Arthur Slabosky, P.E.
|September 25, 2002|
There is no need to put pedestrian actuated signals at all roundabout crosswalks. Both sides on this issue are approaching it mechanistically as only a design issue, with no recognition of a role for education and enforcement. Access for pedestrians with vision impairments should be accomplished at roundabouts by enforcement of the law, with motorist and police education devoted to that purpose.. The anti-signal people seem to think that no education is necessary. The pro-signal people seem to think that no education is enough.
The description of the problem as expressed by the Access Board are misleading because they do not recognize that drivers are required to yield for pedestrians in crosswalk, although admittedly this is not enforced in the U.S.
Let us examine the following excerpt from http://www.access-board.gov/rowdraft.htm in section (1105.6) on Roundabouts: "...Because crossing at a roundabout requires a pedestrian to visually select a safe gap between cars that may not stop, accessibility has been problematic...." A pedestrian is not required to cross between cars that may not stop. A pedestrian that steps into the crosswalk legally mandates cars to stop. That is a legally available option to crossing in a gap in traffic.
A later phrase on the same page mentions that ..., the absence of stopped traffic presents a problem for pedestrians with vision impairments in crossing streets." Out of context this is a true statement. In the context of a roundabout with marked crosswalks it is again not quite on target because of the pedestrian's legal power to stop traffic as mentioned above. Furthermore it is not true that automobile traffic is never stopped in the absence of pedestrian demand. During busy times automobile traffic yields for vehicles inside the circle until there is a gap. This creates a stop-and-go queue in which vehicle drivers are amenable to leave a gap at the crosswalk (because they have to stop anyway).
The major premise of the Access Board's approach is that a red light displayed in front of a driver will cause them to stop, but a human being will not. The law on red lights is no higher a law than the one on pedestrians in a crosswalk. Then we can apply the Access Board's own argument also to a red light, and say that this is traffic that "may not stop." Red light running is a documented phenomenon on our streets.
Even red light compliance depends upon awareness of police enforcement presence. The same traffic police who now monitor red light running and speeding in the vicinity of signalized intersections have a simpler task at roundabouts. Failure-to-yield is almost the only violation that can occur in a roundabout. Unlike stop sign and speed violations, which are symbolic most of the time, failure to yield is never victimless. This means more efficient use of traffic police forces where they count; it also means that there should be plenty of police resources available to enforce respect for crosswalks in roundabouts.
Opening of the first roundabout in a community is already a time of change. Such openings are usually accompanied by scads of publicity on how to use the roundabout. Part of such publicity must include a message that at these facilities crosswalk observance will be enforced. Then the police must follow up with some actual enforcement. A few weeks of pedestrian testers followed and cops lying-in-wait should send the message of behavior that is expected.
A tangible suggestion of what the access board's proposal should be:
The design of every new roundabout in a community shall carry a surcharge a of (fill in number) percent up to (Fill in amount of money) that the road authority must use for publicity, police and testers to train the public to use the roundabout in a safe and legal manner with special attention to yields to pedestrians.
Such publicity and training should include but not be limited to:
1. Explaining to the police chief that replacement of signals with roundabouts relieves police of enforcement of stops and substitutes yield requirements which are just as critical for a roundabout's proper operations as are stops for a signal.
2. Placement of temporary signs that emphasize yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks.
3. Printed brochures in public places and radio and TV ads that describe motorist obligations.
4. Literature aimed at pedestrians that emphasizes the importance of crossing roundabouts at the crosswalk.
5. Deployment of pedestrian testers shadowed by uniformed police. The testers can even be police. This is similar to the method where police in unmarked cars spot violators on the road and notify officers in marked cars who issue the citation.
The Access Board 's recommendation for pervasive roundabout ped signals is justified if we assume the best features of perpendicular intersections and the worst features (including driver behavior) of roundabouts. The above recommendation seeks to effect the best features of roundabouts. The roundabout at its best is safer than a signalized intersection for any kind of pedestrian AND motorist.
There are also some things worth mentioning about the side-effects and extremely small cost-effectiveness of the would-be signals as proposed by the Access Board.
In terms of reasonableness of application, the universe in which the pedestrian signals would provide any benefit are very narrow. It would be under the following circumstances:
1. There is a blind pedestrian at the roundabout.
2. Such blind pedestrian doesn't have a dog.
3. The roundabout is busy enough that gaps are not obvious to his/her ears. (There may be NO cars present).
4.. The roundabout is not busy enough to slow speeds to a point where all drivers will observe the crosswalk.
This is a very tight set of conditions to provide at massive expense solution, and certainly stretches the limits of the meaning of reasonable accommodation. In contrast the pervasive signalization requirement offers the following negative side-effects:
1. More injuries and loss of life at the signals that will continue to be built at locations where roundabouts would have been affordable but for the required ped signals.
2. Rear end crashes at roundabouts where pedestrians unnecessarily activated the signals.
3. Increased delay because of persistence of red display after pedestrian has crossed.
4. Fewer pedestrian facilities, e.i. sidewalks and crosswalks at roundabouts.
5. Decreased safety in general for persons who are blind.
6. The death blow to respect for pedestrians in traffic.
Items number 1 through 3 above are well known already. I explain items 4 and 5 and 6 below.
4. Fewer pedestrian facilities. Proposed item 1105.6 requires the actuated signals only "where pedestrian crosswalks and pedestrian facilities are provided at roundabouts. " If you really want the roundabout but can't afford it with the signals, leave out the sidewalk. Now ALL pedestrians are worse off. There must be a specification somewhere describing where a sidewalk is required, but everybody knows how to play the specs game. The temptation to decide that a sidewalk is not required will be strong if the sidewalk involves $100,000 in signals.
5. Decreased safety in general for persons with visual impairments. . This is not a simple trade-off between people in cars whose overall safety is enhanced vs. blind pedestrians whose safety is decreased. Although the Access Boards proposed measure may increase safety and access for blind pedestrians, these are people who do not spend 24 hours a day as pedestrians without any interest in the survivability of motor vehicle users. . They are also passengers in motor vehicles at times. Also the blind persons' friends, drivers, plumbers, mail carriers and everyone else with whom they interact gains enhanced survivability in motor cars when a roundabout is built instead of a signal. Therefore the blind person has a substantial interest as a member of a whole community not only for their own direct safety but for those in society around them. Everyone who interacts with the blind person, including the blind person themself benefits from the increased safety of the roundabout.
If this proposal is adopted, the blind persons will also benefit from police presence at non-roundabout locations. This notion is expanded in the following section.
6. The death blow to respect for pedestrians in traffic.
Some people will say that these signals are needed because respect for pedestrians is already dead. I submit that these signals will insure that such respect will never return. On the good side of things, emphasis of ped laws at roundabouts as herein proposed can become a beachhead for expanding enforcement to other locations. (Note again the freed-up police time as roundabouts replace signals) No matter what happens at major intersections, the majority of road crossings will remain without signal protection.
Roundabouts contain features (unnecessary to mention here) that are the best achievable for pedestrian consideration. If we can't expect drivers to yield to pedestrians at roundabouts, where will they yield to them? The answer is NOWHERE.
Pedestrian and walkability advocates have complained for a long time that drivers do not show pedestrians respect. This is coupled with the fact that the pedestrian laws are rarely if ever enforced. If the American community throws in the towel now and ASSERTS that a driver has to see a big glowing red ball in order to stop for a pedestrian, we can forget about ever re-asserting pedestrian consideration into our driving behavioral culture.
The blossoming of roundabouts is an opportunity to re-assert a pedestrian-aware culture on Americans, not to throw it away.
Related suggestion: Find ways to equip pedestrians to be more attention-getting to motorists.
There are technical opportunities to improve the signals that pedestrians send. Do blind people still walk streets with a non-illuminated red-tipped cane? Aren't there LED devices that the blind people can carry that will alert cars positively to their presence? There must be economical ways to put the signalizing power in the hands of the people who need it, rather than outfit the intersection at great expense in case a person in need comes along.
In fact, Dan Burden of Walkable Communities present slides of a low-tech device in one city. There are red flags on short sticks in umbrella holders at both ends of a non-signalized urban crosswalk. . The pedestrian uses the flag to signal an intent to cross. The person carries the flag across the street and leaves it in the holder on the other side.
In a few years we may be able to equip cars and blind pedestrians with transmitters to send signals that would replace the absent visual knowledge of car movements. Such as-needed features are by their nature more economical and more reliable than sweeping general "solutions."
The debate over pedestrians and yielding should be part of the bigger issue of where traffic law enforcement has gone. The big enforcement actions now are red-light running, speeding and stop sign violations. Without demeaning the importance of such control devices, enforcement of these laws is usually symbolic, as mentioned earlier. That is, most of the time someone violates a stop or speed limit, there is no potential victim. It is easy for police to go to a place where most people "speed" and hand out tickets. It is easy to sit by a stop sign and find people who only came to a rolling stop even with no opposing traffic in sight. . In absence of a victim at the moment, the safety benefit of these enforcement actions is unknown. That is because we don't really know whether the rolling-stop driver would have yielded to an opposing vehicle or pedestrian. The speeder may be violating a politically low speed limit and might very well slow down when conditions warrant.
Implementation of roundabouts without signals coupled with yield-to-pedestrian enforcement emphasizes driver behavior where it counts. If there is no would-be victim, no the driver may proceed ahead.
A quote that followed a tragedy from Michigan illustrates how far we have gone from a culture of responsible responsive driver behavior. In August 2002 a driver hit a construction sign on the shoulder of an active highway work zone The sign hit two members of a crew, killing one and seriously injuring the other. The Detroit News (Macomb Section, 8-14-2002) quoted the director of safety services for the Michigan Road Builders Association thus: "For some reason, people are not getting the message that these are human beings out there, not just barrels with arms."... Maybe this is because drivers have been trained to consider lights and signs in front of them as more important than people.
Comments of Arthur Slabosky, P.E.
Michigan Department of Transportation
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