Waiting on the signal

May 5, 2012 at 10:40 am

I’ve noticed relatively recently that many of the intersections of my neighborhood have received pedestrian crosswalk countdown timers. Normally, I think these are great features for pedestrians, and on the rare occasion that I drive, they can help make a “stale green” light a little less uncertain. Recently, though, I’ve begun to think that these signals are a bit patronizing after being pointed out that they seem to rush pedestrians across the street – especially when the cross time after blinking is only around 7 seconds or so.

Intersection at Bradford and Oakland, Milwaukee
The intersection near my house, an intersection that I cross daily, has failed me since I moved here. The intersection is composed of a major street and a smaller, secondary street. It is controlled by sensors under the concrete on the secondary street. There are “push to walk” buttons at all corners of the intersection, but I’ve found that they really don’t work. While waiting on numerous occasions for the MCTS’ normally-tardy service, I’ve had the chance to observe the behavior of the intersection.

Pushing the button to cross doesn’t really speed up this signal-change process. However, even if the button has not been activated, the moment an automobile on the secondary street rolls up, the “don’t walk” signal begins flashing and the automobile has waited no longer than 10 seconds to cross. Numerous times I’ve pushed the button and waited over a minute for the signal to change. Oakland Avenue, the major street, has other signalled intersections two or three blocks in both directions, but they aren’t timed – cars come and go constantly.

It’s come to the point where I have to be “saved” by a car waiting to cross the same street just to get the signal to change. Why do we prioritize automobile traffic over pedestrian traffic, especially in such a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood like Milwaukee’s East Side? I can’t recall another intersection in my neighborhood (and I’ve seen them all) that relies on sensors in the road and is not just timed.

Don’t get me started on the effect it has on bicyclists, who don’t weigh in heavily enough to trip the sensor. Again, riding a bike at this intersection almost requires that you be “saved” by an automobile – something I never want to admit.