Engineers to Pedestrians: No ‘Walk’ Signs for You!

Photo: Michael Smith
Photo: Michael Smith

Pedestrians won’t get “Walk” signals at thousands of intersections thanks to a decision by a powerful group of engineers in Washington on Thursday.

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices — which establishes rules for road signs, signals and markings — opted to not require the “signal heads” for pedestrians — signs that display the “walk” or “don’t walk” signal — at every intersection, despite pressure from an insurgent group of progressive engineers.

“Engineers may continue to not install pedestrian signal heads … this is our transportation profession,” engineering consultant Bill Schultheiss, one of the insurgents, tweeted after the ruling.

Some of the engineers on the committee were worried about the cost, Schultheiss said, which range from $5,000 to $50,000, if the rule change made transportation agencies feel they needed to install crosswalks, sidewalks and curb ramps as well. In some cases, the signal heads may have required a little bit of utility work as well.

Opponents said they were concerned about requiring those things in rural areas where there weren’t many pedestrians.

As we recently reported, based on research in suburban Rockford, Ill., intersections in rural and suburban areas need more protection. And even a few pedestrians per day adds up to repeated exposure that results in needlessly lost lives.

The NCUTCD’s decision comes at a time when pedestrian deaths are on the rise. About 6,000 people were killed while walking last year, a nearly 50-percent increase over the last five years.

“The committee not passing requirement to provide pedestrian signal when installing new traffic signal is very disappointing,” Dongho Chang, Seattle’s lead traffic engineer and one of the engineers who pushed for the change, told Streetsblog in an email. “We’ll continue to work with members that have concerns to change their perspectives.”

If the changes would have been approved they would have become part of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which is used as a guideline on every road project in America. NCUTCD said it is not sure when the next edition of the manual will be published.


The MUTCD is part of the reason why American speed limits are set based on how fast drivers feel compelled to go, and not how fast they should go to protect vulnerable road users. Image: Richard Drdul via Creative Commons

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