Monday, April 14, 2008

Pedestrian crossing too short in Brookline; short in Salem, too?

I saw a story in Brookline about a favorite subject:  Pedestrian crossings.  When MassHighway rebuilt the busy Coolidge Corner crossing,  home of two intersecting streets and a Green Line stop, they removed the countdown signals and replaced the signals with "regular" audible signals.  The timing was adjusted by MassHighway for motor traffic, but pedestrians believe it's too short:

Brookline - As a commuter who bicycles up Harvard Street to Allston twice a day, Nathan Gunner knows well the daily battle between cars, trolleys and pedestrians for impossibly short green lights and walk signs.

So he was surprised when the town put up new signals that cut pedestrian crossing time in the interest of getting cars through the intersection faster.

“You can only make it halfway across in the time you have now,” the Highland Road resident said. “And not everybody dashes, not everybody is young.”

People with disabilities are concerned as well:

The redesigned intersection presents a special challenge for handicapped and blind pedestrians.

Kurt Kuss, a blind Brookline resident that runs a disability-consulting firm, said the new signals could be misleading because they announce that a crosswalk light is on without identifying which street — Beacon Street or Harvard Street — is safe to cross.

Other crosswalks, like that at St. Mary’s Street, identify the street.

“It ought to be a fairly simple thing, because they’re all recorded messages anyway,” Kuss said.

A number of major intersections in Salem have also been upgraded by MassHighway, including these intersections:

  • Lafayette/Canal/Jefferson (near SSC Central Campus)
  • Vinnin Square at the Salem/Swampscott line
  • Marlborough Road from Highland Ave. to the Peabody line
  • Washington/New Derby/Norman (replacement for the old Riley Plaza)
  • Bridge at Washington (Salem Depot)
  • Bridge at St. Peter (Bypass Road);  not yet built

The first three intersections have voice signals for visually impaired.  Washington/New Derby and Salem Depot intersections have buzzer signals.  Bridge and St. Peter is promised to have voice signals when the intersection is constructed this summer.

Salem has one countdown signal, at the Witch House at Essex and North.

Apparently, there are different pedestrian signal activations at Coolidge Corner depending on whether one is crossing Harvard St. or Beacon.  There is one signal in Salem like that, at the intersection of Bridge and Flint.  (The signage at that intersection is very confusing so I avoid going that way when I walk to North Salem.)

It's interesting that voice signals in Brookline speak the name of the street.  So far as I know, ours do not.  It would provide a much needed sanity-check for the visually impaired.

The Commission on Disabilities has gotten scattered complaints about the timing of pedestrian signals in Salem over the years, most notably at New Derby and Washington.  I don't doubt there are short signals, but some of that is perception;  most people expect the white walk signal to be on throughout the crossing and don't realize that even if the signal flashes red while you're still in the intersection, you can still finish crossing;  it's those of us waiting on the curb who must still wait when the red signal flashes.

In any event, the pedestrian still has the right of way no matter how fast or slow they are in crossing.  Anyone can trip on a brick in the middle of a crosswalk;  that doesn't mean the car waiting for you has permission to run you down.


Coolidge Corner crossing too short, pedestrians say - Brookline, MA - Brookline TAB

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