Time to Walk: A Brief Excursion Into a Needless Incursion on the Law-abiding Pedestrian’s Time

Cross-posted from The Transportationist.

The traffic signal at Oak St. SE and Fulton St. SE in Minneapolis is mis-timed/mis-phased/mis-indicated. It has been so for several years.

Northbound Pedestrians on the west side are given a red indicator (Don’t Walk) even though Southbound traffic has a green light and green left turn arrow. Clearly Northbound Pedestrians on the east side of the intersection should have a red indicator in such a configuration, as they are in conflict, just not those on the west side.

We can imagine why this might have occurred, but basically the walk signals are tied together even though vehicle traffic has a split phase. Obviously the technology exists so this is not necessary. This occurs from the 0:36 to the 0:49 mark in the video below. It’s “only” 13 seconds of course, but we could say the same about vehicle delays. It’s 13 seconds every minute of every day for every pedestrian at the intersection. This is near the University of Minnesota campus so the number of pedestrians is non-zero. In late spring it’s not an unpleasant wait. Talk to me in January.

Video (looking SB on Oak Street, East on the left, West on the right):

How often does this occur? Where else do the traffic engineers not think through the implications for pedestrians?

I cannot comment on what the optimal traffic signal timings are for this intersection, but this is clearly not it.

Further reading:

13 thoughts on “Time to Walk: A Brief Excursion Into a Needless Incursion on the Law-abiding Pedestrian’s Time

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I could list another dozen intersections in Mpls where there are protected left turns but do not walk signals for crosswalks which do not interfere with the protected left. It’s really sad we haven’t been able to do better.

  2. Sean Hayford Oleary

    Several intersections on Hennepin downtown do this. I’ve seen other threads on those in particular, and have been told that the signals “work as intended”. Nicollet and Diamond Lake also does this.

    Of particular interest on this is that the Mn/DOT and Hennepin County “beg-only” signals do not suffer from this problem. For example, if I’m crossing the WB Crosstown exit on the east side of Portland Ave and press the beg button, I will get a walk signal at the same time as NB-to-WB traffic gets a protected green.

    It is odd that otherwise ped-friendly Minneapolis signals seem to actually be worse than other jurisdictions in this regard.

  3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    LOS, Level of Service, should apply equally to pedestrians, bicycle riders, disabled, and motor traffic. Actually, considering that motor traffic are in a climate controlled environment, the others should be given priority during inclement weather.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Exactly, priority should go first to walkers, then bikers and transit users, lastly motorists.

  4. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    I run into this a lot, and always assumed there was some reason I wasn’t seeing for why pedestrians without an apparently conflict needed to wait (like maybe letting one side go encourages the other to walk against the signal or something). I think Lasalle and 12th St. S. is this way too, but not I’m going to have to start keeping track.

  5. Monte

    Technology does exist, just probably not at that intersection. It looks like an old, small electronic cabinet. It probably has only space for one load switch for both pedestrian signals, and the controller may not even have provisions for pedestrian overlap outputs. Older electromechanical controllers were actually more flexible in that you could just add an extra cam, and of course new cabinets and controllers generally have provisions. Considering how far behind the times the city is as far as traffic signals it’s probably not on their radar to replace the entire cabinet for 13 extra seconds of pedestrian time.

    1. Ben

      Like Sam said.

      Looks like a candidate for stop light removal in lieu of a four-way stop sign.

      Can’t update your signal to give me 13 seconds. Then shut it down and save the money.

  6. Jeremy MendelsonJeremy

    This problem exists nearly everywhere. Signals are designed with cars in mind, and pedestrians are merely an afterthought (or not a thought at all).

    The real danger is that people learn to ignore the walk signals because they don’t really work, and then they wind up taking chances and being harassed, injured or killed by motorists.

    1. Monte

      Well, signals were designed for cars from the beginning since it wasn’t heavy pedestrian volumes that necessitated them. (But it’s still interesting that cars have been able to automatically trigger signals for many decades- I have a vacuum tube based controller with that capability while the ability of pedestrians to automatically trigger signals has just come out and is not common. But to the engineers defense you can’t install push-buttons for cars in every lanes.

      Here’s an example of early pedestrian “accommodation” in the signal to the left. At first the only accommodation was the “Smiley Face” vehicle lenses (most easily seen on the amber) to throw light downwards so pedestrians could see it better. Later (with prompting by signal manufactures, a separate “Walk” lens was added. The one in the picture the lowest section was added later, it uses a later style reflector frame inside.
      Here’s what it looks like inside, I had to replace the cloth covered wiring with modern stuff.

      However pedestrians would walk when it wasn’t lit (maybe thinking it was burned out), so the added a “Wait” lens on a seperate unit. Later “Wait” was changed to “Don’t Walk” because the small text of the early days led to confusion.

      Notice how orange and white are the standards even back then, although red and green neon tubing was an alternate standard for many decades in places.

      Finally, I’d like to point out Minneapolis does a lot of things that are aggravating to car drivers too. Like left turn arrows and side street greens when there’s no cars waiting there and way too many signals in the first place.

  7. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

    Like I said, a four-way stop sign would be a simpler, elegant solution, and cost effective long-term

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