SNG: Report traffic signals that don’t give enough walk time or skip the walk unless you push a button

Screenshot of the city's idea submission map.

Click to submit your idea to the Your Voice Your Choice map.

One of the most insidious ways our transportation infrastructure is designed to delay or harm people walking is mostly invisible: Traffic signals programmed to skip the walk signal unless someone pushes a button. Whenever a traffic signal skips a walk signal, anyone who shows up is faced with the choice to either wait an entire signal cycle or make a run for it without knowing whether there is enough time to get across. It’s a dangerous and completely avoidable situation. All it takes is for SDOT staff to change programming.

A few years back, the local #GivePedsTheGreen campaign tried to raise awareness of this problem. And though that did not result in a major signal reprogramming effort, it did lead to more people paying attention. Once you start looking for it, you see it everywhere.

Now Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has started an effort to get people to report signals that require a button push, take too long to change or don’t give enough crossing time to the city as part of the Your Voice, Your Choice: Parks & Streets program. This program funds relatively small community-generated project ideas to improve their local parks and streets. And it’s hard to think of anything smaller than a signal programming change. So is there a signal you encounter regularly that skips you or takes so long that people decide to run for it rather than wait? Report it!

More details from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways:

It’s time to fix traffic signals that…

  1. Don’t give you enough time to cross the street safely
  2. Take forever to give you a walk light to cross
  3. Make you push a beg button to get a walk light

Take Action:

Tell the Seattle Department Of Transportation which signals don’t work for you, your family, and your community.

With your help we can report every problematic signal to the City by the March 18th deadline for the Your Voice Your Choice program. This program will not be able to fix all the signals, but Seattle Neighborhood Greenways will track every signal that is reported and keep advocating that the city fix them.

1.Go to Seattle.gov/YVYC

2.Click the X. Click Pedestrian Crossing. Click “submit your idea!”

3.Pick the problematic intersection on the map or type in the address. Describe what’s wrong. For example: “People get stranded in the crosswalk when the light changes,” “it takes too long to get the walk light,” or “this intersection requires me to push a beg button”.

4.Click “report it.”

Thank you!

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10 Responses to SNG: Report traffic signals that don’t give enough walk time or skip the walk unless you push a button

  1. They are “no longer accepting new reports for this project” unfortunately.

  2. Kathy says:

    What makes you say that? It looks like the website is working to me. Did you get this response while trying to enter an idea online? I have entered a few ideas and had no problems.

  3. bill says:

    Walking is slow. Building infrastructure that makes walking even slower incentivizes dangerous ped behaviours.

  4. Erik says:

    Re: “beg buttons”…I’ve never really understood this argument, because those same intersections with push-to-cross usually also don’t let cars or bikes go on a regular schedule unless they trigger the metal sensor on the street. So it seems like kind of equal opportunity exclusion.

    (This is speaking as an avid cyclist who has to dead-red a left turn onto 5th Ave NE in Northgate because my bike never triggers the sensor right…every time!)

    • KAL says:

      @Erik: If no cars were at the intersection and a pedestrian pressed the button, I’m guessing when the pedestrians got a green light the car lanes going the same direction would also get a green light even if there were no cars there at the time the pedestrian triggered the cycle change.

      In talking about beg buttons, I think there’s two components:

      (1) Don’t exclude pedestrians from crossing a street when cars going the same way trigger the light. Is there a reason to exclude pedestrians from crossing when only cars triggered the light cycle but not exclude cars when only pedestrians triggered the light? If the car-only-signal is long enough for pedestrians to also cross then there is no reason to exclude pedestrians when cars get the signal. If the car-only-signal is too short for pedestrians then you have to somehow weigh the impact of always giving the longer pedestrian signal to the negative impacts on pedestrians who might not press the button in time or might not realize the button wasn’t pushed. In my experience, there are a lot of lights where I would have plenty of time to cross even getting to the light after it’s already turned green but which don’t turn green if I didn’t get there in time to press it.

      (2) Should the signal change even if no cars, bikes, or peds trigger it? I think this is what you’re thinking about and I can see the arguments for it. Definitely depends on the intersection. I’m not sure I know enough of the factors to weigh this properly. This is more frustrating for me when biking then walking. As a pedestrian I can press a button, on a bike, as you mentioned, the street doesn’t always notice bikes.

      As a pedestrian, I most want #1 fixed. I’m thinking of the case where the light turns green for cars but not for me even though there’s plenty of time for me to cross. When the light cycle isn’t changing I can press the button but when the light cycle changes but excludes me I can press the button all I want while it ignores me for another cycle.

      As a cyclist both #1 and #2 are a problem. When I’m on the sidewalk #1 is a problem. As a cyclist, if the cars can make it across the intersection than that’s most likely enough time for me to cross but I don’t get a green crossing light unless someone pressed the button. On a bike I’m also much more likely to get to an intersection after the cycle has changed but still with enough time to cross if it was green for me. When I’m on the street #2 is a problem as the street often doesn’t notice me.

  5. asdf2 says:

    Glad to see awareness of this! In most cities, people simply accept beg buttons and other anti-pedestrian treatment as the default, and don’t bother to question it.

    I reported two issues in the Fremont area and upvoted several others. I also can’t help but notice that nearly every single block of Mercer has a pedestrian request. Hopefully, they won’t all fall on deaf ears, overridden by the desire to get cars out of the arena parking garage more quickly.

  6. Peri Hartman says:

    You know, I think the real problem is these buttons have the wrong function.

    First, let’s look at the obvious: people generally take longer than cars to cross an intersection. Therefore, if no peds are waiting, a cross street light can be relatively short if only a car or two need to cross and allow opposing traffic more time to flow. Pressing a walk button gives a longer green light for peds to the cross street.

    1. Here’s the first problem. When a cross street usually has peds crossing, there’s essentially no benefit in having a walk button. It’s always going to be pressed and the green light is always going to be lengthened for the cross street. So, why have the button at all.

    2. In many cases, there’s plenty of time for peds to cross because there are enough cars going through to keep the light green long enough. Pressing the walk button might make that walk light even longer, causing a longer red for others. But that’s just causing unnecessary delay.

    So, what should the functions be ?

    A. Where needed, walk buttons should give enough time for an able bodied person to cross. If someone knows they take longer, a “handicap” button should also be available to give, say, 50% more time.

    B. If a walk button is beneficial to auto traffic, then make its effect for peds immediate. When you press it, you normally should have a walk light within 5 seconds.

    A bit of analysis for case B. The first reaction would be: peds are always stopping traffic willy-nilly along street X. As soon as the main-road light goes green someone presses the button to cross and in 5 seconds it’s red again. Well, the solution is this: during high activity times, the intersection operates on it’s normal duty cycle and the walk button is disabled (it could even have a “disabled” light). There should still be a handicap button, though, so the walk time can be lengthed. If ped crossings are sparse, the opposing red light will be somewhat random. However, that randomness won’t happen much – simply because ped crossings are sparse. What’s to lose !

    I’d would be useful to have feedback on this. Is this worth promoting to SDOT ?

  7. Andy Sapuntzakis says:

    the (north) IUT intersections at 130th and 145th often won’t light the “walk” or the bicycle-green unless a button is pushed / sensor is triggered – this may depend on the traffic light pattern that’s active at that time of day.

    how did this configuration pass any level of review at SDOT?
    how do we know it’s been fixed 24/7 rather than just certain hours?

    i’ve logged this issue using the online version of find it fix it (hosted by motorolasolutions). never received any feedback

  8. NickS says:

    I would like to see SDOT particularly err on the side of pedestrians and bicyclists when the infrastructure is in proximity to public transit centers. If it’s a transit center, or blocks surrounding a light rail station, pedestrians should get automatic crossing signals without “beg buttons”, and the wait time for a crosswalk signal should be reduced as much as possible.

    Two egregious signals that I’m aware of are:

    1)Beacon Hill, the crosswalk across Beacon Ave S. at the Mt. Baker light rail station and bus stop across the street. This signal often takes FOREVER. It’s a two lane road next to a pedestrian plaza and a transit hub; replace the light/crosswalk signal with a RRFB and allow pedestrians free rein over crossing.

    2)S Henderson St and 1/2 of MLK Jr Way S. at Rainier Beach Light Rail station. You have to wait for two lengthy crosswalks depending on which corner you approach or depart the station from, delayed further by turn signals from MLK Jr. Way S. Is there any way to make this an all-walk or otherwise reduce the crossing time? This lengthy wait time increases the huge number of people risking their lives to run across MLK Jr Way S. (a de facto 45mph freeway) against the crosswalk signal, in order to try to catch a train, or the other direction, to catch a 106 or 107 (and in 4 years, a RapidRide R). Unfortunately, this terrible layout is a direct legacy of the ill-fated choice to run Light Rail at grade through Rainier Valley to save money. Can you imagine this decision flying anywhere else in the city? I have dreams of a pedestrian tunnel being built here, but then I wake up.

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