How Not To Redesign a Crosswalk

If I still lived in Boston and worked in Cambridge, this would probably get me killed:

The “High-Intensity Activated crossWalK,” or HAWK, signal installed by city officials outside Biogen Inc. is so complex it requires its own set of directions. Biogen workers handed fliers out Friday to prepare those who approach it.

“We are just educating people because it is such a new system,” said Mike Baut, Biogen’s safety manager. “It’s a different lighting scheme, and people aren’t used to it.”

The system has been installed near the company on Binney Street, a two-way road of four lanes that cut through Cambridge’s innovation sector.

Drivers will see three clusters of three lights as they approach the intersection of Binney and Sixth streets.

At first, they will be all black. At that point, it’s safe for drivers to proceed.

When a pedestrian activates the system, a single light will blink yellow on all three clusters before turning solid yellow, signaling drivers to prepare to stop.

Quickly, the two solid yellow lights will turn into two solid red lights displayed in each cluster. Drivers must stop.

Then those lights are replaced by two alternating flashing red lights in each of the clusters. This means it’s safe to drive again, as long as there are no pedestrians in sight.

While drivers are looking at all the lights, walk signs tell pedestrians when it’s safe to cross.

From there, the process repeats.

Got that?

Here’s what it looks like:

I don’t understand how this is an improvement over the traditional red-yellow-green light. I can only think it’s so confusing to drivers that they end up slowing down–something that could be done with a red light.

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6 Responses to How Not To Redesign a Crosswalk

  1. doug says:

    As I started to read, I envisioned a road of at least six wide lanes on some sort of high-speed freeway – not four narrow lanes on a road that appears to be cut off a block or two away by a building. Where I live, an intersection like that would have either a very conventional traffic light with push-to-cross buttons that would enable the walk light on the next cycle (or initiate a cycle, with an otherwise always-green light for the vehicles) or a simple flashing yellow light enabled nearly immediately in response to a pedestrian pushing the button – and drivers, with very rare exceptions, would promptly stop for the flashing light. This in a city profoundly attached to its automobiles, where each person of eligible age seems to have two and somehow contrives to have more than one on the road at all times.
    Those clusters bear a remarkable semblance to the head of Roberto the stabby robot from Futurama

  2. drjuliebug says:

    They just installed these things at two heavily-used crossings on the University of Missouri campus. For the first couple of weeks, both car and pedestrian traffic snarled into an unholy mess whenever one of these bizarro traffic signals lit up.

    Finally, everyone realized that, despite the absence of green lights, they work almost identically to a conventional traffic light. Yellow = caution, solid red = stop. Blinking red on a conventional light means “stop and proceed when clear”, and the description above differs in that the stop doesn’t seem to be required. However, since there are walls surrounding the Mizzou crosswalks, it’s impossible to see whether the crossing is clear without stopping first, so the effect is the same.

  3. AndrewD says:

    It would appear that some one has seen too much British Rail Signalling. Four aspect signals( 4 sets of lights) go-Green-safe to continue at line speed. Two/double yellow-start to slow as next signal will be double yellow or single yellow, single yellow-slow as next signal will be single yellow or Red, Red -Stop. There are variations, flashing greens etc to allow for inccreased line speeds but trhe series above allows for a safe stop from 125mph a distance of 2,2164 yards

  4. Don says:

    We have had the exact same system here in Salt Lake City for a couple of years. It actually works just fine.

  5. thestereoclub
    Nat says:

    These are common in Austin. They work fine. They are typically located where the only need for a light is for pedestrians to cross the street. Green is not needed because there is no regular cycle. If no pedestrians, it is just a street. There is a bit of a problem in that a fair number of drivers have no clue what a flashing red light means. Yeah, there are a few idiots in Texas. But they fail to move until someone with a bit more snap moves, so it is not a particular hazard to the pedestrians. Plenty of Texas drivers will blow through a non-blinking red light of any sort, so that problem is not unique to this situation.

  6. dr2chase – my initials, not a physician. Bikes a lot, works on Go compiler, politically a dfh. "dr2chase" most places, except at work.
    dr2chase says:

    At a New Year’s Eve party I was amused to meet someone more anti-car than me, and his proposed solution to that particular problem (and quite a few others) was to ban through traffic in Kendall Square. “After all, there’s Mem Drive and Storrow and Mass Ave”.

    Don’t know if you’ve been following, but MIT and one of the landlords have serious plans to add more people and labs and stuff on both sides of Main Street. Near as I can tell it will soon not matter if through traffic is officially banned, it will just be so jammed solid.

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