The Invisible Pedestrian

Pedestrian SignalOn a morning walk I found myself facing another pedestrian across a busy intersection while we waited for the traffic signal to change. She was facing me but keeping an eye on the van waiting beside her at the red light signalling a right turn. As I watched the situation unfold I was impressed with this woman's street smarts.

Smart Pedestrian

When the light changed to green for the van and to walk for her, she stood her ground instead of stepping into the crosswalk. It's a good thing because the van driver had one hand on the steering wheel, one hand on his cell phone and likely both eyes on the traffic light. She may as well have been invisible.

Me First Driver

As soon as the light changed the driver accelerated and turned right without even bothering to shoulder check. Even that should not have mattered had he scanned his environment and considered his situation while he waited. He would have realized that he needed to wait for the pedestrian to cross before he made his turn.

Walk Signal Privilege

Unlike crosswalks that are not controlled by traffic signals there is no need for the pedestrian to step into the crosswalk before traffic is required to yield. When the walk light comes on, vehicular traffic is required to yield to pedestrians who will use the crosswalk as they have the right of way.

Leading Pedestrian Intervals

A simple step that can increase pedestrian safety by up to 60% is to change the existing signal timing to implement a leading pedestrian interval (LPI). The walk signal for pedestrians appears 3 to 7 seconds before a green light is given to vehicles moving in the same direction. This makes the pedestrians more visible to drivers.

LPIs work best at intersections where right turns on red are forbidden.

Leading Bike Intervals

If there is a cycle lane through the intersection, a leading bike interval can be implemented to coincide with the leading pedestrian interval. This has protection benefits for cyclists too.

Bad for Business

We shook our heads as we passed by each other and she rolled her eyes when I asked what had happened to the requirement to yield to pedestrians. My second thought is that this van was boldly marked with the name of the business it was associated with. This is the kind of advertising that a business would not want!

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Something that I first noticed being applied in Montreal back in 2005 on some one-way arterial streets, was the advent of pedestrian 'Walk' signals being activated in advance of the signal allowing a turn. So the 'Go Straight' green arrow for vehicles would happen first, and simultaneously to the 'Walk' signal; after a few seconds (to allow the crosswalk to fill up with pedestrians) this would become a solid green, allowing turning vehicles to then move - but with those pedestrians clearly visible in their path.

These days, here in BC, we're seeing an increasing number of intersections doing something similar, where the 'Walk' signal releases the pedestrians a few seconds before the light goes green to allow vehicle movement.

The bottom line is, generally speaking, drivers do not have collisions with what they've seen. It's what they didn't see - or not soon enough - that they crash into. Including pedestrians ... 

Here's a great piece of footage (digitally upgraded) from New York in the 1940's.

Traffic lights were rare back then. And I don't think there were any rules allowing pedestrian right-of-way (never mind traffic lanes).

So without any rules to govern behaviour - other than driving on the right side of the road - we see how many pedestrians choose to cross (european style) mid-block, timing themselves to avoid the vehicles. Meanwhile, other pedestrians - a majority, I reckon - choose to gather in small bunches at intersections, waiting for an opportunity to move en masse when there's a sufficient gap in traffic there.

None of them ever assume a right-of-way though. Which is what keeps them alive and uninjured, remarkably enough!

I'll raise you an invisible white F350 Superduty XLT, full-size quad cab with extended bed, full head-lights, orange roof lights and corner markers.

Was coming through Okanagan connector in Merrit at night heading from Kelowna to Vancouver, there's a traffic light intersection there. The light was red and there was a double trailer semi in-front of me waiting to turn left across my lane. The light changed to green as I was about 200 meters away from the intersection going 80km/h on cruise, the semi wasn't moving. I even noted to myself how nice the driver was to notice me from that far away and not try to sneak a left, which was doable, but would definitely make me hit brakes for his tail end to clear, so I maintained speed.

I was about 50 meters away from the intersection when the semi suddenly came to life - started rowing gears and cranked a hard-left into my lane as if I was invisible. There was no time to brake or turn, I was faced with a big chrome bumper of a fully loaded semi half-way in my lane, and a "safety" isle to my right with concrete curbs and two metal poles on it.

I managed to barely squeeze myself between the semi and the curb, having less than a foot of space on either side. The semi driver hit full brakes just after I cleared, gee thanks.

Yeah, I drive a white E350 LWB with red lettering on it, and sometimes you gotta wonder how big and obvious you have to be, to other 'professional' drivers, or to pedestrians. And skateboarders, and electric scooter riders, and bicycles ... and they are the most vulnerable road users.

The other day, I saw a young mother, riding her electric bicycle with the two occupied kid seats along quite a busy arterial in front of my home. School had just got out, so there were multidinous pedestrians - including many kids - and lots of other moms in their SUVs.

She was on the phone ...