Streetfilms: 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 to step on
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

  • In California, we call these blinking lights at ground level Santa Rosa Lights (because they were first used in Santa Rosa), and they don’t seem to be very effective, particularly during the day. Drivers know they mean someone is crossing and they should be careful, but drivers don’t know that they mean they should stop.

    Something much more effective and about the same cost is a standard traffic light on a mast, but with a red light/green light just on the major street that the pedestrian is crossing, not on the cross street. This is much cheaper than the usual traffic light facing both the major street and the cross street, and drivers all stop when they see the red light. I believe this is used in Arizona, but it is not yet approved in California.

    I would like to see it approved and used instead of Santa Rosa lights.

  • I’m no expert on the effectiveness of this treatment, but I find the universal accessibility of it particularly interesting. The activator is the ADA curb ramp – those with disabilities don’t need to search for the activator, as they’ll be moving across it already.

  • Ive seen this in Fresno on a street that sees maybe 5 cars per hour. A beeping noise accompanies the lights.

  • Jacob Lee

    They have one of these at the University of Illinois in Urbana, IL (i.e. UIUC). It’s coupled with several other features:
    – curb bulb-out (the roadway there is one narrow lane in each direction)
    – extremely wide zebra crossing
    – yellow bollard-shaped pedestrian x-ing sign between the lanes

    All in all, you could practically cross the street there blindfolded without stopping. It also helps that that particular spot on the engineering campus has an extremely high volume of pedestrian traffic. The street tends to be quite busy as well, but the road features definitely favor the pedestrians.

  • Again another great video and a neat concept.

    However I’ve heard the that in-street warning lights are prone to failure particularly in environments with snow and therefore plows and salt. There are about a dozen or so installations here in New Jersey and I’ve heard that some at least, have had problems.

    In the same vein, if the truncated-dome strip is the switch, then it would seem that piles of plowed snow would also activate the lights. Hopefully the engineers work out that problem.

  • Jacob – I just realized from the overhead video I shot there is also a bulbout at this location.

    Stefanie – That was the aspect I enjoyed most about it, it is activated very easily by all users. Even children don’t have to know how to press a button when they touch the ADA curb. It was actually funny watching how when a few people activated it and were surprised (unfortunately didn’t have my camera it tow when I first observed it…)

    We have had alot of cool comments on the three Streetsblogs and Streetfilms sites. Keep ’em coming, but let me just say, one viewer thought they were useless and thought it was better to have a stop sign. Sure a stop sign or traffic calming might be better, but this road is well traveled at rush hour and as you can see from the roadway overhead shot, I am sure the Seattle DOT might have installed this because both of those were not options for them. (As I said I am guessing because after looking about 20 minutes, I couldn’t find any research ANYWHERE about this installation.)

    I’d much rather have a blinky light crosswalk vs. just painted.

  • I prefer the design I saw in Fresno. At the curbs, there are two raised (but nice looking) poles. When you pass between them, the lights are activated. Probably uses a basic IR system like those at stores that beep when someone walks in.

  • t joey

    The University at Albany has a version between the academic buildings and a set of dorms and is motion activated. Each side of the crosswalk as a set of bollards with infrared beams (or something to that effect) and detects movement and activates the the lights and ped xing sign. Additionally, the lights are sunken into the ground defeated the snow plow problem and making them a bit more visually apparent in the daylight. They certainly work when I’m driving towards the intersection. So many lights flash at once its nerve rattling to the driver. Slows me down for sure.

  • Michael1

    This is a novel idea and I’m sure that if the DOT installed these flashing crosswalks, especially for crosswalks at the entrance and exits of highways, such as the BQE at 65 Place or the LIE at Woodhaven Blvd, it would be a great measure in terms of safety. In response to Charles Seigel’s comment, the video shows drivers obeying the signal well. However, one improvement, to avoid a full signal, could be to use a flashing red and red lights on ground, which means stop, instead of yellow. I’m sure this will be greatly useful at crosswalks near schools.

  • Pedo Sapien

    Crosswalk floodlights activated in the same manner are more effective because they illuminate the pedestrian. There have been issues with the blinking lights like drivers claiming to be confused by them and still getting into accidents.

    Vancouver has tried both and found the floodlights to be far more effective. Although, in defense of the blinkers, it would be fun to walk down those crosswalks.

  • Pedo Sapien

    How long do the lights stay on (may be an issue for slower walkers)? Is the cycle time based, or are there sensors all along the crosswalk detecting peds?

  • From a practical point of view, I think about a driver who gets used to these things, and does not notice pedestrians making other legal crossings.

    Just like reflective vests for cyclists, this is another example of “hyperillumination” which responds to energy intensity (private cars) with even more current.

    Looking at the larger picture, this is just a further demarcation of space on the streets. In a negative direction. A crosswalk helps to preserve 95% of the street for cars.

    A few years ago in Berkeley, pedestrians were offered flags to waive around whilst they crossed a busy street. Perhaps we can say that this blinking light gimmick is version 2.0. Don’t forget that when cars were first introduced someone had to walk in front of them, waiving a flag. The need for this has been tempered by the evolution of a street into a pedestrian-exclusion zone, where children have to memorize “look both ways before crossing” as if crossing the street was the only action allowed for pedestrians. Children fear the middle of the street.

    We raise our children to cling for dear life onto the sides of one of our greatest inventions.

  • auderey

    i used these crosswalks regularly when i lived in seattle. there are others at a high-pedestrian-traffic mid-block crossing at seattle university. despite their promise, i found that cars quickly began to ignore them; within a few months, the flashing lights were no longer any more effective than the original crosswalk had been. so i worry (like previous posters) about information fatigue of drivers.

  • Clarence


    It was time-based as much as I could observe. I would estimate it gave you about 30 seconds. But could have been even longer.

    One weird thing also: if you cross the street after activating the lights and then step on the pad on the other side, it just would re-start the cycle. That part of it seemed a little odd, but you know me, no problem stepping again and watching the lights twinkle from the other side.

  • In addition to the U.Albany pedestrian crossing just installed last summer, I saw a very similar system (with IR detector rather than pressure sensors) the year before in Williamstown, MA (home of Williams College) – it seems that these kinds of crossings are more common on university campuses, where there are often large numbers of pedestrians walking between dorms and classes.



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