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Mixed Signals

FOX 9 Investigators (KMSP)
May 2006

Different times for crosswalks cause major confusion for Twin Cities pedestrians

FOX 9 Investigators (KMSP)
Aired: 5/7/2006

Here’s one sure- fire way to beat the high price of gasoline, walk more.
But have you tried getting to the store on foot?
It’s nearly impossible in some parts of the metro.
Sure the streets have crossing lights, but the Fox 9 Investigators found Twin Cities pedestrians are getting mixed signals, and it makes walking a scary proposition.
Mom always taught us to look both ways before crossing the street, and be sure and use the walk signal.
But does it seem like those lights don’t give you enough time?
Depending on where you do your walking, you’re right. It’s all about the timing.

The signal tells you to walk, but your instinct for self-preservation says you better run.
Why is crossing the street getting so intimidating?

A Fox 9 investigation finds Twin Cities pedestrians are getting mixed signals.
That confusion leads to indecision and that can get you hurt.

When car meets pedestrian, no matter what the speed, pedestrian always loses.

Jim Lovegreen got hit in a crosswalk.

The crash left him with a permanent limp, and about 60 grand in medical bills.

We wondered how much time you really get to cross a lot of our busy streets.

To find out, the Fox 9 Investigators put on our walking shoes.

We hit the pavement at 100 randomly selected intersections all over the Twin Cities, from the downtowns to retail hubs in the burbs.
What’d we find?

You never know what you’re going to get.

Of the 100 signals we checked, five were so quick that we couldn’t cross the intersection at a normal pace before the light for opposing traffic changed.

Seven lights didn’t work at all. We didn’t know when to walk, or when not to.

13 lights did give us a "walk" symbol that lasted for more than 15 seconds, but the vast majority of them, 51 percent in fact, only gave us seven seconds worth of "walk light" before they started to flash a warning.

For a lot of people, seven seconds is barely enough time to get started.

How far can a person walk in 7 seconds?

Let’s find out.

A typical intersection is about 60 feet wide, although some of the newer ones can stretch over 200 feet.

Traffic engineers figure the average person walks at a pace of four feet per second.

7 seconds should get you halfway across a 60-foot intersection, before the light starts flashing a warning to get-a-move on.

That may be true for some gentlemen.

But if you’re a spunky 90 year old 7 seconds will get you about 20 feet.

A mom with two small children can’t get very far on 7 seconds either.

In this case, she got just over 20 feet.

Yes, the flashing hand means times running out for you to cross.
But does anybody know how much time you actually have left?

Its hard to tell, because they’re all different.

Our investigation found that trying to figure out the warning light sequence is like trying to understand the income tax code.

9 of the lights we checked gave us less than ten seconds to finish crossing, after the walk signal changed to the warning.
32 gave us more than ten, but less than 15 seconds.

24 signals flashed the warning for more than 20 seconds.

Are you confused yet?

We found the longest pedestrian signals in the downtowns, and near the University of Minnesota.
That makes sense because of all the foot traffic.
As you move further out to shopping centers like Southdale, the crossing times drop.
 Walk signals can screw up traffic flow timing.
 In suburbia cars are king.
 Unless residents complain about specific intersections, the lights are set to favor motor vehicles.

We can’t say how many Minnesota pedestrian crashes are caused by improper crosswalk timing, there aren’t any statistics.
But several cities and MNDOT are trying to address the problem.
New signals give pedestrians a countdown to take away some of the confusion.
If there’s an intersection that you feel needs a longer walk signal, complain about it.
You can actually petition to have the timing changed.
Last year the city of Mounds View did it for every major intersection along Highway 10.
Paul E. Godlewski of the law firm Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben, P.A. represents Jim Lovegreen.

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