NYC Gets its First Pedestrian Countdown Timer

ped_countdown.jpgYesterday, the Department of Transportation installed New York City’s very first pedestrian countdown timer at the intersection of Coney Island Avenue and Kings Highway in Brooklyn. Gothamist, as usual, does a nice treatment of the story and roundup of the coverage.

The thing I found most interesting about yesterday’s news was the fact that Mayor Bloomberg actually showed alongside DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall at yesterday’s press conference.

The New York Times story gives a bit of insight into the Mayor’s thinking on these matters and some back-and-forth within the Administration:

Mayor Bloomberg has been a fan of the countdown signals, but Iris Weinshall, the city’s transportation commissioner, had some doubts. "The mayor for a number of years has talked to me about countdown signals," she said at the news conference yesterday. "He saw them in other cities. It was, I think, a very good exchange back and forth as to whether we should put them up or not."

In some cities where the countdown signals are used, officials have noticed that elderly people, in particular, tended to underestimate the length of time it would take them to cross. The mayor acknowledged that concern but said: "I’d rather give people information and then let them make decisions. Hopefully most of them will make intelligent decisions."

  • hatethese

    Countdown signals just say to us peds, “you’ve only got a few seconds to invade this car land before we run you over.”

    If this is such a good idea (and it’s been shown not to work very well in other cities), why not use them for drivers instead of pedestrians. We shouldn’t have to do math to cross the street safely.

    This is an expensive cop out for just retiming signals to favor pedestrians.

  • This is a massive improvement in my book, but I have one idea for an improvement. I would put blinders on each side so that motorists on the road don’t use that as a countdown to revving up their engines and bursting out into the intersection. The Green light for cars to start is a few seconds after the walking sign goes to zero.

  • P

    I have to say as a former driver I used these timers in other cities to know how fast I had to drive to make it through the intersection. They are an inducement to bad driving, I believe.

  • What I find depressing about this is that it takes mayoral pressure to get the city’s traffic managers to conduct a tiny test with a new application, and that the DOT sees it as a big deal. They run thousands of intersections and thousands of lane-miles of streets. Why aren’t there hundreds of experiments going on? There can’t be a “science” of traffic management in the absence of any culture of experimentation.

  • Orcutt, I totally agree. I imagine if you asked DOT they would say it’s a liability issue. Whereas the USDOT seems to be making an effort to encourage flexibility in road design (including experimentation), these ideas have a harder time taking hold on a local level. Here‘s an interesting paper on liability in road design.

    Regarding the timer, I kind of agree with hatethese – Having an official timer seems to take away from the comfortable integration of people and cars, and feels heavyhanded and oppressive. Just mho.  Here are some good examples of crosswalks. 

  • I’m in San Francisco, where these timers are all over downtown. I thought they were odd at first, but now I love them–especially where a pedestrian has to cross long distances, like four lanes and a streetcar right of way, or six lanes and a median. I feel safer knowing how much time I have left to get across. Each signal also has a waffle on the front, so you can’t time the intersection unless you’re standing right in front of the signal. I see everyone’s points as far as the elderly and speeding through yellow lights goes, but I think it’s worth at least a trial program.

  • P

    Thanks for the info on the waffle, Karla. If the timer signals can’t be used by cars to increase their speeds the Mayor can count on the support from at least one anonymous blogger.

    However, don’t native New Yorkers come with an ingrained understanding of the timing of the blinking hand and it’s relation to oncoming traffic?

  • Eric

    It’s amazing that it it continues to be so difficult for NYC to try anything remotely innovative when it comes to tackling transportation issues.

    London is stealing our thunder in dominance of the financial universe, and we certainly won’t replace that as the information and innovation capital with people llike Iris in positions of offical power.

  • Ryan

    Seven years later… all the intersections have countdown signals. And look at all these negative comments back then.

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