Recent interactions with the County have been refreshingly positive. The County, which apparently controls signalization and (some?) striping at intersections, has responded in a prompt and serious manner about pedestrian safety concerns in downtown. Bravo, County Engineering! No, this is not an early April Fool’s joke.
Case one was a missing crosswalk connecting the Hyatt Place hotel on Olive Avenue and Lakeview to the Two City Plaza condominium building across the street, and CityPlace further east. This is a frequently crossed intersection for residents of 2CP as well as guests at the Hyatt Place, and although there are pedestrian signals, the crosswalk was missing, leading to a potentially dangerous situation for right-turning cars headed west on Lakeview. The crosswalk will help alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians here.
Case two is a pedestrian pushbutton issue for the Quadrille and Hibiscus Street intersection. The response I received is pasted below.
Thank you for bringing your traffic concerns to our attention. You are right about the street light. they are the jurisdiction of the State and the City.
We pulled the pedestrian signal activation log and found that a lot of people cross at this intersection. Most of the crossing happened on the south leg with the number of activations exceeding 210 on Saturday. Quite a few cross on the north leg as well, and only few cross north and south.
Staff has increased the “WALK” signal phase time from 7:00 to 10:00 seconds on all approaches. They also increased the “FLASHING DON’T WALK” time to cross Quadrille from 16:00 to 18:00 seconds. The maximum green signal time for the east/west movement was also increased to make sure there is enough time for pedestrians to cross even after the end of the pedestrian signal phase.
We don’t think it is a good idea to put the pedestrian signal phase on recall so it’ll come up automatically during each signal cycle. This will cause an unnecessary disruption to the vehicular traffic on Quadrille. Moreover, the turning traffic may not pay attention to pedestrian in the crosswalk because they’ll get used to seeing the pedestrian signal display coming up when there are no pedestrians in the cross walk.
As an intersection with high pedestrian activity, we’ll replace the existing pedestrian signals with countdown signals. this work should be done in few weeks.
Can you please issue a WO to replace the existing pedestrian signals at the intersection of Hibiscus and Quadrille with countdown signals?
Motasem Al-Turk, Ph.D., P.E.
Palm Beach County
Let’s be clear: This solution is far from perfect, and I’m going to continue to push for the signalization regime recommended by walkability expert Jeff Speck [refer to page 22 of the downtown walkability study – main section pasted below]. Pedestrians should have better prioritization from left and right turning cars at this intersection, such as a leading pedestrian indicator. Better light timing and a countdown signal does little to solve the real issue: Cars are king on Quadrille, without exception, and to impede their movement in any way is anathema. Even though this solution leaves a lot to be desired, and I disagree with the assessment of Mr. Al-Turk, the County is still to be commended for taking the issue seriously and promptly doing something about it that has made the intersection marginally better. At least pedestrians are not stranded in the middle of the intersection as the crossing traffic light turns green.
Jeff Speck Walkability Study, on pedestrian-friendly signals:
A survey of the most and least walkable cities in America reveals a clear correlation: walkable cities rarely have pushbutton signal request buttons. Called “beg buttons” by pedestrian advocates, these signals are alternately annoying and confusing to pedestrians, most of whom do not understand how they are supposed to work—and many of whom end up jaywalking out of sheer frustration.
Here is how these signals work in downtown West Palm Beach: A pedestrian approaches a crosswalk, pushes the button, and waits for the light to change. Typically, a long time passes before the light changes—sometimes more than two minutes. After perhaps 30 seconds, the pedestrian assumes that the light is broken, and jaywalks.
What the pedestrian does not realize is that the pushbutton is not designed to cause the light to change. Rather, it is designed only to lengthen the eventual red light, so that the pedestrian has more time to cross. Given the tremendous amount of jaywalking that these signals cause, these lengthened crossing times are, at best, irrelevant. This dangerous behavior is perhaps the clearest example of the vast difference between traffic safety theory and traffic-safety reality in Palm Beach County, and should be of grave concern to County engineers.
If County engineers want to create a system in which jaywalking is reduced and pedestrian safety enhanced, they will look to other places where cars and pedestrians interact with a much lower incidence of injury, such as Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, and the smaller towns that surround these cities. What they will find in these places is an almost complete absence of pushbutton signals, short cycles of 60 seconds or less (total), and “concurrent” crossing regimes, in which pedestrians move with parallel traffic, and turning cars must wait for the crosswalks to clear.
Such signals are made more effective by a technology called the Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI), in which pedestrians receive a 3-second head start to enter (and “claim”) the intersection before cars receive a green light. There are a number of locations where these could be put to good use in the downtown.
In terms of encouraging safe pedestrian behavior, the length of the signal cycle is of great significance. When traffic congestion is the dominant concern, traffic engineers prefer longer signal cycles, as they have the advantage of moving large volumes of cars on each approach. These longer periods of vehicle movement mean longer waits for pedestrians trying to cross a street. This is more than just an inconvenience, because it causes jaywalking. For this reason, the long-cycle signalization regimes that make sense in suburban Palm beach County are ill suited to pedestrian-heavy areas like Downtown West Palm Beach, and should be corrected at the first opportunity.
The irony is that the County, which has historically been no ally in creating more walkable streets in West Palm Beach, has taken more bona fide action than the City of West Palm Beach at this point. And that is a pretty low bar, as these pushbutton timing and crosswalk stripings are superficial interventions by their nature. By superficial, I mean interventions that do little to tip the risk scale in favor of people on foot versus those driving a car. Nonetheless, it is something.
The City/CRA/DDA undertook the Walkability Study. But to this point, not a single of its recommendations have been implemented, even though the City recently identified 17 recommendations ready to go, now.
Implement this study! Choose one of the 17 recommendations, get some paint, and restripe a lane. Now.