Does pressing the pedestrian button at signals like Gowen Road and Federal Way do anything? Summertime solution to difficult right turn from southbound Broadway Avenue onto westbound Front Street
Dear Road Wizard: I often use the crosswalks at the intersection of Gowen Road and Federal Way. I have noticed that pushing the crosswalk request button on the recently-installed traffic controllers does nothing to speed up the wait or alter the traffic flow to accommodate the pedestrian. You must wait until you are instructed to cross. Why not have a "walk now" at every possible opportunity in the signal cycle, and replace the request button with an indicator to let the pedestrian know which direction will walk next?
Pushing a crosswalk button is like calling for an elevator. It wouldn't be very efficient for the elevator to skip other floors to rush down for the person waiting at the first floor, deliver that person, then go back for the rest. But pushing an elevator button does alter the way the elevator behaves.
A signal that has vehicle detection, like the one at Federal Way and Gowen, works similarly. A pressed walk button tells the signal computer that a pedestrian is waiting. The computer considers the other "floors," as in what steps in the signal cycle need to happen before the pedestrian gets a turn. The computer also finds room within the cycle to provide time for people to cross safely. This helps maintain traffic flow.
As for the "walk now" idea, that can be found in Downtown Boise, where walk signals activate automatically every time there is a chance to cross.
This is effective downtown because the signals have consistent pedestrian use, the timing is the same every cycle, and the cycles are short. The compromise is that while the signals do have different preset, fixed-timed programs for high and low traffic periods, the signals can't adjust for real-time traffic demands. Signals outside downtown, like the one at Federal Way and Gowen, can change the timing within each cycle as needed. That feature would be lost if the signals did the "Downtown Walk Now."
Dear Road Wizard: I asked this question of you a few months ago, maybe you didn't receive it or are avoiding it! Traveling south on Broadway Avenue and attempting to turn right (west) onto Front Street is a nightmare, especially during rush hour. This traffic flow problem is further exacerbated when you have pedestrians crossing Front, and cars must wait on a green light for people to cross all five lanes. I have a solution. Designate a second right-turn-option lane next to the right-turn-only lane.
This question has been addressed in the column before, with a similar solution suggested. But that is no excuse to avoid a repeat - especially when I have an update.
The Idaho Transportation Department is expected to build a right-turn concrete island at this location this summer. It will provide right-turning Broadway drivers with their own, relatively free-flow lane onto westbound Front. The island will prevent other traffic from entering the lane, so there will be less time spent yielding to other motorists.
The change will also break the pedestrian crossings on the north and west legs of the intersection into two-stage crossings. That should get pedestrians clear of the right-turn lane faster.
As for a second right-turn option, that is still a "No." It would add too much risk for pedestrians.
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