Via Kevin O’Donnell, here’s the official policy on on crosswalks and the threshold for deciding whether or not to put up a light. It’s a pretty clear statement that cars are prioritized over pedestrations and really puts the lie to the notion that widening sidewalks, putting in lights or developing any sort of Complete Streets model is unduly fair to motorists. We’re really just trying to make things a little less unfair to everyone else. But that’s not really the point of this rant.
Living in the Glebe and walking along Bank St. multiple times a day, there is one aspect of crosswalks that really annoys me. It’s not the fact that there are street lights at First, Third and Fifth, but not at Second or Fourth, and it’s not the way some of these lights take forever to change, even at night when traffic is minimal (but just present enough to prevent jaywalking). No, the issue is that to cross Bank St. at these lights, one must press the walk button.
And, again, it’s not that you have to press the button to trigger a change in the lights, it’s that if the light is changing anyway, if you fail to press the button, the light won’t change for pedestrians–you’ll get that red hand staring at you while all the cars get a green.
Bank St. is a heavy pedestrian area; especially during the day, you will see a constant flow of pedestrians (often jaywalking). Regardless, pedestrians looking to cross Bank St. still must press the little irritating button. Moreover, they must press it sufficiently prior to the change in the lights to trigger a walk signal.
When a pedestrian fails to press the button, fails to press it on time, or gets to the intersection just as the light is changing, they won’t get the light. City planners, it would seem, expect them to stand there and wait for the next cycle to complete. This is strong evidence that city planners are morons.
Pedestrians do not and will not wait. The green lights give sufficient time for people to cross, and it is rather unreasonable to expect pedestrians to wait, especially when the reverse is not true (if a pedestrian triggers the light, cars will still get a green light, whether they were waiting patiently at the intersection or not).
Maybe you think pedestrians should take their second-class status lying down and should just wait longer (often in the cold or rain) to cross. That’s fine (well, it’s not, it makes you a jerk, but that’s beside the point), but the clear fact is that pedestrians won’t wait. They will cross the street safely, and cars will understand that they are crossing. Changing the system at these intersections so that a walk signal automatically occurs with every green light would just be a reflection of reality (as well as a nod to the idea that pedestrians are people, too).
But designing your traffic system in a way that completely ignores the way residents actually use the street is just madness. City planners are not going to change the behaviour of pedestrians in the Glebe, nor should they even attempt to do so. The street and traffic lights should be designed for the benefit of those using the street, not to imperil or inconvenience certain residents at the (very minor) benefit of others.