All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Ee-oop, ee-oop (stupid light, will you change?)

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I’m on my bike, waiting for the light at 10th and Hemlock. There’s another cyclist before me – a young woman, full of nervous energy, she keeps pressing the signal button: an insistent ee-oop, ee-oop, ee-oop.

Above us, from a window in the appartment building, peers the face of a woman. Her expression is more worried than ennoyed, as she pleads: “PLEASE please please stop pressing that button! You have no idea how maddening it can be to hear that all day long!”

Before then, I’d never stop to think about how ennoying that sound can be (and I now keep to single push). But I have since found another expression of this, a note (see the photo above) on a signal at Victoria and 5th.

It’s not just me, then, that finds those things ennoying. Me, I find them patronizing (as well as dangerous) – but I used to think that was just me.

But not so: this is a feeling shared by none other than planner and walkability expert Jeff Speck. In his 2012 Walkable City, he writes (page 184):

Another reliable bellwether [of walkability] is the visible absence of push-button traffic signals. In my travels, it is almost always the cities with push-button crossings that need the help most. I remember when these were introduced during my childhood, and they seemed at the time like a gift. Wow, I can actually control the traffic light. What power! But the truth is quite the opposite. Push-buttons almost always mean that the automobile predominates, as they are typically installed in conjunction with a new signal timing in which crossing times are shorter and less frequent. Far from empowering walkers, the push button turns them into second-class citizens; pedestrians should never have to ask for a light.

That’s right. Pedestrians should never have to ask for permission to cross, nor should cyclists, if drivers don’t. We’re part of transportation, too; and each of us, we’re one fewer car on the road.

Speck, Jeff 2012. Walkable city: how downtown can save America, one step at a time. New York: North Point Press.

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Written by enviropaul

August 24, 2014 at 9:56 am

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