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Pedestrian signals, red lights might not match

Don’t depend on pedestrian signals, like this one at First Street and 62nd Avenue NE in St. Petersburg, to entirely synch with traffic lights.


Don’t depend on pedestrian signals, like this one at First Street and 62nd Avenue NE in St. Petersburg, to entirely synch with traffic lights.

I was biking north on First Street NE and came to the light at 62nd Avenue, which was red. I stopped and saw on the other side of the street two gentlemen on bikes heading toward me, waiting for the pedestrian signal. The men were watching the pedestrian signal on 62nd Avenue as it counted down to zero and since the men were chatting, one of them, assuming the traffic light had turned red, started crossing 62nd Avenue. However, there was a car coming and the driver had to quickly brake to avoid hitting one of the men.

I realize it is the bicyclist's (or driver's) responsibility to make sure the light is the right color before proceeding, however would a 10-year-old recognize it is his responsibility to make sure the light is in his favor before heading out? In my opinion, these delayed lights are an accident waiting to happen.

Why are there some lights where when the countdown hits zero, the light remains red? There are lights all over town that have the countdown indicating when the light will change. When the number hits zero, the opposing light turns yellow and then red. That's the way it is supposed to work.

Can you help me understand the reasoning behind these delayed lights?

Maryjane Schmidt

Similar inquiries have been made by readers regarding lack of uniformity in pedestrian crossing countdown displays and timing, so we shared this letter with Mike Frederick, St. Petersburg's transportation manager.

Frederick pointed out that pedestrian signal displays are for pedestrians, not drivers. So when the pedestrian signals count down to zero, this doesn't necessarily mean that the intersection signal is about to cycle, especially at major intersections.

"Count-down pedestrian signals are timed to reflect the actual time it will take an average pedestrian to cross the roadway based on the width of the road and the average speed of a pedestrians. Generally, 3.5 feet per second is used, but where seniors or children may cross it can be as low as 3 feet per second. So at a 60-foot wide intersection, a pedestrian would need 20 seconds to cross and an additional 10 seconds of solid walk is usually added to total 30 seconds," Frederick said.

The window of "green time" for vehicles could be as much as 45 seconds at larger intersections, which may mean a 15-second difference. This is all to say that there are several factors and accompanying reasons as to why the two may not be operating in unison, which have to do with different cycle lengths at peak times of day, signal cycles that include turn arrows, or signal progressions that have been implemented to respond to differing traffic conditions, Fredrick said.

"Many of the larger intersections with flexible timing plans will not have matching pedestrian signal lengths. So don't be fooled — follow your own signal to be safe."

• • •

School bells ring this week, which means that school buses will be back in action. Let's slow down, pay close attention on the morning and afternoon commute, be alert for little ones and crossing guards too, and exercise some extra patience.

One of the most frequently asked questions the Doc receives related to school buses is whether or not vehicles must halt for stopped school buses if the vehicles are headed in the opposite direction on a divided road. The answer is no. When it comes to traveling on a divided road, here are the guidelines: The driver of a vehicle on a divided highway (which means that an unpaved space of at least 5 feet, a raised median, or some sort of other physical barrier is present) is not required to stop when traveling in the opposite direction of a stopped school bus.

In all other cases, state law states that anyone operating a vehicle on the road must, upon approaching a school bus that displays a stop signal (the red paddle that swings off the side of the bus that reads "STOP" and red flashing signals on the body of the bus), bring their vehicle to a full stop while the bus is stopped, meaning the motorist may not legally hit the gas and pass the school bus until the signal has been completely withdrawn. It doesn't matter if it appears that all the kids have gotten on or off the bus; motorists must wait and failure to do so means you've committed a moving violation.

Email Dr. Delay at to share your traffic concerns, comments and your questions.

Pedestrian signals, red lights might not match 08/16/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 16, 2013 5:13pm]
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