In downtown Saint Paul, there is a station on the Green Line light rail (LRT) called “Central“. This station is very useful! There’s a skyway connection, and it allows core office workers and casual activity users access to the Metro system.
Parked diagonally across a city block, there was always going to be some awkwardness. The sidewalk does a ‘V’ down to avoid pedestrians crossing at the wrong places anywhere along the diagonal tracks. It’s awkward.
And of course, in a busy downtown, we have to control everything. Pedestrians have a signal indicating when tracks are clear for crossing. In theory, you can see where the train is located ten seconds in advance, and the signal starts the countdown to clear pedestrians. Coming into a station and going around a bend, the train is going slow enough to not run over grandma.
However, the crossing doesn’t have pedestrian sensors. Instead, it seems to be timed with the vehicle light. This leads to some very awkward situations, like having the “do not walk” signal show when no train is approaching. It even lights up when there is no conflict for the entire cycle.
This might not seem like a big issue: if trains are the only conflicting traffic, the signal is just telling people when it is assuredly safe to cross and nothing more.
What is Reasonablity?
Unfortunately that is not how the human mind works. The hardest subject we ever broached in any transportation class — which included traffic flow and highway design — was the topic of reasonability.
When a design is unreasonable or unwarranted, it will not be obeyed (or at least will not be obeyed for any length of time in months, years, etc). People learn that their command is not prudent for them, and begin to disregard it.
This is why we have so many uncontrolled intersections. Using stop signs when you don’t have to get below 5 mph to make a safe decisions means that the stop sign begins to lose its meaning. And by association, people begin to disregard all the other stop signs, too.
Now I will freely admit, a lot of reasonability has already been lost on pedestrian signals overall. But this case is especially ridiculous. Watch the video below:
[Watch the cops. Also note that the bells are ringing for a train which has already passed through and is in the station]
Not even MetroTransit’s own police officers will obey the signal! It is so unreasonable, that the people who are paid to uphold the rules not only ignore other people breaking the rules, but they themselves ignore the rules! If the signals are that unreasonable, then they are only conditioning people to ignore pedestrian signals.
I’m not sure when it happened, but can we just go back to the good old electronic bells in a light up sign?
When we built the Green Line through the University of Minnesota campus, we over-controlled pedestrians. Along University Avenue, we over-controlled pedestrians (less so, but still). A high amount of walk-up traffic plus over-signalization creates a dangerous situation all across the city.
As long as this goes on, people will be learning that the LRT signals are not designed with pedestrians in mind. They’ll start wholly ignoring them, making a dangerous situation for everyone.