Pedestrian Signals

Years ago when traffic volumes were much lower, pedestrians could take their cues from the same traffic lights as motorists. Things are more complicated today, and it is not surprising that questions are frequently asked about pedestrian signals.

Why are pedestrian signals available at some intersections and not at others?

Pedestrian signals are installed for two main reasons: a high volume of foot traffic at an intersection or the signals directing motorists don’t meet the needs of pedestrians. For example, some intersections are laid out at odd angles, and traffic signals can’t be seen by pedestrians. In other cases, turning and merging lanes make intersections so complex that special provisions must be made for pedestrians.

Shouldn't pedestrian signals be available at every intersection? Wouldn’t that make things safer?

If existing traffic signals meet the needs of people on foot - the signals are easy to see and provide plenty of time to cross safely - there is no need for pedestrian signals. Pedestrian signals won’t improve safety in such cases and are costly to purchase, install and operate.

Why are the words “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” being replaced by symbols?

In the case of pedestrian signals, both “word” and “symbol” types are currently in use. Transportation engineers worldwide are moving toward use of symbol signs in place of word signs because they are easier for people to comprehend in a shorter amount of time. Easily recognized symbols also help people who can’t read English.

"Walk" or walking person symbol is an invitation to begin crossing.

A flashing orange "Don't Walk" or an upraised hand symbol means it’s too late to begin crossing, but finish crossing if you have already started. This interval provides enough time to completely cross the intersection once started.

A steady orange "Don't Walk" or an upraised hand symbol means do not enter the street.

Why does it always say “Don’t Walk” before I’ve completed crossing the street?

The flashing orange "Don’t Walk" or upraised hand is a warning to people who have not yet entered the intersections that it’s too late to safely begin crossing the street before the traffic signal changes allowing cars to proceed. Signals are timed to allow plenty of time for people who have already started walking to safely cross the street.

Is it really necessary for me to push a button to activate the pedestrian signal? Can’t I just wait for the light to change?

Where buttons are available to pedestrians, it’s because the traffic signal operations is set for vehicular traffic rather than for people on foot. Pushing the pedestrian button tells the traffic signal you are there so it can adjust its operation. If you don’t activate the pedestrian signal by pushing the button, the traffic light may not change to green or may not give you enough time to safely cross the street. You only need to push the button once for it to be activated.

Can I count on a safe crossing if I carefully follow the pedestrian signals?

The signals assign your legal rights in the intersection. However, it is important to be cautious when crossing busy intersections. Follow these suggestions:

  • Cross intersections defensively. Watch carefully for vehicles turning into your path.
  • When crossing the street, regardless of the availability of signals, cross as quickly as possible. Minimize your time in the roadway.
  • Always watch for turning vehicles. You have the legal right to be there, but that doesn’t protect you from careless motorists.