Category Archives: Transportation Engineering

COUNTDOWN – WHO ARE THE SIGNALS TALKING TO ANYWAY?

Pedestrian countdown signals are beginning to appear more and more throughout our cities. Research shows that this type of signal helps to create a safer pedestrian experience.

The City of Toronto states on their website that

“The City of Toronto’s Transportation Services Division has installed ‘countdown’ signals at more than 2,100 intersections in the city to assist pedestrians in crossing the street.

“The devices provide a numeric count down display that indicates the number of seconds remaining for a pedestrian to complete their crossing of a street. The countdown counts the length of time between the current ‘walk’ signal and the solid ‘don’t walk’ signal which gives more precise information to the pedestrian than the current system.”

Pedestrian signals and pedestrian countdown signals were created with the intention of targeting pedestrians with information. But let me play devil’s advocate and ask – what if these signals are targeting drivers as well? Drivers are not the intended recipient of this information, but it has become common for drivers to use the countdown signal as a ‘pre-warning’ for the yellow light, helping them to make more informed decisions regarding their navigation and speed. Drivers may be doing this consciously or semi-consciously, but either way – drivers are not intended to be directly affected by the countdown signal.

hurryoryouwontmakeitDevil’s advocate again here – what’s wrong with using this pre-warning for the intended pre-warning? Doesn’t the anticipation help the driver make more informed, and therefore safer decisions? This can hold some truth – for example, halting at a yellow light can be more dangerous than beginning to slow down naturally with a 10 second yellow light warning. But take a second and think about all of the times you’ve seen drivers abuse this information (similar to advance green arrows) – many drivers will use the countdown to make damn sure they get through the intersection no matter what. The second this happens, they are putting themselves first, and the second anyone on the road puts themselves first they are putting everyone else at risk (with shifts happening in modal split, awareness to ‘share the road’ is increasing, which means we must all be on the look out for each other, not simply ourselves).

driverviewpedview

It has been brought to my attention that truck drivers and larger or heavier vehicles commonly take advantage of this signal and call it a ‘stale light’. This creates another grey area to be considered – does this mean that the roads travelled by trucks are not fit for larger or heavier vehicles? Does this mean that truckers need their own signal?

Aggressive driving is a risk factor, and my hypothesis is that this risk is increased when the pedestrian signal countdown targets the driver – the non-intended user. This raises the question – should the pedestrian signal have a different design, one that can target the intended user more successfully?

A Few Ideas…

ISOLATED PEDESTRIAN SIGNALS

isolatedview

A new design, or an addition to the current design, in order to attempt to block off the view to the existing signal light except for straight-on.

LINE-OF-VISION SIGNALS

newpedheight

Average ped height or low.

HIGHLIGHTED CROSSWALK

illuminated

We’ve seen the futuristic renderings of all kinds of ‘highlighted’ crosswalks.

ACCESSIBLE PEDESTRIAN SIGNALS 2.0

Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) were designed to convey information through the auditory sense for the visually impaired. APS 2.0 could build on adding more ways to receive information by transferring the countdown onto a screen near where the button is positioned.

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TWO CENTS ON ROUNDABOUTS

Pro-roundabout residents in Canada argue that collisions occur at roundabouts because people don’t know how to use them – this article is trying to prove that logic wrong:

WATERLOO – “People drove more often through more roundabouts in 2011 – and yet they continued to collide at the same high pace. This suggests no progress on a learning curve uncerway since 2004 when roundabouts were first installed.”

Retrieved from: http://www.therecord.com/news/local/article/804446

I don’t think that roundabouts are a band-aid solution to every problematic intersection, but I do still think that, if warranted, a roundabout’s engineering is not usually the cause for collisions – lack of education is. If collisions continue to occur at roundabouts, it’s because people are so frustrated with them that they have become stubborn and refuse to understand. They accrue bad habits and stick to them.

Hopefully roundabout education and testing is being incorporated into new generations of drivers to build a safer attitude towards using roundabouts for the future. I think that if everyone understands how to use one, and more importantly, that they are built for more than just drivers (respect for multimodal transportation is way behind on awareness), the mentality can often surpass the safety of a poorly engineered roundabout.

For example, I’m not an experienced transportation planner, nor am I a roundabout engineer, but I do know that the roundabouts in Square One must be poorly engineered. I make this assumption because even when I deliberately go out of my way to check for cyclists and pedestrians in all directions at all times, and pay close attention to the number and speed of vehicles approaching and using the roundabout, and try really hard to make a safe decision for when it’s my turn to enter the roundabout, I still feel like a possible collision may be out of my control. I feel anxious, worried, and uncertain. This is mainly because the approach is not clear enough, there is a lack of visibility, and the size of the roundabout is so small that it’s over before you know it. A secondary reason is because the driving attitude in Mississauga is rough and cocky, meaning that if you want to be safe you actually need to expect people to drive too fast and to be assholes about it in order to seize the opportunity to foresee an accident.

So yes, roundabouts can be poorly engineered. And yes, those roundabouts can entice collisions to occur. But a warranted, well planned and engineered roundabout can be extremely beneficial for optimizing traffic flow and safety. That is, only if these two things change:

  1. All roundabout users must fully understand how to use a roundabout;
  2. Everyone must accept that roads are for everyone (drivers, but also pedestrians and cyclists), and must learn to respect each mode equally (working towards a complete streets mentality).

In the mean time, here is an informative video by the MTO for how to use a roundabout:

http://youtu.be/lbC3CAa-8vA

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