Citizen complaint of the day: Pedestrian signals aren't supposed to change at light speed

A concerned citizen complains about a set of traffic lights on Marginal Street:

The crosswalk sign goes from 42 seconds down to 31 and then 0; a few seconds later the car light turns green!!! This is new. Quite similar to the crosswalk by park plaza Arlington st and Stuart st that would go from 16s to 0s, but at least that one truly had 16 s left.

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      Marginal, indeed.

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      If they keep it set like that, they'll eliminate the need for a pedestrian signal at all.

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      In the South End, there is

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      In the South End, there is one like that at Shawmut Ave and East Newton -- it goes from like 70 seconds to 5.

      The crosswalk light at East Brookline and Washington Street is the worst. It doesn't go on often enough and when it does, it doesn't give most people enough time to across the street -- unless you run, that is.

      I wonder if there would be a way to create an app where people could tag the faulty crosswalk lights similar to the Adopt-a-hydrant app.

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      I have reported the

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      I have reported the Washington Street one but nothing happened. I guess I should do it again! A crossing guard told me the reason that particular intersection is so bad for pedestrians is because the lights are synced up to cross East Brookline but not Washington Street.

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      Walk sign times

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      Why is it the the walk signals in Cambridge give you about 45 more seconds than the walk signals in Boston? Are people in Cambridge that much slower? I for one would appreciate some more time to walk in Boston as well. :0

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      More importantly

      The signals in Cambridge give pedestrians a jump start on occupying the intersection, as they start before the parallel car light turns green.

      I head through Cambridge and Boston when I bike commute, and the difference in controlling eager-to-move motorists is like night and day. You can't "not see" a group of people trying to cross the street if they are already in the middle of the crosswalk.

      Even when I'm driving, I like them because it gets most people into the intersection and out of the way, and then drivers can make their turns shortly after the light changes.

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      I live in Cambridge and work

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      I live in Cambridge and work in Boston and I definitely prefer the light signals in Cambridge (though I do wish I could turn on red on most streets!). I also tend to notice less jaywalking in Cambridge. But maybe that's just because my neighborhood is less densely populated? And the crosswalk signals give people a more realistic amount of time to cross? (Or, more likely, that I'm just totally biased towards Cambridge?)

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      Cambridge signals are better

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      They don't do the stupid thing where the walk time runs out with ≥ 10 seconds before the light turns red. This happens everywhere in Boston, and while I guess it's supposed to ensure that the street is clear of pedestrians by the time cross traffic starts going, all it really does is make everyone disregard the crosswalk signals.

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      I've only seen one crosswalk

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      I've only seen one crosswalk in Cambridge where any pedestrians make use of the 3 seconds of advanced walk time: in Central Square, crossing Mass Ave on the east side of Prospect. Maybe Mt Auburn and JFK is also busy enough.

      At all the others, the 3 seconds is a small bit of wasted time and gas.

      The time is actually set by

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      The time is actually set by the feds in the MUTCD.

      Simple math. 3.5 feet* per second, know distance of crossing = countdown time.

      Anything giving less time = sue the city (and win).

      *Changed in the 2009 edition I believe. Used to be 4.5 feet.

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      The MUTCD has this to say:

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      The MUTCD has this to say:

      Guidance:
      07 Except as provided in Paragraph 8, the pedestrian clearance time should be sufficient to allow a pedestrian crossing in the crosswalk who left the curb or shoulder at the end of the WALKING PERSON (symbolizing WALK) signal indication to travel at a walking speed of 3.5 feet per second to at least the far side of the traveled way or to a median of sufficient width for pedestrians to wait.

      Option:
      08 A walking speed of up to 4 feet per second may be used to evaluate the sufficiency of the pedestrian clearance time at locations where an extended pushbutton press function has been installed to provide slower pedestrians an opportunity to request and receive a longer pedestrian clearance time. Passive pedestrian detection may also be used to automatically adjust the pedestrian clearance time based on the pedestrian's actual walking speed or actual clearance of the crosswalk.

      From §4E.06

      In MUTCD legalese, Guidance statements are just that, guidance. Thus "...time should be..."

      So while the Feds recommend a speed of 3.5 ft/s, municipalities and agencies are free to choose their own preferred speeds. Later paragraphs even stipulate that in certain areas a slower walking speed should be used.

      It is also a suggestion, per §4E.06 ¶11-12, that the minimum time interval be 4 seconds.

      That's the formula for

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      That's the formula for *minimum* time. Cities can make the walk light longer than that if they want.

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      cars come first in Boston

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      traffic lights in the city of Boston are managed and controlled in favor of moving the cars through the intersections at the expense of pedestrians. Travel to cities like New York, Chicago, DC and you'll see what I mean. The reason why Boston is famous for jaywalking is because you have to jaywalk in order to get anywhere.

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      Do you find Boston's traffic

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      Do you find Boston's traffic lights to be particularly well designed for moving cars? I don't.

      They're not designed for pedestrians either. Or bicyclists.

      My first axiom of Boston roads: the BTD is brain-dead.

      Could be worse

      On TV shows and movies where actors are shown defusing a bomb, do something wrong, and then the timer speeds up 10x. Perhaps the film shoots in Boston have corrupted the traffic lights? Thankfully, they don't blow up.

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      A traffic engineer told me

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      A traffic engineer told me that pedestrian countdown signals jump like that when the lights are transitioning their programs (i.e. from rush hour timing to mid-day, etc).

      I'm surprised that life-critical software would have such a stupid glitch for a planned event that occurs several times a day.