The Traffic Signal Network

Pedestrian Signals

by Arthur J. Dock


Pedestrian signals are special types of traffic signal indications installed for the exclusive purpose of controlling pedestrian traffic. Pedestrian signals have evolved over the years and are now effective, sophisticated traffic controls. Unfortunately, there are common misconceptions held by the very people they are designed to serve. This document tells how pedestrian signals function and what the indications mean.

Types and Why They Are Installed

There are two types of pedestrian signals; those with pedestrian detectors ('Push-to-Walk' buttons) and those without detection. Pedestrian detectors are normally installed at intersections when:

What Do The Indications Mean?

Pedestrian signals consist of the words [WALK] and [DONT WALK] or the symbols [MAN] and [HAND].

Common Misconceptions

There are several misconceptions about pedestrian signals and pedestrian detectors. They include:

Some pedestrians fail to push available detector buttons and proceed to cross the street by watching the vehicle indications instead of the pedestrian indications. Vehicles normally move faster than pedestrians, so the green time needed for them to cross an intersection is typically much less than what a pedestrian would need. If the pedestrian detector button isn't pressed, the pedestrian indication will continue to display 'dont walk' and any green vehicle indication that is displayed may be too short to allow the pedestrian sufficient time to completely cross the roadway before opposing vehicles are given the green. Crossing against a steady 'dont walk' is not only dangerous, *It Is Illegal* (in Arizona, it is enforceable under A.R.S. 28-646). If a pedestrian detector button is provided, use it every time you cross the street.

Some intersections don't have pedestrian detector buttons or may not have detectors for all directions. If there are no detector buttons but there are pedestrian indications, the 'walk' will be displayed automatically. This operation is referred to as 'pedestrian recall' or 'ped recall'. There are many intersections where the pedestrian indications on the main street are on ped recall with no detector buttons but there are buttons for the side street pedestrian indicators. If there is a button with an arrow pointing in the direction you are going to cross, press it.

*Wrong!* Traffic signals that are running under a coordinated system can only display the side street at given intervals when it will not interfere with the main street traffic flow. Whether a pedestrian or vehicle is detected, the amount of delay experienced on the side street is the same. By the time a driver gets out of their vehicle and runs over to press the pedestrian detection button, the signal is typically about to change anyway! Vehicle drivers who press the pedestrian button in hopes of 'speeding up' the traffic signal only manage to cause excessive delays for other drivers on the main street as the signal cycles through a lengthy 'walk' and flashing 'dont walk' sequence. Please be considerate of others and don't risk your safety for nothing: stay in your car. Remember, pedestrian buttons are for pedestrians.

Pedestrian Responsibilities

Pedestrian signals assign right-of-way to pedestrians in much the same way as vehicular signals do for vehicular traffic. However, they are no guarantee of safety. Pedestrians still have to exercise sound judgement when crossing a roadway. *Always* be attentive and watch for possible vehicular traffic turning across your path. By law, vehicles have to yield to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection. However, in a contest between flesh and steel, flesh loses every time. Be alert and always cross intersections defensively!

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