DCA position re ped crossing lights

The DCA agreed to send the following statement of position regarding the inconsistent and frustrating installation of ped traffic signals in Ottawa. We invite other community associations to consider similar appeals to the City.

Diane Holmes, Councilor                         17 January, 2011
Somerset Ward

Re: pedestrian activation of traffic signals

At the January meeting of the Dalhousie Community Association we discussed the current unfortunate state of pedestrian traffic signals in our ward.

We do understand that it is sometimes desirable to have pedestrian activated signals, for example, at Primrose/Booth half-light, where pedestrian traffic exceeds vehicular traffic and vehicular traffic will not change the light.

However, we are distressed at the number of signal installations that have pedestrian push buttons for no apparent purpose. For example, someone walking along Preston crosses several signalized intersections at which the pedestrian lights activate automatically, even though there are push buttons. But then, when arriving at Albert, the pedestrian light does not turn green unless the button is pushed. If the pedestrian misses pressing the button, there is a four minute or more wait as the signal cycle is extremely slow here. This results in pedestrians crossing the street against the light. This sort of inconsistency in whether or not the button is useful would never be tolerated for automobile traffic, and we see no reason for it to be in effect at this – or any other - intersection.

Consider also a pedestrian arriving at an intersection one second after the light turns green, it is not possible to push the button to get the remainder of the light. The traffic engineers PRESUME that the pedestrian will simply wait an entire cycle of the lights … when in fact, pedestrians are just being taught to ignore the pedestrian lights as being useless, inconsistent annoyances. The result is increased crossing against the lights, not less.

The second or subsequent pedestrian arrivals at an intersection are also faced with an uncertainty: do they push the button (again) or assume the first arrival pushed the button?

Nor are the push-the-button intersections limited to low-pedestrian volume corners. There are always large volumes of pedestrians at McRae and Richmond but the pedestrian light must be manually activated. The crowd sees the traffic light go green, the pedestrian light stays red, people hesitate, wondering if it is some sort of delayed walk signal, then lurch across the intersection against the light. This whole situation is so inconsistent it frustrates any attempts to make pedestrian crossings logical, predictable, and safer.

Furthermore, we see pedestrian signals being installed in unnecessary situations, such as for the north side of Albert at Preston.

We recommend that

• All intersections that have pedestrian lights should change to green for every cycle of the traffic lights.

• There should be active, usable push buttons only where necessary, for example, at half lights, or where pressing the button activates a noise signal to aid visually impaired pedestrians, or activates a longer crossing time

• Unused buttons should be removed to prevent sending conflicting messages to pedestrians as to whether or not they need to push the button.

• We should not be asking pedestrians to push a button when the pedestrian light is going to change anyway.

We believe that this increased consistency will aid pedestrians in navigating the streets and sidewalks, will promote safety and greater respect for the signal phase, and reinstate pedestrians as first class users of the public right of way and not afterthoughts to be put up with. This is, after all, what our Official Plan calls for.

Eric Darwin, President
Dalhousie Community Association