Ignizio Bill Would Turn Pedestrian Timers Into Countdown Clocks for Drivers

City Council Member Vincent Ignizio has another red light camera bill — one that seems to be a variation on a failed bill from six years ago.

Council Member Vincent Ignizio says NYC owes speeding drivers a chance to get away with endangering lives. Photo: ##http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131211/tottenville/councilman-ignizio-elected-city-council-minority-leader##DNAinfo##
Vincent Ignizio wants the city to prioritize pedestrian countdown clocks at intersections with red light cameras. In 2008 he tried to get signal timers for drivers at the same locations. Photo: ##http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131211/tottenville/councilman-ignizio-elected-city-council-minority-leader##DNAinfo##

In addition to a bill that would require DOT to post warning signs where red light cameras are stationed, Ignizio last month introduced legislation that would mandate pedestrian countdown signals at those same intersections.

We’ll get to that second bill in a moment, but first some background. As we reported in February, Ignizio is known for opposing measures to make streets safer and improve transit. He wanted to subject NYC bike lanes to environmental review, and succeeded in erasing the bike lane on Father Capodanno Boulevard, watering down Select Bus Service on Hylan Boulevard to preserve parking, and degrading SBS service citywide by getting the MTA to shut off the flashing blue lights on all SBS buses.

Ignizio premised his pedestrian countdown bill on street safety. Here’s an excerpt from an Advance story that mentioned the bill:

The pedestrian countdowns have been shown to decrease crashes at intersections, and those with red light cameras have already been identified as high-risk spots.

“We’re deploying countdown clocks throughout the city, all I’m saying is deploy them in areas where you have red light cameras first,” Ignizio said.

A couple of things about this proposal don’t make sense. One, Ignizio is not a fan of automated traffic enforcement. In that same Advance story, he said of red light cameras, “These ‘safety devices’ — in quotes — sometimes are causing more accidents than they’re trying to avoid.” In fact, NYC’s red light camera program has led to a significant drop in dangerous T-bone crashes — and if Ignizio thinks cameras are causing crashes, how would pedestrian countdown signals help?

Second, DOT already installs countdown clocks based on specific safety criteria. The signals are effective at certain types of intersections, and this bill would sever the link between the safety rationale and where they are installed. It could also mean fewer clocks to go around where DOT already wants to put them. How would that serve the interest of pedestrian safety?

Given Ignizio’s track record of putting the interests of motorists above those of other street users, one Streetsblog reader smells a rat. “The countdown signals are commonly used by turning drivers to estimate how much time they have to clear an intersection before the light changes,” wrote Aunt Bike. “Nothing encourages safer driving than a motorist anxiously watching the clock rather than looking out for people in the crosswalk, IMHO.”

This skepticism is not unfounded. Ignizio introduced legislation in 2008 to require timers at all intersections with red light cameras, so drivers would know when a light was about to change from green to yellow.

We’ve asked Ignizio’s office what prompted this bill. In the meantime, we can’t help wondering what he will think of next. Requiring cops looking out for speeding drivers to post “Warning: Speed Trap Ahead” signs? Mandatory crosswalk flags? Leave your guesses in the comments.

  • Countdown timers are REQUIRED at all intersections that see significant changes, as of the last MUTCD. Its a moot issue. When the old signal has to be replaced (as they all die), they must be replaced with a countdown type.

  • Bolwerk

    Do you suppose the policy press in countries with 6% of their parliaments made up of fascists and other loopy authoritarians dedicate as much ink to their policies as you do to this clown?

  • snobum

    MUTCD states timers are only required where the pedestrian change interval is more than 7 seconds. This is why most Manhattan cross-town streets don’t have the timers.

  • wkgreen

    When traffic signals are replaced they should all come with integrated cameras as standard equipment. Make it as close as possible to a sure thing that running a red light will result in a ticket. In time that will also answer Ignizio’s other concern regarding where the cameras are. They’d be everywhere!

  • Brad Aaron

    I don’t know. Do they do more than ~9 stories in seven years?

    http://www.streetsblog.org/category/people/vincent-ignizio/

  • Bolwerk

    I asked because I really don’t know. And an answer can freely discount the kinds of eurofascist direct action/corruption theatrics Ignizio has neither the power or cojones to pull off.

  • Bolwerk has a point. You may have done only 9 stories focusing on him, but he gets mentioned in some story at least once a week.

  • Great idea! Too bad it won’t pass because it’s not another shakedown of motorists.

  • We support any activity that bolsters pedestrian safety! http://www.xwalk.com

  • Aunt Bike

    You might say Mr. Ignizio gets himself mentioned regularly.

  • Aunt Bike

    The problem is that installing timers for drivers to use to beat lights doesn’t necessarily bolster pedestrian safety.

    NYC DOT says pedestrian countdown signals have no effect on intersections with short crosswalk distances. This bill would have installed signals at intersections where they would have no effect.

    Bad law, not intended to bolster pedestrian safety.

  • Aunt Bike

    I’ll add that NYC DOT has been clear that pedestrian countdown timers have no effect on on pedestrian safety at intersections with short crosswalk distances. This bill would have timers installed at such intersections.

  • Joe R.

    I tend to think the countdown signals make things safer for pedestrians by allowing drivers to adjust their speed so they make the light while it’s still green, or at worst just flipping from yellow to red, instead of passing through on solid red. There are way too many times I’ve seen drivers gun it up to dangerous speeds when the don’t walk starts flashing simply because they have no idea if the light will turn after 3 flashes or 10. When you have a countdown timer you might find you only need to increase your speed slightly, or even not at all, to make a light. I personally find countdown timers great from a cycling perspective. If I’m a block away and the clock has 10 seconds or more, I can easily make the light. 7 to 9 seconds means I need to speed up a bit but I’ll still be OK. Less than 7, not a chance (unless I’m going downhill), so I don’t waste energy trying.

    In any case, I would say countdown timers are at worst safety neutral when it comes to motor traffic but they definitely help pedestrians and cyclists. That being the case, I’m not seeing the harm installing them at every signalized intersection as the signals come due for replacement.

    NYC needs a lot fewer signalized intersections but that’s another topic entirely. Drivers might not be so eager to try to make lights if there weren’t so many of them.

  • Aunt Bike

    I don’t doubt the signals might help drivers make the green. But it’s the drivers turning on green who hit pedestrians in crosswalks with the signal, not drivers blowing the red. (Maybe because they’re looking at a timer and doing math in their heads).

    I think that drivers intent on making the light rather than watching out for pedestrians could be why NYU Langone Medical Center recently found that 44 percent of patients hit by cars were in a crosswalk with the
    signal when hit. NYC DOT has cited driver inattention as a contributing factor in 36 percent of collisions. I don’t think it’s wise to give drivers another distraction.

    I think motorists should be approaching intersections with caution, not worrying about making the light, and I think it’s a waste of pedestrian safety equipment to use it for driver convenience. I don’t think drivers blow red lights because there are so many red lights, I think drivers blow red lights because they don’t care about their safety or anybody elses.

  • Joe R.

    Faliure to yield when turning is a huge problem in the city. I also happen to think it’s easily amenable to automated enforcement. If not, it should certainly be the number one moving violation on the NYPD’s enforcement radar.

    I’m not sure countdown signals are any more of a distraction than flashing don’t walks. Drivers will do anything they can to gain a minute here or there. The real problem is traffic signals themselves. Think about this for a minute. A driver making a turn is looking up at the traffic until they’re nearly in the intersection. If they’re turning left then they also scan for opposing traffic before turning. That’s one reason so many pedestrians get hit crossing with the light. I really feel NYC should be moving away from traffic signals. If we had roundabouts, or just uncontrolled intersections, a driver’s eyes wouldn’t be looking at traffic signals or countdown timers. They would be looking at whatever is right in front of them. This in turn would make things much safer for pedestrians.

  • MattyCiii

    Moron Driving, tell us about other shakedowns of motorists. Perhaps fining drivers $50 for speeding in a school zone for driving >41 mph (a speed where 9/10 of children hit will be killed) is a dastardly money grabbing scheme of the greedy city hall against non-criminal speeders hmmmmm?

    Sorry if my “W” is upside down and my “a” looks like an “o”, but you understand. Unless your grasp of reality is skewed (e.g., thinking that fining criminals is a “shakedown”).

  • Aunt Bike

    DC is experimenting with crosswalk cameras. I hope the NYPD gets their enforcement regarding failure to yield up.

    I don’t know how many of our intersections could be made into roundabouts, and I’m not sure if roundabouts work so well in dense urban areas like NY. I’ve actually crossed roads near roundabouts sans traffic signals while hiking in NY upstate and other states, and it’s extremely dangerous.

    I think there’s a popular belief that creating what you call “uncontrolled intersections” is a cure. But what they’re doing in Europe isn’t just removing traffic controls, they also remove parking spaces, narrow roads, institute the metric equivalent of a 12 mph speed limit, and require motorists to stop whenever a pedestrian enters the roadway, and other traffic calming devices.

  • Joe R.

    Uncontrolled intersections by their nature imply speeds of no more than ~20 mph. Any more than that and you need traffic controls to keep vehicles from colliding with each other.

  • Aunt Bike

    What’s going to keep them from colliding with pedestrians? I don’t want to be hit by a car even if it’s only going 20.

    I’ve been in towns in New England where you step into a painted crosswalk and traffic stops in both directions. In NY, it’s common to step into a crosswalk with the legal right of way, and the turning motorists don’t stop unless you step out into the danger zone. Some of them swerve around you instead of stop. There are some things that work well in some cities that just don’t work with New York drivers.

  • Joe R.

    The behavior you observe is really a product of culture combined with lack of enforcement. Obviously the concept of stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks works elswhere. It can be made to work in NYC if we can get infrastructure chances plus more consistent enforcement, combined with driver education/reeducation. I also feel a lot of the downright sociopathic driving behavior I see is a product of the streets being too congested. People will do literally anything to save a few seconds, even stupid things which put others in danger. For a bunch of reasons, including safety, I think it’s imperative that NYC put measures in place to radically reduce traffic levels.

    All that said, there are a number of less congested places in the outer boroughs where we could experiment with removing traffic signals, perhaps replacing them with 4-way yields, or roundabouts if the space permits.

  • Eric McClure

    Mr. Ignizio’s legislation should get precisely the support that someone whose party controls fewer than 6% of the votes in the City Council deserves.

    Buh-bye!

  • sammy davis jr jr

    I never understood why we never annexed Staten Island to NJ. It’s geographically part of NJ but I guess NJ didn’t want them either. We should have at least heeded their 1993 referendum and let them secede.

  • Aunt Bike

    NYC is going everything you mentioned but the roundabouts which can’t be put in unless we bulldoze existing intersections, and removing traffic control which is just part of what’s going on in Europe. What they’re actually doing is removing traditional traffic controls and substituting others.

    Let’s get back to the thread topic, which is whether Ignizio’s proposed measure bolsters pedestrian safety. I don’t think it does. I don’t think it is meant to.

  • Aunt Bike

    He’s not gone yet. And Democrats Peter Koo and Helen Rosenthal have signed on as co-sponsors of the above bill, Intro 0071-2014.

    Debi Rose and James Vacca have promised to review the bill, but it would help if people contacted their council member, especially if they are on the Transportation Committee, and expressed their concerns.

  • Joe R.

    The bill is obviously framed as something to benefit drivers, not pedestrians. And if timers are put at all intersections with red light cameras this will undoubtedly be true. My guess is this is his way of doing an end run around to get something he wants by repurposing countdown timers as signal countdown clocks. He could have just asked for the latter in the bill (and they do exist in some places) but then it would have been patently obvious that he only cared about drivers. By using countdown timers, to a layperson it might look like he also cares about pedestrian safety.

    You’re probably right here-the countdown timers aren’t going to add anything to pedestrian safety because just like the walk/don’t walk signals they’re universally ignored by most people on foot. 99 times out of 100 I don’t even know or care about the state of the signal when I’m crossing a street. If it’s clear, I cross, if not I don’t.

    I’ll make Ignizio a counter-proposal. Instead of countdown timers, why not have number boards next to each traffic signal which continuously display and update the speed you need to drive to make the next traffic signal. Maybe if drivers see a big 22 or 18 or some other number well under 50 mph they’ll start to get it through their heads that they don’t need to floor it every time they get a green light.

  • Aunt Bike

    Well, you can call his office with your counter proposal. 718-984-5151

    I don’t want to repeat my feelings about how dangerous it is to further enable drivers to beat lights. The motorists already have the advantage over pedestrians who just want to cross the street in one piece. I think the emphasis on driver convenience over safety is sad.

  • al

    Drivers already can use of crosswalk timers at crosswalks. Crosswalk lights show WALK when there are no conflicting traffic phases. If you’re driving south on a street and have the green, the crosswalks parallel to your travel path crossing the street north/south display the “WALK” signal. As the time draws near, for a signal phase change, the crosswalks will show time left and Flash DONT WALK. Even signals without the timers flash “DONT WALK” in a manner visible, and somewhat usable, to concurrent parallel auto traffic.

  • Aunt Bike

    So we don’t need a law that misuses pedestrian safety devices, because the drivers are already misusing pedestrian safety devices!

    Seriously, this is probably just an attempt by Mr. Ignizio to look good to his driving constituency. But the bill picked up two co sponsors within a week of it being introduced, so somebody likes it.

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