The City of Oakland recently unveiled a new pedestrian signal policy intended to streamline the implementation of more pedestrian-friendly intersections. We’ve written at length about how Oakland’s implementation of automobile-oriented traffic signals threatens its walkability. As the City has switched…
Oakland has a lot of strange, poorly-designed pedestrian signals, but we think we’ve found the worst example in the City at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Euclid Avenue. By over-engineering a simple sidewalk, Oakland has created a more hazardous condition where thousands of people break the law every day.
Along Grand Avenue at Euclid Avenue, the southern (lakeside) sidewalk is intersected by a small driveway that occasionally serves as an entrance for City service vehicles to access the lakeside trail. Despite its daily use by thousands of pedestrians versus maybe one or two City maintenance vehicles, the sidewalk is controlled by an actuated pedestrian signal that defaults to “Don’t Walk” during all phases – even when the corresponding light is green, as shown in the image above. To lawfully continue walking on the sidewalk, pedestrians are expected to push a button and wait for the signal to change.
To reiterate this point: one or two City-operated maintenance vehicles are given free movement through the driveway, while thousands of pedestrians must request to continue walking along a sidewalk.
How many people actually stop to push the button? On Saturday, we stopped for fifteen minutes and watched over a hundred people walk by. Unsurprisingly, not a single person pushed the walk button; everyone disregarded the “Don’t Walk” signal and continued walking on the sidewalk.
The City probably installed the pedestrian signal based on a flawed reading of California’s MUTCD standards that would classify the service driveway as warranting a signal.
“If [a traffic signal] is installed at an intersection or major driveway location, the traffic control signal should also control the minor-street or driveway traffic, should be traffic-actuated, and should include pedestrian detection.” (CA-MUTCD, Section 4C.06).
However, MUTCD also states that signals are not required for driveways that do not generate noticeable traffic:
“Existing Driveways at Existing Signalized Intersections. A private driveway that constitutes a leg at an existing signalized intersection should be treated as follows: 1. If the driveway does not generate appreciable traffic, no control is required. 2. If the driveway serves an area that generates sufficient traffic to constitute a problem, it should be controlled. One example of control is the use of a red flashing beacon and/or a Right Turn Arrow ONLY (R3-5R) sign to control egress from the private driveway. Another would be to provide signal indications for the private driveway.” (CA-MUTCD, Section 4B.106).
If nobody pays attention to a pedestrian signal, does it matter? We think so. A poorly-designed pedestrian signal compromises the integrity of a key traffic control device: the City is essentially saying that its pedestrian controls are irrelevant and not to be trusted. A dismissive view of pedestrian signals is not a path toward safe streets.
And it gets worse.
Ironically, in their literal interpretation of the MUTCD, the City cut corners and created a noncompliant, hazardous design. The MUTCD recommends against placing two push buttons adjacent to each other due to potential confusion between audio signals for the visually impaired. Ideally, accessible push buttons should be placed greater than ten feet apart. If two buttons must be placed on the same pole, MUTCD states:
“Where two accessible pedestrian signals on one corner are not separated by a distance of at least 10 feet, the audible walk indication shall be a speech walk message… If speech walk messages are used to communicate the walk interval, they shall provide a clear message that the walk interval is in effect, as well as to which crossing it applies. Speech walk messages shall be used only at intersections where it is technically infeasible to install two accessible pedestrian signals at one corner separated by a distance of at least 10 feet.” (CA-MUTCD, Section 4E.11).
As shown in the video below, the adjacent signals at this intersection do not include a speech walk message; instead, they include a percussion tone for an indistinguishable direction which could mislead someone who is visually impaired. Therefore, the superfluous signals actually make the intersection more confusing and more dangerous.
• Oakland has installed an unnecessary pedestrian signal along a busy sidewalk that is not required by state traffic engineering standards
• The signal defaults to “Don’t Walk” unless pushed; consequently, thousands of people ignore it every day and break the law, compromising its integrity
• The push buttons are incorrectly designed such that they make the intersection more dangerous for visually-impaired pedestrians
This signal represents a great example of why OakDOT and the City’s new pedestrian signal policy are both so badly needed: the City hasn’t had effective policies and enough staff to address these issues. As Oakland finally puts adequate resources into transportation, let’s hope that the Grand/Euclid intersection and countless other dysfunctional pedestrian crossings are addressed. To be clear, enforcing this signal would be silly – it would benefit no one. The pedestrian signal at Grand/Euclid doesn’t need to be fixed; it needs to be removed. Anything short of removal may require Stanley Roberts to start a new segment called “Engineers Behaving Badly.”
Have you found a worse pedestrian signal in Oakland? Please share in the comments.
Edit: It appears the video may not be displaying correctly on some browsers. If you’d like to view the video directly, please use this link.