Canada: Edward Keenan: Toronto’s pedestrian countdown signals are confusing and dangerous - PressFrom - Canada
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CanadaEdward Keenan: Toronto’s pedestrian countdown signals are confusing and dangerous

19:16  14 march  2019
19:16  14 march  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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Ah, the timer that counts down when you're crossing the street : an evergreen point of confusion and contention with pedestrians and drivers alike . Well, to start, most people have misunderstood the function of pedestrian countdown signals (PCS) completely. Clearly they haven't watched the City' s

Some pedestrian signals integrate a countdown timer, showing how many seconds are remaining for the clearing phase. In the United States, San Francisco was the first major city to install countdown signals to replace older pedestrian modules, doing so on a trial basis starting in March 2001.[64]

Edward Keenan: Toronto’s pedestrian countdown signals are confusing and dangerous © Rene Johnston Pedestrians cross the street outside Old City Hall on Queen St. W. on Wednesday, when police were out as part of a pedestrian safety blitz. “A confusing signal that causes mass debate about what it does and should mean is worse than useless. It’s dangerous,” columnist Ed Keenan writes.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

I’ve said it before. Let me say it again: Toronto ought to get rid of the pedestrian countdown signals at intersections. Or at least change them substantially.

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At signalized intersections lacking pedestrian signals , crossing pedestrians are regulated by the vehicle traffic signals . To address these problems, the MUTCD now requires pedestrian countdown timers to be installed wherever the pedestrian change interval is over seven seconds long.

Pedestrian countdown signals provide more precise information to pedestrians about the He says that the rules are that pedestrians are not allowed to step off the curb if the signal is counting down . Also: I am a huge fan of Edward Keenan of the Toronto Star. I started writing this article in

Police were out Wednesday morning, as part of a weeklong pedestrian safety blitz that otherwise focuses mostly on common dangerous driving habits such as speeding or distracted driving. But on this day, according to a report on the Citytv website, they were “trying to clear up misconceptions about crosswalk timers.”

The report explains. “Although many pedestrians aren’t aware, the countdown is actually for drivers so they know how much time they have left to clear the intersection.”

Well, see there’s a misconception right there. Because that isn’t true. The timers are emphatically not “for drivers.” If you look at the city’s website explaining them, you’ll see they are “to assist pedestrians” by making intersections “more pedestrian friendly” and accomplish that by providing “more precise information to pedestrians.” They are for pedestrians.

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Edward Louis "Ned" Keenan , Jr. (May 14, 1935 - March 9, 2015) was a professor of History at Harvard University who specialized in medieval Russian history

TORONTO – How complicated can traffic signals be ? Green means go. Amber means proceed with caution if you can’t stop safely. Red means stop. But it’ s not nearly as obvious when you observe pedestrians at a controlled intersection.

In fact, drivers looking at those signals is sometimes reported to be a problem: one 2013 U of T study found they increased collisions between cars because drivers seeing the countdown would speed up to try to beat the coming yellow light. A City of Toronto traffic services manager told the Star back then that a driver’s focus should be “on the activities within the intersection and not the count display on the signal head.”

Drivers already have their own signals, big green, red and yellow lights, that they are supposed to pay attention to. In addition to those, they need to be paying attention to the pedestrians in the intersection and the other cars travelling through it. It would be ridiculous to post a different signal meant for drivers in a different place, much smaller and flashing.

But you might be forgiven for believing that those signals are for cars, telling them somehow to turn. Because the gist of many police information activities over the past few years has been trying to emphasize to pedestrians that they should not start crossing the street while the flashing countdown is on (under the letter of the Highway Traffic Act, you can get a $50 fine for this). In that sense, the countdown is supposed to function like a yellow light does for cars: don’t enter the intersection, proceed as promptly as is safe if you’ve already entered. With the added benefit of telling you how promptly you ought to proceed.

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The amber pedestrian countdown signal time is based on an estimate of walking speed. It used to be based on a walking speed of 1.2 meters/second Don’t expect those here in Toronto anytime soon. Pedestrian signals are controlled by the transportation or roads department, and they are more

Some pedestrian signals integrate a countdown timer , showing how many seconds are remaining for the clearing phase. In the United States, San Francisco was the first major city to install countdown signals to replace older pedestrian modules, doing so on a trial basis starting in March 2001.

If I’m reading the traffic literature right, I think technically Toronto’s countdown is meant to show the “pedestrian clearance” period — the time it’s expected to take for pedestrians already in the intersection to get through it. Police have repeatedly emphasized that an intersection clear of pedestrians allows cars to make turns, and implied that (rather than safety) is the priority that leads them to enforce the letter of the countdown law. It’s a very short leap from hearing that repeated message to the misunderstanding that the countdowns are intended primarily as information for drivers.

It is indeed confusing. Partly because in many other cities, the countdown means something different — the clearance period is indicated by a solid red pedestrian signal and the countdown is the time until that. In Montreal, the police website explaining laws explicitly says that pedestrians looking at the countdown should “enter the roadway” only if they “think” they’ll be able to reach the other side before the end of the countdown. “A pedestrian who does not think there is time to get all the way across should wait for the next walk signal.” (One study prepared for Transport for London in 2006 specifically cited the variance in approaches in different cities using different systems, and the confusion this variance causes, as a drawback of implementing pedestrian countdown signals.)

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Pedestrian countdown signals are popular in other cities, where instead of a flashing hand you have a countdown to tell you how long you have to cross. One study even saw an increase in collisions . READ MORE: Pedestrian signals are cause for confusion in Toronto . What do you think?

Some pedestrian signals integrate a countdown timer , showing how many seconds are remaining for the clearing phase. [67] A study in Toronto found similar results to the Florida study, determining that countdown timers may actually cause more crashes than standard hand/man signals .

New York City used to have a law about the flashing red pedestrian countdown signal similar to ours, but realized it was unsafe and ridiculous and so changed it in 2016 to give pedestrians the right of way to start crossing.

Fuelling the confusion in Toronto is the simple fact that the intuitive, obvious meaning of the countdown would seem to be the Montreal and New York way. You see a flashing signal saying there’s 22 seconds before the light turns red and what it would seem to most people to be saying is “no worries, lots of time.” It’s virtually an invitation to cross.

The evidence that people read them this way is that they use them this way. Which is why the police feel the need to launch a public information blitz multiple times a year in order to try to clarify.

Now here’s the thing about traffic signals, and any road safety sign or light or signal: clarity is perhaps the most important quality it can have. To be effective, a traffic signal cannot be even a little bit confusing. People need to make decisions based on the information the signal conveys at a glance and in a fraction of a second. Many of those making those instant decisions are moving at high speed surrounded by thousands of pounds of steel. There’s no time to unpack nuance. These rapid decisions can have life-and-death consequences.

A confusing signal that causes mass debate about what it does and should mean is worse than useless. It’s dangerous.

We should either change how these countdown signals work substantially — and what they are supposed to mean, so that the law aligns with widespread understanding and behaviour — or get rid of them altogether. If turning traffic needs time to clear the intersection, give turning traffic its own signal. If you don’t want pedestrians to cross, don’t tell them they have 20 seconds left, give them a solid red hand.

Who is supposed to go, and who is supposed to stop, needs to be immediately obvious. No explanation necessary. Rather than frequent re-education blitzes, let’s find a signal system people understand at a glance.

Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire

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