Do Not Wait Here

Recently I found myself seeking refuge where no island granting refuge exists. Probably starting the crossing later than I should have, I crossed University Avenue half-way before my walk signal went to solid red, stranding me between the tracks of the Green Line (I could have illegally run in front of the cars, but one never knows).

I waited an interminable amount of time, for which I could have accepted a gap, playing Frogger. I would have if I had more information about where cars were, but couldn’t see well because of line of sight and cars in the turn lane.

A train approached from the left of me. A train approached from the right of me. I don’t exactly know how much space is between the trains, but not terribly much. The train to the left of me blared its horn (so loud I can hear it from more than 1/2 mile away), afraid I might not see it and become another statistic. I moved slightly forward. It passed (without braking as far as I could tell). The train to the right of me blared its horn. I moved backward. It passed (also without braking).  Fortunately they did not pass simultaneously.

Because of me, MetroTransit has now emblazoned the non-refuge area between the tracks at signalized intersections on the Green Line with a “Do Not Wait Here” marking.

Do Not Wait Here

Do Not Wait Here

Obviously, pedestrians are flawed for being so fool-hardy as to be pedestrians, or trying to cross a street on the blinking “don’t walk”, or just being slow, or distracted. But I am not the only one.

Clearly there is also a design flaw in the signalized pedestrian crossings failing to understand human actions, which a spray painted template will do little to alleviate. There is a flaw in traffic signals that do not recognize there is a pedestrian in motion.  Such a marking is, literally, the least they could do to address this problem.

The recommended approach seems to be:

Step 0. Don’t cross University Avenue.

Step 1. If you do cross University Avenue, then don’t get stuck in the median of the tracks.

Step 2. If you are stuck in the median at a red light, then pray.

(Actually, you probably would stand where the foot steps are, since that is in the middle, but then it says, do not wait here).

If you do not wait here, where are you supposed to go, in front of the train?

What if there were a lot of people on the island, not just a few. There might not be enough space. Would the train stop then? I am not convinced this has actually been thought through.

14 thoughts on “Do Not Wait Here

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Next time, just get in your parked car on one side of University Ave, then drive across to the other side, and park. No “pedestrianism” required.

  2. Jeff

    I’ve done the same thing at the Hamline station. I get the light to cross University but it makes no sense to go all the way across (as I am still on the East side of the intersection and the Westbound station is on the West side of the intersection), so I stop in the middle, right behind a huge cement bollard, and then cross Hamline when University has a green light. I haven’t taken the train for a while so I don’t know if there is a similar marking there.

  3. Monte Castleman

    Applicable Statute 169.06:

    Subd. 6.Pedestrian control signal. (a) Whenever special pedestrian-control signals exhibiting the words “Walk” or “Don’t Walk” or symbols of a “walking person” or “upraised hand” are in place, the signals or symbols indicate as follows:
    (1) A steady “Walk” signal or the symbol of a “walking person” indicates that a pedestrian facing either of these signals may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal, possibly in conflict with turning vehicles. Every driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to such pedestrian except that the pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to vehicles lawfully within the intersection at the time that either signal indication is first shown.
    (2) A “Don’t Walk” signal or the symbol of an “upraised hand,” flashing or steady, indicates that a pedestrian shall not start to cross the roadway in the direction of either signal, but any pedestrian who has partially crossed on the “Walk” or “walking person” signal indication shall proceed to a sidewalk or safety island while the signal is showing.
    (b) A pedestrian crossing a roadway in conformity with this section is lawfully within the intersection and, when in a crosswalk, is lawfully within the crosswalk.

    So basically if you entered the intersection legally on the walk interval and the hand goes steady, you’re supposed to keep going across the intersection, and you have the ROW (as a pedestrian legally in a crosswalk) even if the light turns green (and have 5 seconds once the hand goes steady before it does). It would seem that you technically forfeit ROW if you enter the intersection illegally, just like a motorist does if s/he is speeding. But of course a motorist isn’t going to try to hit a pedestrian just because they started during the change interval, so either way it’s probably best to keep going (and try to hurry).

    The assumption of course is that cars won’t start moving if there’s still a pedestrian in the crosswalk, and in fact engineers sometimes fudge the required 3.5 ft/s curb to curb clearance interval time on wide suburban-style roads on this theory. And it’s been recognized that there’s engineering issues wiith crosswalks and signalling since the first 8″ Walk lenses were mounted to vehicle heads. Perhaps we need to start utilize pedestrian sensors more.

    1. Wayne

      I can think of a few signals around town where the ‘solid walk signal’ lasts for around 2-3 seconds before immediately switching to the hand for 15-20. If you’re not a spry young person ready to begin your dash at the drop of a hand you’ll pretty much never get across that street legally.

      If they expect people to obey the signals they need to time them for actual human beings and not for the cars that are also getting the signal in the same direction. That’s plenty of time for a car to pound on the gas and get through, not so much for a pedestrian though.

      1. Monte Castleman

        If that’s the case they violate the Minnesota MUTCD:

        Except as provided in the option below, the walk interval
        should be at least 7 seconds in length so that pedestrians will
        have adequate opportunity to leave the curb or shoulder
        before the pedestrian clearance time begins.
        If pedestrian volumes and characteristics do not require a
        7-second walk interval, walk intervals as short as 4 seconds
        may be used.

        1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          Sure. Even 4-7 seconds is pretty paltry. The middle of this post goes to show how signal timing for pedestrians vs cars shakes out:

          In this (fairly common) example, vehicles have the right to enter the intersection 83% of the time while pedestrians may only lawfully enter 10-23% of the time (depending on the Walk interval used). The resulting best-case LOS to simply cross the intersection is D.

          1. Monte Castleman

            If there is a problem with pedestrian LOS it’s not fixable with signal phasing. Already many vehicle phases are longer than they have to be to accommodate pedestrian phases. If you have a longer Walk Interval it’s just that much longer a pedestrian trying to cross the other direction has to wait. You can’t have say 15 second phases in each direction so a pedestrian doesn’t have to wait very long because of the required pedestrian clearance time. (If the vehicle phase is the longer of the too, then yes the walk interval should be lengthened.)

            Exclusive Pedestrian Phasing reduces vehicle vs pedestrian crashes, but increases delays for pedestrians.

            1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

              Wouldn’t the solution be to dramatically reduce the number of lanes entering an intersection with a signal? Far less distance to cross on foot?

              1. Monte Castleman

                That’s one way of doing it. If you had a street with a crosswalk 30 feet wide you could still fit a ped phase in even with a short vehicle phase, say 10 second green, 3 second yellow, 2 second all-red for vehicles, 4 Second walk, 9 second clearance time, 2 second all-red for peds. So a pedestrian arriving at the intersection would never have to wait more than 15 seconds.

                My point is you can’t fix pedestrian LOS with signaling changes, you need to go beyond that.

          2. Monte Castleman

            I noticed at least one Minneapolis intersection (56th and Penn) had clearance time set apparently set in excess of what is required. Although this might be beneficial for slower pedestrians, on the other hand the time could instead be added to the walk interval, both of which is at the minimum normally required time of 7 seconds.

            Also, theoretically the all-red time could be used as part of the buffer, and corresponding time added to the walk interval, but this is problematic to program correctly in practice, and not using it gives pedestrians extra time once then hand lights steady before vehicles are released, so Minnesota does not use this option.

  4. Alex

    You could think of it as a design flaw, or a design flawpportunity… In places with less bloated infrastructure requirements, the tracks are placed with a much smaller gap in the middle, so a pedestrian who begins to cross but is stopped by a train on the far tracks must wait in the near track. While it is undoubtedly stressful to be caught in the stencil zone, it is far more stressful (and disruptive) to be caught on the tracks themselves.

  5. Andrew B

    Or they could have given up some of the car driving lanes to allow the tracks to be spaced a hair farther apart and create enough of an island to wait on. But then they’d also have to look at why they have stations mid-block, or side-platforms instead of center platforms where it makes sense.

    1. Wayne

      They can also put an island on either side of the tracks abutting the car lanes so you get a refuge there. But that might require taking a few feet from those poor abused drivers.

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