Countdown to Confusion

Pedestrians countdown time runs down to 0 The law of unintended consequences is the only law the countdown walk/don’t walk lights facilitate.  They don’t help the laws meant to mediate between the autos and the people as far as I can tell.

The lights have been installed all over San Francisco, and they are widely touted as an improvement in traffic safety.

I wonder. 

There are many intersections where the stream of foot traffic is steady.  With the seconds flashing like they’re predicting a space launch, there never seems a time when pedestrians are simply supposed to stop.  Instead the signal tells the walkers if they can stroll or must sprint.

Personally, when I am on foot I rarely decide I must wait.  After all, I can leap across streets in three seconds if I have to! 

Of  course when I am in my car the timer makes me a wreck.  Just when I think I can safely make a left turn on a yellowing light, a guy will leap from the darkened sidewalk and  into the intersection.  He’s satisfied with the knowledge that he can jump to the other side in the remaining two seconds on the clock.  If I don’t hit him.  The fact that he suddenly appears in front my moving car doesn’t disturb his righteous calmness at all.

Were the timer signals really supposed to be permanent “walk” signs?  What are the new rules to our crosswalks and roads?

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3 Responses to Countdown to Confusion

  1. fuzzygruf says:

    As a SF pedestrian for 5 years, I guess I see it differently. When we only had the flash/no-flash DON’T WALK signs, pedestrians had no idea if it was the first flash or last flash. The countdown helps a lot.

    The first year these were put in at just a few of the trouble spots, accidents with pedestrians decreased signifcantly. I’m sure they continue to go down.

    But I guess your point is the bad pedestrians. Well, could you imagine how bad they’d be behind the wheel? Eek.

    Even worse is that I’m seeing certain pedestrians just jaywalking without bothering or caring to look. They might even see you, but demand that you stop for them, “daring” you to hit them. How I wish someone would!

    • ozdachs says:

      Yeah, but not all are bad pedestrians. It is just so darn tempting to walk when you know you can make it!

      You’re right about “worse” pedestrians, though. Those cell-phone focused jaywalkers that purposely defy cars are very scary. I’m glad they aren’t driving.

  2. allanh says:

    Next time you’re in Vancouver, talk with . He works for a company that designs and installs traffic systems.

    According to my recollection, he told me that most cities adore the “countdown” signs because they not only reduce pedestrian/auto accidents, they also supposedly reduce the city’s liability from pedestrian lawsuits.

    The theory seems to be: if one is stupid enough to start crossing the street on “3..2..1..”, then one is probably too stupid to win a traffic lawsuit against the city for a too-short walk light when injury occurs.

    I also recall him telling me that the electronics and displays required for countdown signals are fiendishly expensive compared to standard signals, though I couldn’t tell you what the cost comparisons are.

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