Seattle Crosswalk: Tap foot, Lights blink, Cross street

In the Safe Streets 2012 Challenge, what we are looking for at this (early) point is to ferret out a wide range of approaches and techniques of improving safety on the street. Here is one from Seattle Washington in the USA that our friends at Streetfilms reported on in 2009.

And here is what videographer Clarence Ericson , Jr. had to say about the project:

Along Seattle’s historic waterfront I happened upon a unique pedestrian-activated crosswalk that blinks as people cross. Yes, I have seen over a dozen lighted ped signals before in myriad cities, but all required the user to press a button to manually begin the cycle. So, you ask, how is this one different?

Well check this out – as you enter the crosswalk make sure you touch the yellow rectangle on the sidewalk. This activates the lights that line the crosswalk. Drivers stop and it should be safe to begin your adventure: you’ll feel a bit like an airplane coming in for a landing. Frankly, it’s very empowering and a lot of fun!

Reason dictates that A) there must be a sensor contained within the yellow pad, or B) there’s a helpful gremlin who lives underneath and throws a switch for pedestrians. Regardless, anyone else seen one like it in their town?

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3 responses to “Seattle Crosswalk: Tap foot, Lights blink, Cross street

  1. As many of us know, when motor vehicles were first introduced a man carrying a flag had to warn people it was coming. Also the speed limit was very low.

    Jump forward about 100 years and people crossing a particularly dangerous street in Berkeley, California were able to grab a flag from holders on either side to waive as they cross it…

    I once imagined a short animation about good streets culture which opened with someone walking with a dog on the side of the street. As they approached a zebra crossing they left the frame. Then a moment later we hear “sit!” but as they come back into frame we see that they never stopped moving and that it is the car that stopped and, in an anthropomorphic style, is sitting…

    Within a holistic safe streets discussion, before we judge a particular technology for “crossing the street” we need to decide or at least to discuss if the language we use about streets and how we think about them can serve as a realistic starting point for safety improvements.

    Speaking of flags, I would suggest that everything we see that is meant to improve a street – such as this crossing in Seattle – is a symbol of what we have lost in a street. A flag of surrender.

    Zebras, raised crossings, signals of all kinds… why can’t people move at their own pace while motor vehicles should always stop? Why do we say “crossing the street” when we generally mean “moving from one pedestrian ghetto to the other”?

    If there are simply more vehicles than pedestrians, which some may think is a reason to prioritize the former, it is also a sign of what we have lost. While technologies may be developed to make it easier to make that crossing, by requiring people to press anything at all – with a finger, a foot, or – a prediction – mind control – we enforce a kind of dominance of pedestrians (feet moving people) by drivers (vehicle moving people).

  2. In Peachtree City, GA, we tend to separate the vehicles from the pedestrians. We are major users of multi-use path infrastructure (see: An American Prototopia: or Peachtree City as an Inadvertent, Sustainable Solution to Urban Sprawl;

    It has been an incredible experiment that has proven to be quite successful.

  3. While I agree with Todd and I would love to change it, the fact remains that the majority of our transportation systems are not arranged in a way that vehicles and pedestrians get along well so we have to retrofit bad systems or bad designs.

    I have never seen the yellow pad activation exhibited in this video but I have seen ‘better’ or more passive systems where the in-pavement lights require no special action on the part of the pedestrian. The lights are instead activated when an infrared beam is broken between two posts framing the crosswalk entrance. The pedestrian doesn’t need to do anything but begin crossing the street and the lights begin flashing. These appear to be used as a common treatment for midblock crossings in place of a full traffic signal control.

    There are two examples near my home in Redwood City, CA – which is very forward thinking when it comes to sustainable transportation – but I know they are also present at the University at Albany in Albany, NY. I am sure they are used elsewhere as well, these are simply two places I know of that have used the technology.

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