestrians in wheelchairs and with visual disabilities. They should be conveniently placed in the area where pedestrians wait to cross and should clearly indicate which pedestrian signals will be activated. Quick response to the pushbutton or feedback to the pedestrian registering the signal’s actuation should be programmed into the system. See Section 4E.09 of the MUTCD for detailed guidance about the placement of push buttons.

Since pedestrian pushbutton devices are not activated by about one-half of pedestrians (even fewer activate them where there are sufficient motor vehicle gaps), new "intelligent" microwave or infrared pedestrian detectors are now being installed and tested in some U.S. cities. These automatically activate the red traffic and WALK signals when pedestrians are detected. Detectors can also be used to extend the crossing time for slower moving pedestrians in the crosswalk (often called a PUFFIN crossing). Automatic pedestrian detectors have been found to improve pedestrian signal compliance and also reduce pedestrian conflicts with motor vehicles. However, they are still considered experimental and their reliability may vary under different environmental conditions.

Accessible pedestrian signals that provide supplemental information in non-visual formats (such as audible tones, speech messages, and/or vibrating surfaces), as described in the MUTCD, may be provided. More extensive information on the use of accessible pedestrian signals (APS) and the types of APS technologies now available is provided online.

Signal Timing

In general, shorter cycle lengths (ideally less than 90 seconds) and longer walk intervals provide better service to pedestrians and encourage better signal compliance. For optimal pedestrian service, fixed-time signal operation usually works best because it provides an automatic pedestrian phase.

Pedestrians usually receive more frequent crossing opportunities and experience less delay with concurrent signal phasing than with exclusive signal phasing, which must service vehicle traffic and pedestrian volumes separately. When pedestrians are required to wait a long time for a pedestrian interval, many will simply choose to ignore the signal and cross during a gap in traffic, negating the potential safety benefits of the exclusive signal. Exclusive pedestrian phases, without accessible pedestrian signal technology, introduce a problem for pedestrians with visual restrictions, as the audible cues associated with parallel traffic streams will lead pedestrians to cross at inappropriate times.

Signal phasing options for pedestrians include:

Signal Coordination
This measure involves timing the phasing of adjacent traffic signals along a corridor to control the speeds of motor vehicles. For example, the sequence of green signal cycles can be timed to speeds of 20 or 25 mi/h.

Concurrent Phasing
Pedestrian signal phase activates simultaneously with the parallel vehicle phase, permitting motorists to turn left or right across pedestrians’ paths after yielding to pedestrians.

Exclusive Pedestrian Phasing
When vehicles are stopped on all approaches to an intersection, pedestrians are given a WALK indication. The phasing is referred to as “exclusive” or as a “pedestrian scramble.” Intersections with pedestrian scramble phases often feature pedestrian crossing markings indicating pedestrians may walk diagonally across the intersection. Exclusive pedestrian timing has been shown to reduce pedestrian crashes by 50 percent in some downtown locations with heavy pedestrian volumes and low vehicle speeds and volumes.

Split Phasing
The vehicular green phase is split into two parts: (1) pedestrians receive protected walk time while vehicles travelling parallel are given a green signal to go straight but not turn, and (2) the pedestrian DON’T WALK is activated when vehicles are permitted to turn. A study by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council suggests the split phasing significantly reduces pedestrian conflicts, crashes, and illegal pedestrian crossings.

Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI)
An LPI gives pedestrians an advance walk signal before motorists get a green signal, giving the pedestrian several seconds to start walking in the crosswalk before a concurrent signal is provided to vehicles. This makes pedestrians more visible to motorists and motorists more likely to yield to them. Typical LPI settings provide 3 to 6 seconds of advance walk time. LPI has been used successfully in several places, such as New York City, for two decades and studies have demonstrated LPI reduces conflicts and crashes for pedestrians. To be useful to pedestrians with vision restrictions, an LPI needs to be accompanied by an audible signal to indicate the WALK interval. There are some situations where an exclusive pedestrian phase may be preferable to an LPI, such as when high-volume turning movements conflict with pedestrians crossing.

Hot Response
A hot response detector activates a pedestrian signal immediately upon actuation, subsequent to providing at least the minimum allowable green time for conflicting vehicles. Hot response signal phasing is desirable where pedestrian crossing volumes are significant or high pedestrian compliance is desirable. They may be particularly appropriate at midblock crossing locations where the distance to other signalized crossings is significant. Hot response signals also help reduce unnecessary delay for both pedestrians and vehicles at locations where pedestrians will typically use the pushbutton, but cross before the pedestrian signal is active.

Left turn phasing
Use of concurrent, protected/permissive, or protected left turn phasing provides different levels of conflict reduction with parallel pedestrian movements. These variations on left turn signal phasing provide increasing levels of conflict reduction between vehicles and pedestrians using a parallel crossing.

Purpose

Signals provide positive guidance to pedestrians regarding the permitted signal interval to cross a street and prohibit pedestrian crossings when conflicting traffic may impact pedestrian safety. Pedestrian countdown signals can help reduce pedestrian crossings near the end of the pedestrian phase. The use of WALK/DON’T WALK pedestrian signal indications at signal locations are important in many cases, including when vehicle signals are not visible to pedestrians, when signal phasing is complex (e.g., there is a dedicated left-turn signal for motorists), at established school zone crossings, when an exclusive pedestrian interval is provided, and for wide streets where pedestrian clearance information is considered helpful.

Considerations

  1. Ensure that signals are visible to pedestrians.
  2. When possible, provide a walk interval for every cycle.
  3. Provide supplemental non-visual guidance for pedestrians with sensory restrictions.
  4. Pedestrian push buttons must be well positioned and within easy reach for all approaching pedestrians.
  5. Marked crosswalks should be installed in conjunction with pedestrian signals.
  6. Ideally, every signalized intersection should have a pedestrian signal head.
  7. Signal timing must also consider the needs of trucks, buses, and other motor vehicles.
  8. Signal timing also needs to account for vehicle volumes, including volumes of right and left turn motorists.
  9. Illuminated “No Turn on Red” signs at heavy pedestrian crossings are also recommended.

Cost

Costs can vary greatly, but on average are approximately $1,500 each. More detailed cost information is provided here.