Volume 76, Number 28 | December 6 - 12, 2006
Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel
One of the new crosswalk signals at Eighth St. and Sixth Ave. showing 17 seconds left to the cross the avenue, above; the countdown starts at 21 seconds. Below, the new pilot-program crossing light showed a woman with her dog was cutting it close by trying to cross the avenue in just four seconds.
Pedestrians like being on the clock at W. 8th St.
By Lori Haught
While the city Department of Transportation isn’t ready to weigh in yet on its pilot program using countdown streetlight signals for pedestrians, Village residents have already started passing judgment.
The new signals feature a countdown once the light turns from the white walking figure to the red flashing caution hand, allowing pedestrians to know exactly how many seconds they have to cross the street. The prototype lights have been placed at key intersections in Manhattan, Staten Island, the Bronx and Queens.
Pedestrians crossing Sixth Ave. at W. Eighth St. have altered their crossing habits accordingly.
The streetlight changes to the flashing hand and countdown about 10 seconds after the walk signal appears. To those who cross the street on the walk signal, it has largely gone unnoticed; but to some who approach the intersection too late, it has become a valuable reminder about crossing on the blinking hand.
“I think, psychologically, people will think twice about crossing on a blinking one based on how much time they have,” said Shawn Van Every, one pedestrian who avoided crossing the street when he saw he had only one second before it turned into a stop symbol. “It will help traffic flow and inform people’s decisions.”
Daralee Schulman said she hadn’t even noticed the switch but said she had been doing something similar for a while.
“I used to count to 17 when I started, so I knew that if I saw it turn I could get across,” she said. Schulman the new signals are a good idea since most people probably don’t think to count. “It can’t hurt.”
The Villager visited the intersection at key times during the workday: Morning rush, lunch hour and evening rush. The busiest time by far was during lunch. During the morning and evening hours most people were hurrying and didn’t notice the change to the new light.
Lunch was the time when it seemed the timer was the most needed and the most used. During the lunch hour parents were out strolling with young children, businessmen and -women meandered across while talking on cell phones, the elderly were shopping and school children were making their way to the Starbucks for a lunchtime coffee.
Based on observations and The Villager’s own experiments, an average person can cross Eighth St. at Sixth Ave. at the average brisk New York walk with around five seconds left on the new countdown timer. But the timer has made many more cautious now.
Standing at the intersection, Michael Levine said he would think twice about walking once the countdown went below 10 or 12 seconds.
Over all there was no one with negative comments on the new signal.
Cynthia, who declined to give her last name, said she traversed the intersection often. She had stopped short of crossing after noting she only had two seconds left.
“They should put it on every intersection in New York,” she said. “We don’t have kind drivers or sane pedestrians.”