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Crosswalk usability

Posted: September 4th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Web Services | 20 Comments »

Crosswalk

Today the City of Lawrence announced the operational status of a new crosswalk on 11th between New York and New Jersey. I’m a big fan of pedestrian safety, especially when it benefits kids on the way to school, but I was a little confused about the description of the new crosswalk and related signaling:

The unique design consists of three lights (two reds and one yellow) configured like an inverted triangle. The signal remains dark until activated by a pedestrian pushing a button. The signal then flashes yellow for approximately six seconds followed by a steady yellow for approximately four seconds and followed by a double, steady red during the time pedestrians are receiving a “walk” signal. Once the pedestrian display changes to “Don’t Walk,” the motorist’s signal changes to alternating flashing red. During the flashing red, motorists may proceed through the crosswalk after stopping if the pedestrian has completed crossing.

The operation of this crosswalk appears straightforward from the pedestrian point of view. Press button; wait for walk signal; walk across. Things are a bit more vague for motorists. Here are several questions I can think of with answers inferred from the press release and tri-fold pamphlet, along with some common sense:

What do I do if someone is crossing in the crosswalk?
Stop and wait for the person to finish crossing.
What do I do if the bottom yellow light is flashing?
This means that a pedestrian has just activated the signal. It’s probably best to slow to a stop and allow the person to cross.
What do I do if the bottom yellow light is solid?
A pedestrian activated the signal a few seconds ago and is waiting to cross. It’s probably best to slow to a stop and allow the person to cross.
What do I do if the top two lights are red?
The two red lights are equivalent to a stop sign or red light and you are required to stop at or before the line to let the pedestrian cross
What do I do if the two red lights are alternating flashing red?
If there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk you must either stop or continue to stop. If the pedestrian has cleared the crosswalk you may proceed.

While I think that a crosswalk with lights to indicate it is in use is a great thing, some simplification could be done here. With all of the various light states above, the following always applies:

What do I do if someone is crossing in the crosswalk?
Stop and wait for the person to finish crossing.

Perhaps it would be best to reduce the crosswalk to a binary state: either someone has pushed the button and the crosswalk is lit, or it is not in use and therefore not lit. This would reduce the four light states in to one single state and greatly simplifies what a driver needs to keep track of. If you would like to give the driver warning, use a solid red preceded by a solid yellow for a few seconds. This would closer emulate the traffic signal that drivers are used to obeying. I have seen other crosswalks that flash yellow and transition to solid yellow. Either of these solutions seem simpler and more effective than the High Intensity Activated crossWalK described above.


20 Comments on “Crosswalk usability”

  1. 1 Tim Hibbard said at 2:04 pm on September 4th, 2007:

    By the time I remember what I’m supposed to do given the state of the lights, the pedestrain is going to be my new hood ornament!

    What happened to green, yellow and red? I like those much better.

  2. 2 dustin said at 2:06 pm on September 4th, 2007:

    Flashing Yellow – 50 pts. ; Solid Yellow – 100 pts. ; Red – 500 pts.

  3. 3 Erik said at 12:14 am on September 5th, 2007:

    Wow… Confuse drivers when they need to be paying attention to pedestrians. Great design. I wonder how much usability testing this new signage received.

    In all seriousness though, we do have a few design patterns for crosswalks already — but unless you go with stop-lights or stop-signs, they’re met with mixed results. There are a couple crosswalks near our office (generally just before, or just after an intersection) that are quite dangerous to use. Even the one’s that flash lights embedded in the street are only slightly more safe, and you still want to wait until all traffic has stopped before taking more then a step or two.

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