How much time does it take for a pedestrian to cross the street?

Date:April 24, 2007 / year-entry #143
Orig Link:
Comments:    28
Summary:It sounds like the set-up to an old joke, but it's not. It's just one of the random bits of trivia that I wondered about. For intersections with both high pedestrian and high vehicle volumes, I was able to find the Federal Highway Administration recommendation, which is to give pedestrians a head start to allow...

It sounds like the set-up to an old joke, but it's not. It's just one of the random bits of trivia that I wondered about.

For intersections with both high pedestrian and high vehicle volumes, I was able to find the Federal Highway Administration recommendation, which is to give pedestrians a head start to allow them to cross one lane of traffic before vehicles are given a green light, and the formula they use for determining how much time to allow is 2.8 feet per second.

In the city of Bellevue, planners assume a pedestrian speed of four feet per second.

At Microsoft campus, there is one dedicated pedestrian crossing, and the planners who designed the crossing came up with a clever hack to reduce the amount of time that traffic is stopped while still adhering to the four-feet-per-second rule. As you can see from the photo, there is an island in the road. Traffic is stopped long enough to allow a four-feet-per-second pedestrian to reach the center island. The pedestrian can then hit a crossing control button on the island to get a second chunk of time to complete the crossing. On the other hand, a faster pedestrian can complete the entire crossing within one cycle and the center crossing control is not needed.

Before the pedestrian crossing was installed there, you would often seen Microsoft employees jaywalking at that location by playing a game of real-life Frogger. You'd be driving along and catch a head peeping out of the trees on the median and have a brief moment of panic as you realized you were travelling too fast to stop in time if the person decided to take that moment to resume their crossing. Signs and warnings didn't stop people from jaywalking, so the traffic planners installed an official crossing, for which I am thankful. Now I no longer panic when I drive past that area.

(For completeness, here is the Washington State Crosswalk Law in pictures.)

Comments (28)
  1. JamesNT says:

    I’ve just had an epiphany and I can’t believe how disappointed I am in myself that I did not realize this earlier.

    Consider this post.  And now consider some of the previous direct programming exercises.  

    Notice the similarity?

    All of Mr. Chen’s posts, whether directly programming related or like this one, involve the art and science of user interface design and how users interact with a particular situation.  

    The pedestrian crossing and how fast users walk across it on average actually remind me of the article Mr. Chen has in MSDN magazine regarding the start menu and how Windows decides which programs go on the list.

    How do you take any given situation and make it efficient for the average end user?

    It would actually be fun to talk about backwards compatibility with how traffic was handled 30 years ago (yes, I know, I’m taking this to far at this point).


  2. Puckdropper says:

    I call the very same act of crossing the street at my college "playing Frogger".  While there’s no countdown timer to make sure you move, there is the road, a safe white (concrete) strip with the occasional hazard (bicycle, worker), and a strip of parking lot.  The traffic in the parking lot moves almost as fast as the traffic on the road.

    There’s a crosswalk about 75 feet away from the door to the residents hall, but almost no one takes it.  It’s 150 feet out of the way, and in a valley so you can’t see traffic as well.  Sometimes I think traffic designers follow a very simple set of rules for how they design things.  (Crosswalks go on street corners, yellow lights are 1.2 seconds long regardless of speed limit, etc.)

  3. DavidR says:

    In ancient times when I was a summer intern in Redmond, we were told something like “Attention East-Coast People:  You are now on the West Coast.  We do not jaywalk here.”  Stories of pedestrians issued jaywalking tickets by the Seattle PD floated amongst the interns.

    Have regional proscriptions against jaywalking mellowed since the mid-90s?  Were they ever as severe as I was lead to believe at the time?  Or is this another example of the MS campus being culturally more distant from Seattle than mere distance would suggest?

  4. Felix says:

    The button-triggered extension of the crossing time for the crossing between Troon and the B26/B27 parking lot is, IMHO, completely superfluous. I could probably make the crossing in a low crawl in the initial time allotment.

  5. Frogger says:

    That crosswalk light is still to slow. I can cross both segments of the road 3 or 4 times in the time that the light remains red for vehicle traffic.

    When I cross the road I generally feel so bad having traffic wait for me for so long that I just jaywalk unless there’d be so much traffic that I can’t.

    All Bellevue/Redmond traffic light times (both Vehicle and Pedestrian) are ridiculously long in my opinion.

    I wish we could implement the U.K. traffic light system over here – you’d be able to fit twice as much cars on the same number of roads (or have traffic move twice as fast).

  6. Jesse says:

    "In the city of Bellevue, planners assume a pedestrian speed of four feet per second. "

    It seems Bellevue is just generally pedestrian unfriendly.  You literally have to get in your car to cross the street sometimes.

  7. Barry Leiba says:

    I noted something similar in Paris when I was there for the IETF conference in 2005.  Along the larger boulevards, like the Champs Elysée, they have signs telling you to do it in stages: "Piétons attention: Traversée en deux temps!"

    Of course, in Paris they also have cars driving on the sidewalks here and there, and crossing the Place de la Concorde really IS like playing a game of Frogger.

  8. pc486 says:

    The link is completely broken for me. Can someone post a screencap or the original image?

  9. dislyxec says:

    Whenever I cross that crosswalk (whether actually crossing the street on the crosswalk or crossing the crosswalk driving on the street), I think, how much would it have cost to build a bridge there? There’s already 3 other traffic lights between 40th and belred…

    I think about the usability perspective for the cars… We all have to brake and idle at yet another light while the crosswalk assumes a snail-paced pedestrian, and then waste gas accelerating afterwards… Would the aggregate gas cost savings over a decade or so of not having a light there offset the difference in cost of installing a crosswalk vs building an overpass bridge? And if the bridge isn’t wheelchair accessible, there’s another crosswalk 150 yards north at the intersection with 31st. Arguably, without the crosswalk there, the wheelchairs couldn’t cross their anyway.

    So why are we pandering to lazy frogger jaywalkers when they could walk the extra 300 yards to the real intersection crossing?

  10. William C Bonner says:

    The interesting thing about the crosswalk law folder is that the pedestrian seems to have right of way over all of the cars, and that picture disregards any settings of the lights themselves.

    I assume that picture is for a standard 4way stop intersection, but my first thoughts were related to the intersection of Bellevue Way and NE 8th, right next to BelleSquare Mall.  It’s about as bad as things get for a little bit of pedestrian traffic messing up traffic throughout Bellevue.

  11. Ryan says:

    Yes, Seattle will write you a ticket. Part of a "Zero Crime" wave. I’ll wager it’s more revenue focused, but…

    Happens every few years.

  12. Cody says:

    [The interesting thing about the crosswalk law folder is that the pedestrian seems to have right of way over all of the cars, and that picture disregards any settings of the lights themselves.]

    In some places the pedestrian wins if he gets hit no matter how illegal his crossing is.  (Unless it was obviously unreasonable for you to avoid hitting him, such as if he were hiding in a bush wearing all black and jumped in front of your car.)

  13. Bruce Boughton says:

    This entry made me laugh out loud. As Ross noted above, this "clever hack" is probably more common in England than legal copies of Windows Vista ;)

    But then, you guys are only just understanding roundabouts…

  14. Alex Bishop says:

    Here in London, they reconfigured the pedestrian crossings a few years ago to increase the time for pedestrians to cross.

    Ever since, there’s been a urban legend (repeated as fact by some media outlets and politicians) that the real reason was to increase traffic congestion in the run-up to the introduction of the Congestion Charge (some of the more fanciful versions of the rumour claimed that the traffic lights would be switched back after the Congestion Charge was introduced to make it seem like a success).

  15. Ross says:

    You don’t have traffic islands in the US? I can’t see the pic (on a mac) but is it anything like

    The UK has those *everywhere*.

  16. Robert says:

    Monty Python reference..

    Anyway, here in china, there is no median.  You use the space between the lanes as a virtual median.  That is if you stop at all.

    Just keep walking at a slow steady constant speed, and the drivers will swerve a bit and avoid hitting you.

    You can stop, with a foot of clearance on either side *between* the lanes.

    But then the traffic is going, and you are not, and they no longer move around you..  So, you are effectively stuck in the middle of the road.

    It is different in other places.

  17. Sven Groot says:

    I remember when I was in Rome, we were staying on a campsite. This campsite might be convenient for people who own a car, but for us backpackers it wasn’t as much. The main problem was that to reach it from the nearest station, you had to cross not just a street, but a highway.

    It was only a two lane highway, but Italians being Italians they drove like it was a four-lane one anyway.

    Because of that, there was no place of safety anywhere on the road. Playing frogger wouldn’t do, all you could do was wait until there’s a reasonable gap between cars from both sides, and then run for your life.

    This was especially fun if you were late for a train and had all your camping gear (tent, clothes, the whole deal) on your back for that extra agility handicap. :)

  18. Brendan says:

    There used to be a “GEEK CROSSING” sign there, before the official pedestrian crossing was added. There’s a pic of it here

  19. anothr user says:

    One new subscriber from Anothr Alerts

  20. DWalker says:

    "Vehicles must stop if a pedestrian in their half of the roadway."

    From the diagram, it looks like there are four halves.

  21. DWalker says:

    West Coast?  Jaywalking?  

    In San Francisco, jaywalking is still illegal (I think), but any time a pedestrian places his foot into a marked crosswalk, all of the traffic has to stop and yield.

    Also, there is a "virtual" crosswalk at each sidewalk-intersection-with-a-street, even if it’s not marked.

    And I thought Berkeley gave pedestrians the right of way over all vehicular traffic.

  22. 4 feet per second? I thought most of Bellevue assumed pedestrians can fly; last time I was there I had to jaywalk to get from my hotel to the mall without going round another four intersections because there was no pedestrian press button at all.

    My husband was stopped by the LAPD for walking 7 city blocks on the pavement once. ‘Excuse me sir; is there a problem here?’

  23. This so reminds me of something I saw in Tokyo a few weeks ago.

    In Shibuya ward, there’s a huge crossing. Every three minutes the pedestrians can walk, and at night time, it seems that there are a few hundred people crossing every 3 minutes. All the lights turn green so you can cross diagonally if you want to. Then, after 3 minutes, the cars get the green light, and a few hundrer cars cross. This usually works out quite ok. While the cars are crossing, pedestrians fill up the pavement, eager to cross when they get the green light.

    Now, at one point, this guy gets to the crossing just as the pedestrians have got the red light. Everyone gets out of the road, and the drivers are eager to go. But mr Jaywalker decides that he can probably make it to the other side. The other side is about 8 lanes away. So he starts walking into the road, just as the cars get the green light…

    By the time the cars catch up with him, he’s 3 lanes from the pavement, and it’s one more lane to cross before he gets to the small traffic island. He did look a lot like the Frogger, as he darted back and forth, trying to dodge the cars. Fortunately he did make it back to the pavement without getting hurt, but he might think twice about trying to cross the world’s most busy crossing when the cars are allowed to drive…

  24. Dave says:

    William C Bonner wrote: "The interesting thing about the crosswalk law folder is that the pedestrian seems to have right of way over all of the cars, and that picture disregards any settings of the lights themselves."

    You betcha. Ever since cars first appeared on USA roads over 100 years ago, they have been required to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. That has never changed. As a pedestrian, I hope it never does. As a car driver, I hope that pedestrians will behave in a way that is considerate of the efficient flow of the car traffic.

  25. Norman Diamond says:

    Thursday, April 26, 2007 8:04 AM by Kaisa M. Lindahl Lervik

    > This so reminds me of something I saw in Tokyo

    > a few weeks ago.

    Here’s a more normal Tokyo story:

    Driver A has a red light.  Driver B has a green light.  Driver A goes.

    Oops, that didn’t involve pedestrians.  Let’s try again.

    Driver A has a red light.  Pedestrian B has a green light.  Driver A goes.

    Other normal variations:

    Driver A has a street.  Pedestrian B has a crosswalk.  Driver A goes.

    Driver A has a red light.  Pedestrian B has a green light *and* a crosswalk.  Driver A violates social rules and stops.  Pedestrian B starts crossing.  Driver C pulls out from behind driver A and goes.  Pedestrian B jumps and has a narrow escape.

    Driver A has a stop sign.  Bicycle rider B has a crosswalk (for use by both pedestrians and bicycle riders).  B starts crossing.  A hits B.  B gets up, apparently uninjured, though of course her bicycle is ruined.  Police officer happens along at just the right moment, and stops to check if bystander D is carrying an alien registration card.

  26. Prior to the formal crossing, this location featured a very helpful "Geek Crossing" road sign (which, inexplicably, was removed by the city of Redmond)

  27. Tim Long says:

    Here in the UK we have something called a PUFFIN crossing (successor to the Pelican crossing that has been prevalent for decades). PUFFIN = Pedestrian User Friendly INtelligent crossing (OK there is an F missing). These have sensors that monitor both the road traffic and the crossing itself. The length of time the pedestrian has to wait for a green light and how long that light stays green is adjusted dynamically depending on whether there is any traffic and whether anyone is actually using the crossing. It seesm a more appropriate use of technology that just a fixed-length timer based on some possibly invalid assumptions.

  28. ender says:

    Why do I have to spoof as Firefox to see the map? I just get 2 search fields otherwise.

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