Photo of two people waiting to cross an empty street

Here’s a location where sensors and an immediate green for pedestrians when no opposing traffic would make sense. Several people, one pushing a baby carriage, crossed against the light in the time before the light finally turned green for pedestrians.

After my post Traffic Signals for Active Mobility several people sent ideas for and examples of using traffic signals to encourage active walking and cycling, so I thought it would be a nice idea to keep track of the ideas just in case someone decides to pursue the idea of developing a best practices summary in the future.

Self-Controlled Traffic Signals

Self-controlled traffic signals use sensors to detect how many vehicles, cycles and pedestrians are approaching from each direction and the optimization algorithm continuously recalculates signal timing to minimize stop time for everyone. The approach was tested in Lucern Switzerland during 2020. After implementation the average waiting time for pedestrian traffic at one intersection was reduced by 29 percent thanks to self-control, and by 18 percent for car, motorcycle and bicycle traffic (ETH Zurich Research Report – German).

Reduced waiting time for pedestrians and cyclists = more walking and cycling!

Plus … no one gets mad waiting for traffic signals while no traffic is coming = less crossing against the signal and fewer complaints about the city not knowing what they are doing.

Real Time All-way Walk Phases

Illustration of an intersection with traffic signal indications

Normal operations.

Figure 1 (top) shows normal traffic signal operation. Traffic and pedestrians on up-down street have right of way (green signals). Vehicles/bikes and pedestrians on cross-street are waiting (red signal).

Sensors determine there is no vehicle/bike traffic approaching on up-down street.

Figure 2 (bottom) shows that vehicle/bike traffic on up-down street receives a red signal and pedestrians on cross-street receive a green signal enabling them to start crossing the up-down street early.

It might be possible to exempt bikes from stopping and allow them to start crossing the up-down street with the pedestrians, but this would require some good cooperation from everyone.

Illustration of an intersection with traffic signal indications

Independent 4-way walk phase.

Real time all walk phases would be especially useful on one-way arterials where traffic often moves in bunches down the street, leaving relatively long periods where no traffic is coming. This encourages pedestrians to cross against the light (in New York this is practically standard procedure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous).

The photo at the top of this post shows one of these situations in Vienna. I was shocked to see a person pushing a baby carriage cross against the light.

Your idea here!

I’d like to make this an updated list of ideas. So please send your ideas or comments to the above and I’ll update this post in the future.