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Signal Timing and Pedestrian Safety: A Case Study From Baltimore

11:03 AM EDT on April 27, 2011

Here’s a good way to get a sense of the importance a given city assigns to the well-being of pedestrians: press the “walk” button at an intersection. Then look at your watch.

It may not be a perfect measure, but there certainly seems to be a correlation in Baltimore. The signal timing at several intersections in the southeast part of the city is prompting outrage by citizens who say a deference to motorists makes pedestrians second-class street users and threatens their safety. Rebecca Smith, founder of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance, summarized the issue recently in a letter to the Baltimore Sun.

Crossing the road is dangerous in Baltimore thanks in part to crossing signals that force pedestrians to wait or run. Photo: Baltimore Sun

Meanwhile, Network blog Baltimore Spokes points out that pedestrians account for 42 percent of city traffic fatalities:

Seriously, don’t walk in Baltimore. We have the highest count of pedestrians in traffic crashes of any other county.

Pedestrian signal timing is such that you can’t cross when the signal is green for cars and you can’t cross when the signal is red. Then, finally you have four seconds to get across the road, that is assuming you pressed that button.

Like Rebecca we are wondering where the City’s Complete Street Policy is in all this.

Smith and Baltimore Spokes are have requested that the offending signals be returned to their original timing. Secondly, Smith has requested that a walk signal be included in every sequence of signals, whether or not the button is activated. Finally, she asks that there be a countdown mechanism that gives pedestrians a clear sense of the timing of oncoming traffic.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Next Stop STL explains how the St. Louis region’s transit agency, Metro, played a critical role in the aftermath of the tornadoes that touched down Friday. PubliCola examines the claim of King County Executive Dow Constantine that anti-tunnel advocates in Seattle are attempting to force people to “abandon their cars.” And Grist comments on the irony of a sprawling development an hour-and-a-half outside Phoenix that is marketing itself as “green” by virtue of its rooftop solar panels.

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