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Seattle Crosswalk: Tap foot, Lights blink, Cross street

Along Seattle's historic waterfront I happened upon a unique pedestrian-activated crosswalk that blinks as people cross. Yes, I have seen over a dozen lighted ped signals before in myriad cities, but all required the user to press a button to manually begin the cycle. So, you ask, how is this one different?

Well check this out - as you enter the crosswalk make sure you touch the yellow rectangle on the sidewalk. This activates the lights that line the crosswalk. Drivers stop and it should be safe to begin your adventure: you'll feel a bit like an airplane coming in for a landing. Frankly, it's very empowering and a lot of fun!

Reason dictates that A) there must be a sensor contained within the yellow pad, or B) there's a helpful gremlin who lives underneath and throws a switch for pedestrians. Regardless, anyone else seen one like it in their town?

[intro music]

Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [00:08] Hey everybody, Streetfilms here in Seattle and we’ve stumbled upon something I’ve never seen before, I wanted to show it to you. Here we are standing on the road that parallels the Alaskan Way viaduct, which is below it along the waterfront, and here there’s a pedestrian crosswalk, and it’s a pretty cool pedestrian crosswalk. All the pedestrian crosswalks I’ve ever seen you press with a button to activate it. This one is foot activated. Here’s what you do, you want to cross the street, you just step right here on this yellow pad and then cars should stop in both directions, lights are illuminated on both sides.


[00:39] You’ll notice that not only is the pedestrian crosswalk rim whit lights, there’s a large yellow diamond that has two flashing lights that signals to drivers that there’s a pedestrian in the crosswalk, and so at night when the pedestrians are harder to see, the lights are easier to see, making it extra safe to cross. So the reason that this crosswalk seems to have been put in is because there’s a lot of residential housing on this side of the Alaskan Way.


[01:00] Over here’s the waterfront. People probably want to get to and from the waterfront, to walk, bike or maybe come for a bike, or go to the ferry, so they thought this was probably a good idea as a measure to not put a full stop light in here. This is, of course, my hypothesis, the truth could be further from that, but that’s what we’re going with.

Transcript Divas Transcription Services

Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • http://www.m-bike.org Todd Scott

    We have a similar pedestrian crossing between GM Headquarters and our RiverWalk. We don't have actuator pads, which may not work so well in our icy and snowy conditions. Instead we have what appears to be infra-red light detectors.

  • Peter

    they have one of these in front of the Civic Center in SF. city official told me a City Hall worker was hit there a couple of years ago.

    http://vimeo.com/3748243

    they also have them on lower Mission - headed towards Daly City.

    the way I see it, they're unsafe. they're just an excuse to not slow cars down. at least one of the locations on Mission uses a human crossing guard -- it's in front of a church, i think.

    also, in my experience -- as a pedestrian, bikers, and driver -- is that nobody knows that cars are actually supposed to stop at these crosswalks - lighted or not. i bet cops hear that all the time from violators who don't give right of way to pedestrians -- they'll claim, honestly, "but i did slow down and he didn't look like he wanted to cross so i just kept going."

    that ambiguity is what gets people injured or worse. i say put in a stop sign, slow cars down temporarily, make things safer -- it's not the end of the world.

  • Scott

    I really like these. Just curious how the lights would hold up to snow plows.

  • Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

    Peter,

    I would not call these unsafe. What they are is another tool that can be used in situations where there is no way a DOT is going to put in stoplight or stop sign. I'd much rather have these lights accompanying me in crossing a busy stretch (look at the video and the shot from above) then just a painted crosswalk and taking my chances. In that light, I think it is certainly better than the alternative. But if I had my druthers, you are right - a stop sign would be far better than any solution.

    From what I saw in Seattle cars stopped whenever the lights were going and the pedestrian was in the xwalk. One thing I did wish however - that there was some signs indicating that it was indeed a ped-activated crosswalk. There was no documentation.

  • http://trampleasure.net/lee Lee Trampleasure

    I like the foot activation. This would be even more useful for folks in wheelchairs who may have difficulty pushing a button on a post (like most of these).

    Regarding the snow plow question, I have seen "bots dots" that are installed in a small gouged recess in the pavement. I'm sure that this could be done with the lighted type as well.

  • Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

    Okay I have been thinking that IF these sensors are that sensitive (and I think they probably aren't) but if they are - one way to make drivers crazy - throw a whole bunch of birdseed down and watch pigeons continually active it.

    Alright not serious, but come on, that would be pretty funny.

  • http://hughgran.com hugh

    great. they have these in laguna beach ca too :)

  • http://www.walkroll.com Lois Moss

    Thanks Clarence! These are crazy cool!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/transportgooru Andy Palanisamy

    Clarence,
    I made a blog post of your Crosswalk 2.O (included that as part of my blog post) on my site http://www.transportgooru.com. Just wanted to thank you for bringing out a video that demonstrates the how this "illuminated crosswalk" works. Very helpful indeed. Keep up the good work.
    Andy

  • Bossi

    I'm curious as to whether or not these devices have been approved for use on the Sabbath. If not, it's possible a lawsuit could force them to be turned off on such days (as has been the case in some other cities).

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/trorb Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Bossi,

    Not sure, but then wouldn't that also apply to any traffic control system since this one requires no actual manual pressing of a button and is optional if you don't use the pad?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisisbossi/collections/ Bossi

    Hmm... can't seem to log into my account on Streetfilms. Ahh well...

    I believe it was just a couple weeks ago that a rabbinical council somewhere in the USA (I think it was in California?) ruled that even passive detection violates the Sabbath's rules about operating devices.

    Granted, rabbinical councils in other countries don't seem to take issue with passive detection (or at least an article I just found on an Australian example seems to be OK). I'm not quite sure how things vary from council to council.

  • hf

    This is the way we shouldn't go. It costs a lot of money. Drivers get use to it and in the end this makes the normal crosswalks less safe.
    This amount should have been spent on punishing the drivers if they don't stop.

  • http://balba77.blogspot.com Balba

    Do somebody knows who produce these "intelligent" crosswalk lights?
    I'd like to install it here in Italy...
    Thx a lot!

  • MrColombia

    This is the coolest thing in the world!! I'm going to show the leaders of my hometown Pereira where the BRT Megabus is in need of something like this for their crosswalks!!

    SAFETY I LOVE IT!

  • SteveR

    Clarence, nice film. Certainly, one might criticize the film for lacking information (e.g., contact the Seattle roads dept. & find out from their perspective why it was installed), but that's not what this film is up to, it's getting the word out quickly about innovative ways to make the pedestrian landscape more livable in an urban area, and doing that quite well.

    I could see a use for this kind of device here and there in Boston. Roads are quite cramped here, not like these open western boooolevaaards. In less space than Alaska Avenue, Huntington Avenue in Boston crams sidewalks, on-street parking, two travel lanes and light rail. It can be very hard for a driver to see when pedestrians are waiting to cross at a crosswalk, or even already crossing the crosswalk. Cars just stop short in Boston if someone sneezes, so if someone's stopped in the right lane, everyone will tend just to go around him, and BANG, that's the end of the pedestrian that the guy in the right lane stopped for. With flashing lights, there'd be no question. Even Boston drivers stop for flashing yellow lights.

  • http://www.access-board.gov Lois Thibault

    I'm wonderng how a blind pedestrian could make use of such a feature. APS pedbuttons have locator tones to identify where they (and the crosswalk) are, but these actuators would be tough to find.

    Kay Fitzpatrick at TTI has some interesting research on driver yielding at various types of signals and beacons. Red works best for drivers.

    Tucson is using ped-actuated HAWKs to facilitate pedestrian crossings of arterials, with good success. There is less delay than with standard RYG signals.

  • Charlie

    Great idea but comes short of real solution.  A walk path that crosses a busy street should have manually activated warning lights that are activated by hand from a post supporting the pedestrian sign at the crosswalk-street intersection.  That way the responsibility rests with both the driver and the walker.  They both team up to provide safety for the pedestrian.  Look both ways before you cross the street still applies but helps to stop traffic so that the pedestrian is able to cross.  Responsibility for pedestrian safety rests with us all.

  • http://gettinaroundpnw.blogspot.com Mark

    These crosswalks are nice on the waterfront. Down south a bit in Olympia, WA, they have several crosswalks activated by motion sensors in a pair of pylons on each end of the cross walk. You get between the pylons, the lights in the street are activated automatically.

    To Peter, I think that if a driver doesn't know how to behave when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk, perhaps that person shouldn't be driving, or should at least re-read the driver's guide in his or her state.

  • Chloe

    I've seen a few of these in Spain

  • Douglas Hutt

    Yet another concession to wheelchairs and walkers. Bad idea

  • http://www.pedestrians.org/ John Z Wetmore

    There are lots of ways to detect pedestrians.  Treadles are not used that often because of maintenance issues and the necessity to step on a specific spot to trigger the signal.  Infrared, microwave, video, and interrupted-light-beam are a few of the alternatives to pushing a button.

    There is a signal in the Seattle area that uses a pavement loop to detect wheelchairs.  The story is on "Perils For Pedestrians" Episode 34: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tThB93uwYeI&t=21m45s