There were zero pedestrians counted at this Ballard intersection on a Tuesday in January. It was built late last year as part of bus enhancement project. We counted again on Tuesday in January and usage meets the MUTCD threshold for a pedestrian signal per our Vision Zero Team. pic.twitter.com/C5THJUVkeU
— Dongho Chang (@dongho_chang) January 30, 2019
Here’s a story that will seem like common sense to everyone who isn’t a traffic engineer. Almost nobody used to try to cross 15th Ave NW at NW 53rd Street in Ballard because 15th is wide and busy and there was no crosswalk there. But now that SDOT has added a signal and crosswalk, lots of people cross the street there.
This should be the most boring story possible: “People walk across street at crosswalk.” How is this news? Well, because this result is only obvious to people who have not been trained in the standards of American traffic engineering.
The national “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices” — essentially a guidebook for traffic engineers — tells professionals that unless there are already a lot people trying to cross the street, a signal is not warranted. Neighbors across the nation run into this answer all the time when pressing their cities for crosswalks and signals: “There is not enough pedestrian activity to warrant a signal.” Signals stop cars, and stopping cars is a sign of failure if you are a traditional American traffic engineer.
But SDOT tried a different approach: Build the signal first, then count to see if the resulting pedestrian volumes ended up justifying the signal after all. And they did.
There are many great traffic engineers, but the field has some gross negligence baked into its core. The best traffic engineers I’ve met had to purposefully unlearn stuff they were taught, and their ideas — like installing a crosswalk signal even if people aren’t currently running across the six-lane roadway — are often still seen as radical. Just this year, the advisory board behind the MUTCD decided against an effort to make installing walk signals best practices when installing a new traffic signal. Continue reading