Jaywalkers beware

This morning I observed a UGA police officer writing a pedestrian a traffic citation at the intersection of Sanford Drive and Baldwin Street. One officer explained that their department was indeed targeting pedestrians breaking traffic laws. Another explained that they were looking only for dangerous incidents, such as one in which a woman walked in front of a van with a green light whose driver had to brake to avoid striking her.

Pedestrian safety would be helped at this intersection and at Baxter and Lumpkin if the traffic lights did not require pedestrians to push a button to get a walk signal. Pedestrians are reluctant to push the buttons because of the crowds that form and the distance that the buttons have been moved farther from the street corners. Last year I asked David Clark from the Athens-Clarke County Transportation Department to consider having the walk signal at Sanford-Baldwin be included in the regular light cycle, but he declined, citing complaints from drivers waiting longer at red lights.


Polusplanchnos said...

Just to be sure, it's not a targeting in the sense of focusing solely on that one activity over all others. There are traffic laws regarding what pedestrians do that are just as much our responsibility to enforce as any other law. If the infractions are just too numerous to walk away, it takes a certain kind of will to simply look the other way. Particularly when Baldwin has been the site of some rather unfortunate and harmful crashes between cars and pedestrians.

Still, one officer's discretion shouldn't be regarded as a departmental policy, and I'd like to make that clear (as with the UGAPD/CT bus discussion we had earlier). [Otherwise, we might wonder if UGAPD has a thing just for expired tags or entering autos...]

Adrian Pritchett said...

David Clark responds:


That is not an accurate reflection of our conversation, as I remember it. The reason why Transportation & Public Works do not program traffic signals to automatically display the Walk/Don't Walk indications every cycle in areas outside of the downtown area are two-fold:

1. By doing so, the traffic signal will display the pedestrian indications every cycle regardless of whether or not a pedestrian is needing to cross the street. Outside of the 15 minutes centered around class change time, there are very few pedestrians along Baldwin crossing Lumpkin and/or Sanford. It would cause significantly delays to all users of the transportation system to have traffic signals give pedestrian crossing times to none-extent pedestrians. So yes, you are partially correct in saying that drivers complain about waiting at longer red lights - but it is more than that. Everyone hates waiting for no apparent reason.

2. Most traffic engineers view crossing a street as something that should be an active activity - as compared to a passive one. That is why a pedestrian needs to take the initiative to push a button to cross the street, by doing so they mentally become engaged in the activity that they are about to undertake (crossing the road) as compared to simply expecting that the light automatically will change for them (like the great sea parting). I think most people would agree that when one has to do something before undertaking an activity you are much more aware of the activity you are doing. Crossing a street (especially one that tends to have large vehicles, high volumes, and faster speeds - like Lumpkin Street) really needs one full attention while crossing instead of how most college students cross by wandering out there while talking on a cell phone.

- David Clark
Director of Transportation & Public Works
Athens-Clarke County, GA

David, you did indeed decline to consider changing the programming, so I have not been inaccurate here.

As far as buttons being pressed for the walk signal, they are not used in downtown Athens, and they are often not used at crossings with high pedestrian traffic.

I also explained to you that due to the distance of the buttons from the sidewalk and the size of the crowds at Baldwin/Sanford that physically obstruct the buttons, it is not practical to expect pedestrians to use those buttons.

It should also be noted that raising the crosswalk on Baldwin makes crossing a more passive experience for the pedestrian. Because of the continuity of the grade and the brickwork, it hardly appears to be a roadway from the pedestrian's perspective.

I also think that you mischaracterize the amount of pedestrian traffic crossing Baldwin. The high traffic is certainly not limited to a 15-minute period at each class change. It is misleading to say that there are "very few" pedestrians crossing Baldwin. This is like saying that "very few" pedestrians cross Broad Street at the Arch. We're talking about two of the busiest crossings in town.