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Pedestrian signals were introduced to improve pedestrian safety. For many years, traffic volumes were much lower than they are today, and pedestrians could take their cues from the same traffic lights as motorists. Things are more complicated today, so it shouldn’t be surprising that questions are frequently asked about pedestrian signals.
Q: Is it really necessary for me to push a button to activate the pedestrian signal?
A: Yes, you should definitely use the button for the pedestrian signal, if one is available. Where buttons are available to pedestrians, it is because the traffic signal is timed for cars, not for people on foot. The pedestrian signal is not activated unless the button is pushed, which then provides enough time to safely cross the street. You need to push the button only once for it to be activated.
Q: Why does it always say "Don’t Walk" before I have completed crossing the street?
A: The flashing "Don’t Walk" or upraised hand is a warning to people who have not yet entered the intersection that it is too late to safely cross the street before the traffic signal changes, allowing cars to proceed. Signals are timed to allow plenty of time for people who have already started walking to safely cross the street.
Q: Why are the words "Walk" and "Don’t Walk" being replaced by symbols?
A: Transportation engineers world-wide are moving toward the use of symbol signs in place of word signs. People understand a visual symbol in a shorter amount of time, and easily recognized symbols accommodate people who cannot read English.
Q: Why are pedestrian signals available at some intersections and not others?
A: Pedestrian signals are installed for two reasons: a high volume of foot traffic at an intersection, or the signals directing motorists do not meet the needs of pedestrians.
For example, some intersections are laid out at odd angles and traffic signals cannot be seen by pedestrians; or sometimes turning and merging lanes make intersections so complex that special provisions must be made for pedestrians.
Q: Can I count on a safe crossing if I carefully follow the pedestrian signals?
A: The signals assign your legal rights in the intersection; however, it is important to be cautious when crossing busy intersections. The following suggestions are offered in the interest of safety:
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