Pedestrian Priority

May 12, 2013 at 6:06 pm

City planners should always make an effort to make the pedestrian human feel safer no matter the neighborhood or circumstance, but unfortunately, relics from the auto-dominated, urban renewal era still exist. I would argue that many public projects still permeate the dominance of the automobile; even as (some) city politicians proclaim their love of bicycles and people-oriented neighborhoods, it still seems they don’t wish to sacrifice auto dominance.

One of the most obvious shortcomings here is how pedestrians are treated in cities, especially the most dense, most walked neighborhoods. One of the best examples I can think of is right outside Union Station in Chicago.

Union Station at Adams and Riverside Plaza, Chicago. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

Union Station at Adams and Riverside Plaza, Chicago. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

The photo of the scene above was taken around noon on a weekday. In the morning and the evening, it is much more crowded. Adams is a one-way westbound street with 3 lanes of traffic; there is no north-south street at this intersection, but there is a light for pedestrians to cross north or south on Riverside Plaza. I noticed that people seemed to wait a long time to cross here, so I timed it. Automobile traffic has 55 seconds of a green/yellow cycle, while pedestrians get only 25 seconds to cross*. What’s worse is that the high amount of inept taxi drivers and articulated buses means that the crosswalk is often blocked completely, giving pedestrians even less time to cross.

Just south of this intersection is another just like it, at Jackson and Riverside Plaza. There is noticeably less foot traffic here (likely because Riverside Plaza does not continue south), but the timing is even worse: pedestrians again have 25 seconds, but automobile traffic has 2 minutes and 20 seconds of green*.

I haven’t timed other intersections downtown, but most are pretty fair with their timing because there is pedestrian and auto traffic that has to cross 4 ways. But at intersections that are installed just for pedestrian crossings, there is clearly not enough priority given to pedestrians. You don’t need to do a scientific count to know that there are more pedestrians moving outside Union Station than auto traffic, and pedestrians should be given more time to cross.

Another instance of pedestrians not being given equal footing (ha) is with “push-to-walk” intersections, which I’ve already written about. Here’s an example at Ashland Blvd:

Crossing Leland Ave at Ashland Blvd in Chicago. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

Crossing Leland Ave at Ashland Blvd in Chicago. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

Unless a pedestrian presses the button before the light changes, the “Walk” signal will not display even when the light is green for cars, and you can either take your chances and hope the light doesn’t change mid-crossing, or just wait at least two minutes for another light. Leland is also an eastbound one-way street, so you can’t even see the light if you’re walking west.┬áThe bottom line is that pedestrians should never, ever, under any circumstance, have to “ask” to cross the street.

This sort of design also hurts people riding bikes, as they have to ride up onto the sidewalk to press the button, or wait for the signal to change on its own.

What’s your gripe with your status as a pedestrian? Do you have any intersections that are worse than the ones I posted above? Leave your responses in the comments.

*Timings done at 5 PM on a Wednesday workday in April.