The loneliness of a middle distance pedestrian
Also, watch this (and read his book): http://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_speck_the_walkable_city.html
salty: Why would you trust the CMU folks to make the right decision?
Ahlir: (the roads people willing)
Note the caveat.
I don’t completely expect anyone to make the right decisions without the right data(*). The ELib situation is probably evolving in the right direction: the city implements a solution. They get feedback; they pay attention and change things. Iterate.
For us, the most effective thing to do right now is to get on our bikes, all the time. And, by persuasion and example, get everyone we know to do so as well. Push the limits (and take the lane). Remember that “facts on the ground” are what make a difference. High-minded appeals to this or that don’t really cut it.
When most of the people on the street are on bikes or are walking across it, the world will be forced to change (“we are the world” and yada). And it doesn’t even have to be “most”.
(*) Certain political sects make decisions independent of data. Lamentably they occasionally take power. Make sure you vote for reality-based governance (and people-friendly representatives).
I certainly don’t agree that things are moving in the right direction. The “solution” that has been implemented (the road design as well as the signalization) is car-centric and despite 1000+ signatures on a petition and a rally I still haven’t seen any sign that they’re even going to address the single most egregious problem, much less undo all the damage they’ve wrought. Instead, you see press releases touting the increased traffic volumes and promising to bring the technology to even more of the city. The solution is certainly not “let’s wait and see if more people are willing to walk in the shitty conditions we’ve created”. That’s a guarantee that you’ll end up with the status quo, and it’s certainly not what more progressive cities are doing.
Forget about bikes and come spend some time walking around. Why do you constantly find yourself staring at a “Don’t walk” sign when the light for the cars is green? Why is there a green arrow encouraging cars to make a right turn through a crosswalk with a “Walk” sign? Why do you have to walk 20 feet out of your way at every intersection to push a button that does nothing aside from prevent you from getting screwed out of your chance to walk? Sometimes you get to do it twice to cross the same street! None of that makes any sense.
salty wrote:so we end up with a city more like Paris and less like Orlando.
Wow. Lived in Orlando for years and been to Paris. What a great example. Orlando is horrible for cycling. We are already ahead of that dump, but we can do better. I think we slowly will get better. I am pretty happy with the progression, but want it to continue. What a horrible ride home today from work, but the ride in was nice. Sorry, I just wanted to get that off my chest. lol
I would expect that our relentless pursuit of “improved traffic flow” through improved control technology will follow the same progression we have discovered in the realm of improved traffic flow through the building of roads, i.e., building more roads simply caused the volume of traffic to expand to a similar level at which the roads were choked previously. It will be a futile tail-chasing exercise. So there you go CMU geniuses.
Urban streets need to be designed for the comfort and convenience of pedestrians as the base parameter, motor vehicles need to be treated as the guests in the realm of the city that they are.
The safety concerns at the intersection of Penn Avenue and Penn Circle East/South in East Liberty are prompted by the physical design of the roadways. The Surtrac adaptive traffic signal control technology we’ve deployed optimizes the signal timings at an intersection, but we are not involved in intersection design.
Before the construction of Penn Circle, the intersections of Centre and Collins with Penn Avenue were offset (Frankstown also used to intersect Penn here as well: map from 1890, map from 1924), and when Penn Circle was constructed, Centre was shifted to directly connect to Collins at a shallow angle. When this intersection was rebuilt in 2010/2011 for the Penn Circle South/East two-way conversion, this corner was actually squared off quite a bit.
In the summer of 2011, our research group at Carnegie Mellon University got a grant from the Heinz Endowments for a pilot deployment of the Surtrac adaptive traffic signal control technology we’d been developing. Since eight intersections in East Liberty had just been upgraded with video detection as part of the two-way conversion, we only had to upgrade the signal equipment at Penn and Highland, which made East Liberty an ideal location for our pilot.The intersection design had been done several years before, and the construction had been complete for a year before our system started controlling the signals in June 2012; we were not involved in either the physical or operational design of any of the intersections. The pedestrian signals continue to operate exactly as they did before we deployed our system; the length of the pedestrian phases is unchanged, and pedestrian button actuations are independent of our system. The Surtrac system continuously optimizes the existing conditions at an intersection based on the available detection, which includes pedestrian buttons; our work is separate from the design of intersections.
Since deploying, we’ve been looking for ways to further improve Surtrac. With an improvement we deployed about six months ago, we’ve been able to reduce pedestrian waiting time, particularly at intersections, like Penn and Eastside, where pedestrian traffic is one of the main reasons the signal changes to serve the side street. This is a much safer place to cross Penn that is more convenient to the busway and bus stops on Penn, and Surtrac helps make it more responsive to pedestrians at the same time as it reduces vehicle idling to reduce emissions. We log everything about the operation of our system, including pedestrian button actuations. What we don’t have, however, is a way to see when people don’t press ped buttons or a way to see how many pedestrians are waiting to cross. These are complex detection problems that can’t be solved with a simple photo sensor. As the article mentions, we are interested in testing some of the pedestrian video detectors that have come on the market in recent years, but the effectiveness and maintenance costs of these types of detectors are still very unclear, which puts the city in a difficult position, so they have not yet approved the installation of these types of detectors. We’re working with them to find the right opportunity to try this new detection technology. In addition to these pedestrian cameras, we are also interested in a test deployment of bike detection cameras, which are more proven, but not deployed here in Pittsburgh.
We have an ongoing dialogue with BikePGH, and we will be meeting with Scott Bricker again in December. We’ve also worked with East Liberty Development throughout this project. As the city considers changes to this intersection, they will keep us up to date, and we will adapt as necessary.
Greg Barlow, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University
Thanks so much for taking the time to join in, Mr. Barlow.
gjb wrote:The intersection design had been done several years before, and the construction had been complete for a year before our system started controlling the signals in June 2012; we were not involved in either the physical or operational design of any of the intersections.
Understood. However, even with that being the case, as an expert working with the city, I hope you are using the opportunity to raise the issues of grievously inadequate design for pedestrians. As an architect, if I am brought in to alter only a portion of an existing building, and in the course of my work find that there are too few emergency exits, inadequate fire protection, or unsound structure, it is my professional responsibility to bring these issues to the attention of the owner, even if it is not in my scope. And if the owner fails to address basic safety concerns, it is in my best interest to walk away from the project. The city put itself in it’s “difficult position” by accepting an unacceptable intersection design, so I have no empathy for that. I do sincerely hope that, in your field of work, you proceed according to the tenet I previously stated, that on urban streets, pedestrians must be the baseline from which all other considerations stem, independent of available technologies.
Also, do not live under the misapprehension that you are simply gathering and analyzing data. You are now involved in transportation design, whether that was your original intent or not. Upon which human lives depend most directly.
salty wrote:Why is there a green arrow encouraging cars to make a right turn through a crosswalk with a “Walk” sign?
I think this is the single biggest issue with this intersection. Especially since oncoming cars don’t see peds until they start turning and are already moving at a good speed.
Cars shouldn’t be yeilding to peds here, they shouldn’t even have the option to move towards them when pedestrians have the walk signal.
Yes, thanks for the clarification. I did not realize that your system was not controlling the pedestrian signals – I think that it should, since it leads to one of the problems I’ve observed. If the length of the pedestrian phase remains the same while the length of the green signal is extended by Surtrac, then pedestrians spend a lot of time needlessly staring at a “don’t walk” sign.
So, it sounds like most of my gripes are with city planning, although I still don’t agree that increasing traffic volumes is an appropriate goal in an urban area.
FWIW, I really have a distaste for pedestrian buttons, and I don’t think more technology is the solution. Just eliminate the buttons and illuminate the “walk” signal every time, like how it works when there are no buttons. There is nothing more infuritating than arriving at an intersection one second too late and being forced to wait for 90 or 120 seconds to cross the street, for absolutely no reason.
That would surely signal a sea change, wouldn’t it? The pedestrian crossing light is always on, until a car approaches and trips it to change.
We will have won this war when we delineate a perimeter around the city and every light within that boundary functions like that.
Start with one. There.
I really love this idea.
My concern is bike detection.
As a cyclist, even one who will selectively but unapologetically run reds, it would be highly annoying if I went undetected and were seeing red at EVERY light.
I guess if it were institutionalized that bicycles can cross at the pedestrian signal (slowly and with deference to pedestrians) that’d work ok. I do this already situationally, but if I have to do it all the time I want it to be an officially accepted practice.
Goes without saying probably, but places we put car detectors and trigger lights dynamically from them, it’s a fantastic opportunity to enforce the speed limits with red lights, and one I hope we’d seize at the same time.
If this were done in a 25 zone (or better still, twenty is plenty, if we can get any of those), suddenly you have a very cyclist friendly environment.
stu, that would be great but I wasn’t suggesting anything quite that radical… just that the walk signal should illuminate every time, like it generally does downtown. here in east liberty, if you don’t press the button at the right time, you get a green light combined with “don’t walk”, and you’re supposed to wait an entire cycle even though the cross traffic has a red. it’s nonsensical.
basically all I’m saying is revert to the way it worked for 100+ years before they “improved” it.
Salty, that makes perfect sense as an achievable short term goal. Having written this blarg, I’ll continue off track on the thought experiement for one more post:
This default on position of the pedestrian signal works by far better in a no turn on red zone. You can determine driver intent easily when there’s a turn lane. Failing that, I guess if someone has the green to go straight and stops, you know they mean to turn and you can give the green light to turning when opportunity arises (I assume camera tech up to detecting turn signals? Blinking light on one side or the other of a blob sounds easy in comparison to a lot of other patterns… if that works that makes this all work so much better.)
Now, if only car manufacturers were required to install something that more directly broadcasts turn signals in a way dumb cheap durable solid state electronics near intersection boundaries could detect! The rest of this could work without cameras just with crossing strips I think. Money will always gate anything we try and do.
Anyways, right hooks of pedestrians are depressingly common and reducing that risk should be prioritized in these zones for the same reason pedestrians are prioritized generally in these zones.
Thanks for taking the time to respond Greg.
The PG article comments on your system hopefully being able to detect buses and give them priority. I like that.
I don’t know if this is something you guys have already thought of, but since pedestrians usually appear after the bus stops – can that somehow be built into the model? I’m thinking along the lines of the bus tripping the pedestrian walk signal. Also, usually someone has pressed a stop-now button inside the bus to let the driver know that they want off at the next bus stop. If this were a signal that could be detected outside of the bus your system would know that the moving bus was going to stop at the next intersection regardless of the traffic light color. So at a minimum the curb lane is definitely going to be stopped for X-seconds and at least one new pedestrian is going to be discharged at the intersection. It might be practical to give the bus a red light in such circumstances.
byogman – the easier solution to that is to eliminate turns on red… like NYC and basically all of Europe. It’s fundamentally anti-pedestrian.
Salty, no turn on red I agree is on the list and needs to be considered near the top of it for any streets where any number of pedestrians are expected.
In my prior post, I was assuming a no turn on red, and talking about how to eventually let a car turn (when to change the signal for them) if they’re not going straight.
It’s interesting to me that many of the proposals made here would have the effect of slowing traffic–precisely the opposite of the stated goal in the PG article–which is exactly the point.
What we want is to improve people movement through this shopping area, not traffic movement.
Mick wrote:But I’m not sure that it has happened at all in the city this century. I mean that literally.
Agreed. I just meant that even increased enforcement would only amount to occasional speeding tickets. There’s no (desirable) way that we can ticket every speeder, so we should use other tools to change behavior as well. Enforcement plus design.
Coming from England, when I was driving I absolutely loathed cameras, but there is no question they change driver behaviour, especially in Urban situations. At intersections red light cameras are particularly potent. I honestly think if they were used in Pittsburgh it would be fine and point apocalypse.
My earliest impression of Pittsburgh drivers was pretty poor. Everybody speeds, by a considerable margin, too. Red lights are continually blown. Walking to work every day Is a real eye opener and I’m amazed I’ve not seen more accidents. I’m not saying these things don’t happen everywhere – they do – but the speeding thing in particular is pretty outrageous here.
On a bicycle, the experience is not too different to England for me. Motorists are about the same; they get resentful if you act like traffic (by playing by the rules) and resentful if you break them. I would say the general level of aggression is a little bit higher, but you will hear the road tax argument in both places.
I pulled up to the light at 5th and Beechwood tonight just as it was changing, so I decided to time it. I should do this again because I’m not positive it’s accurate, but I’d say +/- 5 seconds.
t=0 5th ave inbound light and left turn arrow turn green, “walk” on north side of 5th
t=10 turn arrow off, 5th ave outbound light also green, “walk” on south side of 5th
t=25 solid “don’t walk” signal on the north side of 5th
t=35 solid “don’t walk” signal on the south side of 5th
t=105 light on 5th turns red
That last part affects cyclists (and drivers!) as I had to wait 105 seconds to cross 5th avenue legally. That is patently ridiculous – even having waited there many times I would not have guessed it was so bad. For reference, before they “improved” the timing maybe two months ago, I don’t know for sure but my best estimate is that the green time was fixed at 30 seconds. Since the “improvement” the timing is variable, but this happened at 7pm, there was not much traffic on 5th, there were cars waiting on Beechwood for essentially the whole cycle. It’s inexcusable that this is happening, and I think the light at Penn & ELB is just as bad if not worse.
For pedestrians, note that for 80 seconds, you are not legally allowed to cross the street in the same direction as traffic, on the “minor” street, i.e. you are staring at a green light and a “don’t walk” sign. That is why it pisses me off to no end to hear this being described as a “pedestrian improvement” – what kind of “improvement” is it to have your opportunity to cross the street reduced by 77%? All so cars can make right and left turns without having to worry about being “obstructed” by pedestrians?
FWIW, this Federal Highway Administration manual has an “example max green” value of 40-60s for “Major Arterial, 40mph or less”: http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/fhwahop08024/chapter5.htm
So, someone in Pittsburgh Public Works has decided that doubling what the *highway* people recommend is good urban design?
This site recommends a max of 90s for the entire cycle (both directions): http://www.walkinginfo.org/engineering/crossings-signals.cfm
salty wrote:For pedestrians, note that for 80 seconds, you are not legally allowed to cross the street in the same direction as traffic, on the “minor” street, i.e. you are staring at a green light and a “don’t walk” sign.
At the admittedly difficult intersection of Liberty/Stanwix/Forbes downtown, it is the same condition. The Walk signal could and should be on for 75% of the light cycle, not 25%, or that range, as it is now. Traffic engineers, feh, a species of idiots. Most pedestrians ignore it anyway because the set-up is effing STUPID.
Motorists are about the same; they get resentful if you act like traffic (by playing by the rules) and resentful if you break them.
Yeah, that’s the thing, right there.
Some of the cross streets on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill are rigged so the walk light to cross Murray is on only during alternating times when traffic on the cross street has a green light. So it repeats red with no walk, green with no walk, red with no walk, green with walk. I’ve never seen any pedestrian wait during a green with no walk phase. A sufficiently misdesigned traffic device is indistinguishable from broken.
And the Murray and Forbes intersection used to be good.
Red, green, then (if a button had been pushed) WALK in all directions.
I gues I should 311 it for what it is: a malfunctioning signal.
Forbes and Murray is still like that, with an all-way walk (“pedestrian scramble”). I’d say about half the pedestrians wait for the walk signal, and half cross during a green/don’t walk phase.
The Murray Avenue intersections at Bartlett and Darlington, directly south of the Forbes intersection, are the ones with the alternating walk signals.
Hey, now you can’t cross East Liberty Blvd legally even if you wanted to wait 3 minutes for the signal, because it never comes on.
I’ve seen this happen before, and today I watched it happen 3 times so it is not a fluke. As I noted in the comments, there is *no* button to push to cross ELB, the only buttons on either side are for crossing Penn. I’m sick of this. Maybe I’ll flag down a cop and ask him to write me a ticket for jaywalking so at least I can get something in front of a court because I don’t see any other action happening.
There was an interesting article on the issues raised here in the NYTimes yesterday: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/02/opinion/sunday/when-pedestrians-get-mixed-signals.html?hp&rref=opinion
Basically, if you create intersections that match pedestrian’s needs, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, people don’t jaywalk.
I 311’d this and also tweeted it to Dan Gilman (it’s right on the border of D8/D9) and Pittsburgh311
I’d suggest also tweeting it at D9 councilman Burgess, but he doesn’t seem to actually use his account. His COS @ShawnCarterPGH is pretty active, though.
I’m extremely unhappy to see Surtrac is expanding onto Centre and Baum. Sounds like the grand vision of the “alternative to the Parkway East” is taking shape, which I’m guessing doesn’t bode well for any rumblings I might have heard in the past about bike lanes on one of those two roads.
I keep hearing about how Peduto is bike/ped friendly, but it’s high time he “shows me the friendly”, because I haven’t seen squat yet and this is an awfully big hole to dig out of.
— Daniel Gilman (@danielgilman) May 1, 2014
What is Bike Pittsburgh’s official position on this? Was there any opportunity for public input? Any independent studies of the effects on the neighborhoods or even confirmation of these alleged benefits? Or did they just trust the people selling them the system to report back on how great it is?
1. We have to do something about traffic on Penn Ave.
2. Surtac is definitely something about traffic.
3. Therefore, we have to do Surtac on Penn Ave.
I am somewhat wary of increasing the deployment of surtac, especially after the pedestrian issues at center/penn intersection by target.
I really hope surtac is improving it’s cyclist detection. I put in a 311 ticket based on it not handling a group of cyclists at the intersection behind target at broad st and larimer ave. I think the biggest need for this is during the off hours when a single cyclist or a couple cyclists would come up to a light, and it doesn’t change at a reasonable interval despite lack of traffic in other directions.
I would love this system to be able to detect when it thinks a driver is going to run a red light based on signal state and driver speed and keep all signals red until they have cleared the intersection, reducing the chance of collision. Heck, while they are at it, maybe the video could be forwarded to law enforcement to issue a ticket.
If they could tie in a few other sensors or cameras, they could detect speeding between intersections, then force redlights when speeding is detected. Put up the appropriate signage to tell drivers that if they speed, they will be presented with a red light at the next intersection. Then there is no incentive to speed at all. Could this be the solution to speeding on penn ave????
I’m sure there are all sorts of cool things they could do with this technology, but what they are doing is not cool. I’ve seen it in action every day for years now. The goal is moving more cars and if that means peds get 20 seconds every 3 minutes to legally cross the street, that is exactly what happens. Or the walk signs don’t come on at all.
It’s worth repeating that we need to insert ourselves at the most upstream point in the thinking here and raise serious hell. NO! We don’t want to “reduce travel time or wait time”. We want to *increase* it. That’s a good thing. “Reducing emissions” means not driving at all.
Once we get that into decision-makers’ heads, then we might have a shot at not getting mowed down by people making use of “reduced travel time”.
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