My op-ed, Why Can’t Pasadena Automate Its Crosswalk Signals, prompted questions and comments from readers—and ideas for innovation.
By Misch Anderson
It would be nice if the pedestrian signs all came on automatically so when the light changes, the ped signs go green, too… that way people walking around wouldn’t have to hit the button. I know I’m avoiding that when my wife and I go out on our walks.
Yes, that would be nice, indeed. The problem is that Pasadena’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has to re-program each signal and intersection by hand, one at a time and by one person at a time. DOT is actually doing some re-programming, but it is a time- (and thus, cost-) consuming process because – see the next question.
Don’t we have lots of different kinds of signals?
Yes. For the most part, we have old and older signals with limited capacity to change. It would be ideal if all of Pasadena’s signals were uniform and had current technology, with automatic touchless sensors for all users (drivers, cyclists, peds) and a management system that could be swiftly and nimbly reprogrammed. But we don’t. (Read on to find out why!) Our signal hardware is old at many intersections without touchless sensors for waiting pedestrians and cyclists. Most of them do have a sensor for vehicles—those dark circles embedded in the asphalt.
With traffic so light, can’t the signals be changed to blinking reds (like a stop sign) so that we don’t just sit at a red light, burning gas, with no cross traffic.
Yes — let’s ask DOT about the feasibility of blinking reds. Again, DOT is dealing with having to hand-reprogram a cumbersome system. And the frustration expressed about sitting at a red light points to another core issue with our traffic system:
By default, Pasadena’s streets are built and managed to favor drivers over pedestrians and bike- and transit riders. Signal length and synchronization is designed to move cars, first and foremost. Pedestrians are second-class, an afterthought, except at a few intersections such as those along Colorado in Old Pas where we have signals and crosswalk striping for a pedestrian-only crossing phase in all directions.
That privileging of driving is a default that many have taken for granted until now, a time when we are been compelled to change our transportation choices and re-think our use of public space.
The reason we don’t have a nimble, up-to-date system in Pasadena is because we haven’t asked for one. If anything, people have raised hatchets to demand regressive strategies to privilege driving even more, and that comes at the cost of walking and everything else. If we are upset right now that our streets favor cars when we need to walk, it is our own darned fault.
Look at what we have taken for granted
Now that we understand the system better, we can look at what we have taken for granted and look down the road. We need to take our frustration and regard this as “news we can use.” We can tell our City Councilmembers, the Mayor, DOT, our neighborhood associations, and each other that we support the City investing in updating our signals and intersections to current standards which give fair use to all users and flexibility to adapt. We have to tell them out loud that we value equal rights for pedestrians to use the streets. We can tell them that whether we’re walking the dog, taking a sweetie stroll, letting the kids get their wiggles out, walking to do errands, or whatever else on foot, we want the same ease, priority, and safety that we take for granted when we’re driving.
What about making that our everyday? Many of us are noticing and really loving the dramatically cleaner air, the quiet, and the daily exercise that we are afforded right now. We don’t have to lose those benefits once the pandemic lifts. We can use this time as an opportunity to shift our default thinking and choices toward equipping, managing, and using our streets equitably as pedestrians, drivers, riders—everybody, every day.
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