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Downtown Pedestrian Signals Dangerously Inadequate

August 14, 2009 Accessibility, Downtown 19 Comments

The sidewalks in downtown St. Louis are as busy as I’ve seen them since my arrival in August 1990.  The sidewalks are increasingly busy with downtown residents, workers and visitors going about their lives and going to long-time favorites like the Arch and to newer destinations like City Museum & Citygarden. As time passes I expect we will see this upward trend continue.

But downtown’s crosswalks are a mixed bag.  Some are quite good with countdown timers in addition to push to cross buttons:

But the bulk of the intersections lack these.  In fact, throughout the City of St. Louis our pedestrian crossings are sub-standard.  I’m just focusing on downtown for this post.

If the signals don’t work or the intersection has changed it is common to simply covered over the pedestrian signals  (above &  below):

In other cases the crossing lacks a pedestrian signal all together, below:

9th & Market

We do not need another tragedy like the one on March 21, 2002:

ST. LOUIS — A Washington state woman who was one of the country’s top experts on bicycle and pedestrian safety was killed yesterday morning when she was struck by a tour bus while crossing a downtown intersection here.

Susie Stephens, 36, of Winthrop, Wash., was struck shortly after 8:30 a.m.  (Source)

In addition to consistent and improved signals we need to reduce the distances to cross many streets.  Reducing the crosswalk width to just the through lanes will help considerably.

I timed the pedestrian signal crossing 14th Street along the North side of Washington Ave.   Took 21 seconds until the walk sign began to flash to not walk.  Total time allowed was 36 seconds.  Different story crossing the considerably wider Tucker Blvd (aka 12th, map link).  There the walk sign went to flashing don’t walk in less than 4 seconds and you have 30 seconds total to cross.  Wider street but less time.

Now that we have more pedestrians we’ve got to work harder to ensure the street crossings work for people using them.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "19 comments" on this Article:

  1. Anon says:

    Great issue to call aldermen for constituent services and see how the system works. We could use this thread to track the progress and results. Anyone wanna call?

  2. Jimmy Z says:

    Why call the alderman?! Isn’t this why we have the the Citizens’ Service Bureau? http://stlouis.missouri.org/government/csb.html

    The other half of the equation is getting drivers to pay attention and to yield as required by law.

  3. joe h says:

    Steve, I’m so glad you brought this up. I’m always terrified crossing Tucker. Unless you can walk at a brisk pace, you have to rely on very attentive drivers not to blindly follow the lights and plow you down. The hoards crossing Tucker after Cardinals’ games (not from City, slightly intoxicated) are a recipe for disaster.

  4. Tom Shrout says:

    The re-timing of the signals downtown due to highway 40 closure has resulted in some streets — Washington and Forest Park Parkway in particular– to have long periods of green. The result has been for pedestrians to loose patience — me included — and ignore the light system and cross when their is a break in the traffic. For downtown to work, the traffic engineers need to consider pedestrians when timing the signals. Many intersections are busy enough with foot traffic to build in a walk sequence in every cycle given the fact that the push buttons are often unreliable particularly at Forest Park Parkway and Euclid.

  5. Anon says:

    Call the CSB and they will refer the matter to the Street Department. Why not simply call the Street Department? Maybe the Street Department refers you to the CSB? CSB will assign your call a work order number and you can get some follow up/paper trail going. No matter. CSB SchmeeSB.

    When your alderman calls for service, things happen. Why not just follow the system that works best, and simply go through your alderman? Is anyone sensing a duplication of services here??? How many people does it take to change a light bulb…or the timing of a stop light? So what should we learn from this thread?

  6. Amy Becherer says:

    I concur regarding pedestrian safety. I commute from Hillsboro to downtown everyday for work. I take 18th Street to Locust Street every morning. I nearly hit a pedestrian one morning. I had a school bus on my rear affecting my concentration and was making a left onto Locust St. A pedestrian was almost across Locust as I was making my turn onto Locust. I did not make contact with her in my Miata, but I was close enough that she put her hand on the hood of my car. I stopped of course and the gentleman who patrols the Goodwill lot came over. She did not want me to call the police and she said I never touched her. I insisted that she write my license plate # down in case she felt differently as the day went on. Sometimes neck or back strains show up later. She insisted she was fine and I would expect she was, but I left shaken and crying over what might have been. I have found that that intersection is always compromising as far as safety. I am more aware now of the dilemma and creep through barely moving anymore. But, someone not familiar could easily have a tragedy to deal with. Thank you for hearing me out.


  7. john says:

    The lack of respect for non-car users is a wide spread problem in the region and not just for pedestrians. An underlying problem is that pedestrian-cycling advocates remain silent as matters continue to be unaddressed and many situations become worse with time.
    – –
    As reported over two years ago: A group of bicyclists met with Garry Earls, the head of StL County’s Highways and Traffic, about their angst. Earls has plans to paint a third lane on parts of Clayton Road where only two lanes exist. This means every inch of pavement will be used for cars, and the lanes will probably be just 10 feet wide. Earls said part of the traffic-mitigation plan is to find additional bicycle routes that are not an option for through-traffic, such as roads through subdivisions or residential areas. Additional “Share the Road” signs will go up.

    Bob Foster, past chair of the StL Regional Bicycle Federation, agreed with that part of the plan. The problem is that many areas have NO additional cycling routes and speed limits in Clayton and Richmond Heights are rarely enforced on Clayton Rd.
    – –
    In the mean time, busy intersections have traffic pads which are NOT activated by bicycles and walk signs are not automatically activated by changes in traffic signals. Forest Park has become one large FREE parking lot for the majority of motorized vehicles. But StL County Highway/Traffic czars and traffic engineers explain that a grant designed to replace existing road signs with larger lettering for the elderly will improve safety.

  8. Dennis says:

    Tom, I’ve always thought those push buttons were just there for looks. So many of the crosswalks I use, the push button doesn’t seem to make any difference. I always wait FOREVER for the little white man to appear.

  9. Angelo says:

    We had a really problematic crosswalk signal on Jefferson and Cherokee, you couldn’t walk a single step before it immediately flashed “Don’t walk”. Most of the cars took that literally, and would honk, rush, and intimidate crossers.

    To Craig Schmid’s credit, I contacted him about the problem and he asked the department of blah-blah and had the signal extended.

  10. Anon says:

    See? Angelo proves the point. Call you alderman and get results. Downtown has two aldermen. Who’s gonna call?

    As a former high office holder in the city of St. Louis once said, “St. Louis is a complaint driven system”. So complain (to your alderman) people (if you want results)!

    Alderman read the blogs, but until you complain directly to them, it won’t mean a thing.

  11. Jimmy Z says:

    I don’t disagree that calling the alderman usually gets the quickest results. My point was twofold, one, I’ve been told, in the past, by my previous alderman, to contact the CSB directly, not her. And two, if the BoA is the true ombudsman for city residents, why even have a CSB? Make it a fulltime job, pay each alderman more and/or get them some fulltime staff and let them “solve” every problem, big or small, in “their” wards.

    In reality, ANYONE, lowly citizen or royal alderman, should be able to call any city agency with a valid concern and expect to receive prompt service (without going through any intermediaries). If that’s not the case (and I don’t have enough personal history to know), then there’s a fundamental problem with how the city’s being run.

  12. Shimmy says:

    As a suburbanite who travels downtown often, I know that when the hand signal starts flashing that I have more time. But, when I go to Cardinal games or other events with friends and we’re crossing the street at it immediately goes to the flashing hand they start panicking. Like you said with the Tucker. When I’m approaching and I see it flashing, I don’t know if it just started flashing and I still have 26 seconds to cross, or if its at its end and I’m going to get hit.

  13. Anon says:

    Jimmy, you have reached enlightenment. Sort of. The problem with your scenario is that all aldermen are not created equally. Some say call the CSB. Others like to be the go-between on everything. Your final statement sums things up quite nicely.

    [slp — I prefer email over a call — a nice written record. I’d suggest a two-prong approach. Email the CSB and then forward your email confirmation from the CSB to your alderman. That way your alderman is aware the issue has been entered into the city’s system.]

  14. Herbie says:

    @Shimmy – Or in the case of other intersections, you may have more than a minute left to cross safely AFTER the pedestrian signal has gone to steady “Don’t Walk.” An example, where the Forest Park trail crosses De Baliviere Ave. I just covered the issue on my Gateway Streets blog.

    [slp — link to post.]

  15. Jimmy Z says:

    And then there’s Pittsburgh . . . “Pittsburgh has won the “space race” with Boston to adopt the first iPhone application for registering citizen complaints through a mobile phone. An application called iBurgh became available via Apple’s iTunes store Saturday that allows residents to snap iPhone photos of nuisances such as potholes and graffiti and send them to the city’s 311 complaint system, embedded with Global Positioning System data pinpointing the problem’s exact location. The free application, designed by YinzCam Inc. of Squirrel Hill, will forward the reports to city departments for review, just as the city’s current 311 complaint phone line does.

    Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09230/991552-53.stm#ixzz0OXaHWcU7

  16. john says:

    Now that is an application that even I would appreciate in a cell phone. “Right now we stand at a very interesting era where democracy can be transformed through technology, and Pittsburgh has an incredible opportunity to lead this new e-democracy,”
    – –
    Exactly but when the inventory of unsolved problems grow, will the information be considered an aid or a distraction for cash-strapped governments? I’ve sent numerous emails to public officials re. graffiti along Metro lines. Nothing was done until I included the more offensive “private parts” of the drawings. Communications to both council members and administration officials re. walk sign problems continue to be ignored, we are a car oriented region.

  17. bonwich says:

    I think the whole issue of “who ya gonna call” misses the entire point. We shouldn’t have to CALL anybody. For 10-20-30 years we’ve been hearing about downtown revitalization, making it 24/7, drawing residents downtown, etc. etc.

    Has anyone EVER heard anyone of the Slay/Danforth/Fleming/Gebhardt/fill in your own civic “leader” here say ANYTHING about pedestrian safety as a necessary condition for a vital downtown?

    As Steve notes, these problems have been around for quite a while. Occasionally, a tragedy like the one in 2002 causes minor incremental change. By the way, although the bus driver was deemed liable for that accident, he wasn’t. HE HAD A GREEN LIGHT. At that point in time, the City commonly maintained intersections where it was possible to have a green turn arrow AND a walk sign lit simultaneously. That was the case for the intersection in question. Moreover, the green left turn arrow was at the RIGHT side of the intersection. Soon thereafter, the City quietly corrected instances where this occured at other intersections.

    Meanwhile, as noted, numerous intersections that handle thousands of fans after baseball games have no pedestrian signals. Not to mention the area around the main branch of the public library, which one might assume handles a large number of children every day.

    Anyway, it’s not an issue of calling the alderperson of the CSB for one-offs. It’s an issue of NOBODY in City government or “civic leadership” recognizing the critical nature of this problem.

    [slp — well said!]

  18. GeigerBC says:

    About the Walk and Flashing Don’t Walk (FDW) timing. It’s pretty much assumed you can cross in the FDW time at typically 4.0ft/sec. You didn’t however give the distance across the intersections.

    So based on what I can tell the 14th street has 21 sec of Walk, and 15 sec of FDW. For 12th it’s 4 sec of Walk, 26 sec of FDW. To me it seems that the wider street DOES have a longer time to cross (26 sec – 15 sec = 11 sec more). Pedestrians have to be paying attention to o the signal just like drivers do when watching for green so they start when Walk first comes up. If they start when Walk first displays it’s just extra seconds gained to finish crossing.

  19. Susie Stephens, the woman killed in the crosswalk in 2002, is still missed by the bicycling advocacy community. Here is a presentation she gave at the ProBike/ProWalk conference in Santa Barbara in 1998.



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