I am not like most people in the City, but I am similar to a large minority in the centretown and west side neighbourhoods in that I walk places. I walk a lot. I do not, and never have had, a car. Yes, it is perfectly feasible to raise kids in the city without a car. And yes, they turned out just fine.
According to the city, 45% of trips to work are done in single-occupancy cars. The city responds to this ‘demand’ by constantly improving the road system. It isn’t out building obvious new freeways; often this is done in subtle ways. A turning lane here, a longer light there. It doesn’t require any permission to “adjust” the road network to allow the cut-through traffic in a residential neighborhood to double or triple or quadruple, over time. But it throws up enormous barriers to anyone who dares suggest we need not sacrifice everything to the demands of people commuting to Pointe Gatineau, Greely, or McKeller Park.
One of those little, incremental things it does to “facilitate” traffic movement is to “regularize” intersection movements, to make them “safer” by making them “predictable” (for motorists). Thus pedestrians see their environment slowly erode year after year as it becomes more difficult to simply cross the street at an intersection. The mechanism for discouraging pedestrian movements? Make walk lights unpredictable and/or “on-request-only”. The City seems to have decided that ALL intersections are to have push buttons installed, regardless of need.
I do understand that it is sometimes desirable to have pedestrian activated signals, for example, at a half-light, where pedestrian traffic exceeds vehicular traffic and vehicular traffic will not change the light.
However, I am 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 I 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.
Consider the second or subsequent pedestrian arriving at an intersection. Peds are again 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 by the Westboro Loblaws 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. Cars begin to turn through the intersection, some motorists being alert and uncertain as to whether the peds are going to walk. Then the peds lurch across the intersection against the light, between the turning cars. This whole situation is so inconsistent and DUMB it frustrates any attempts to make pedestrian crossings logical, predictable, and safer.
And don’t get me started on “countdown signals”.
Furthermore, we see pedestrian signals being installed in unnecessary situations, such as for the north side of Albert at Preston, where there is no street crossing the sidewalk but peds are offered a button and flashing ped lights simply to keep walking on the sidewalk! Is this the start of something new … are city engineers trying to train us that we will have to push buttons and get their permission just to walk on a sidewalk parallel a road?
- 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. Buttons where necessary, but not necessarily buttons.
- 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.
I 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.