Oakland Pedestrian Signal

The Oakland Department of Transformation, a grassroots advocacy group, has installed stickers at pedestrian “beg” buttons across the City. Source: @OakDOTr via Twitter

In 2015, Oakland enacted a Pedestrian Signal Policy intended to fix its frustrating and nonsensical crosswalk signals, a hindrance to the City’s walkability. The City previously installed hundreds of “beg buttons” that defaulted to a “Don’t Walk” phase unless pedestrians pushed the call button to cross – even if a green light phase could more than accommodate a walk signal automatically (known as a recall phase).

Inefficient and unintuitive, beg buttons confused pedestrians and made crossing behavior less predictable (why wait two minutes when you can cross in ten seconds?). The Pedestrian Signal Policy sought to change this automobile-oriented practice by establishing clear thresholds for the application of recall phases that City staff could implement.

Thre Years Later Oakland is No More Walkable

Nearly three years later, the Pedestrian Signal Policy hasn’t yet translated into more walkable streets. Many egregious examples of beg buttons without recall persist – such as in front of the West Oakland BART Station at 7th & Mandela, at the Uptown Transit Center at 20th & Telegraph, and at high volume crosswalks along commercial corridors like Broadway, Grand, and College.

Maintenance requests via SeeClickFix to bring signals into compliance have been largely ignored. Frustrated with the slow pace of implementation, the Oakland Department of Transformation, an advocacy group, has launched a #GivePedsTheGreen campaign, putting up stickers shaming the City at noncompliant beg buttons across the City.

Even as the City slowly rolls out a handful of signal fixes, the limitations of the Pedestrian Signal Policy are apparent. Last month, the pedestrian recall was finally implemented at the entrance to MacArthur BART on 40th Street, but only from 7AM to 7PM on weekdays as determined by the policy.

By ignoring people walking during mornings, evenings, and weekends, the City maintains a confusing condition that holds pedestrians responsible for remembering when they should or should not push a beg button. The Pedestrian Signal Policy lacks teeth in other areas as well: it excludes many worthy intersections due to high volume thresholds and exempts most transit corridors (paradoxically prioritizing bus and auto speeds over bus rider access).

An overly-complex, poorly maintained system of capricious and unresponsive pedestrian signals makes Oakland’s streets less safe. Beg buttons have no place in Oakland’s urban context: the risks associated with widespread disregard of Don’t Walk signals outweighs any benefit of reducing auto delay. For Oakland to become a “walker’s paradise,” it needs to #GivePedsTheGreen.

Author Photo

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Since 1972 he has been helping seriously injured victims throughout northern California fight & win their personal injury cases. Andy is one of the top awarded & recognized wrongful death lawyers in northern California.