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Crosswalk buttons more essential than ever in downtown St. Petersburg

Some folks are still adjusting to the directional changes of a few streets in downtown St. Petersburg. The changes were made months ago, but for seasonal residents, the one-way to two-way conversions came as a surprise. The intersection of Fifth Avenue N and First Street, in particular (First Street has been converted from a one-way street to a two-way street) has generated some reader mail.

Reader Dorothy Byrne had a pedestrian concern: "When there is traffic coming south on First Street and the light turns red for northbound traffic, the light for the southbound traffic turns green. There is no way to know for sure that it is safe to cross unless you use the pedestrian button."

She cites as another example that at Fifth Avenue N and Beach Drive the light will not change from green on Beach Drive unless there is westbound traffic on Fifth Avenue N or pedestrians push the button for the crosswalk light. Byrne, who uses a scooter, says the pedestrian buttons are not well-marked and that most people are clueless that they need to use them to in order to activate the crosswalk. She noticed during the holidays that pedestrians stood through several signal cycles waiting in vain for the crosswalk signals to come on automatically.

We passed Byrne's concerns on to Mike Frederick, the city's neighborhood transportation manager. Frederick said that it's important that pedestrians always use the crosswalk activation button at intersections as the workings of some intersections and signal cycles can be complex.

Regarding Fifth Avenue N and First Street, Frederick said that pedestrians on the southwest corner preparing to walk eastbound across First Street must push the crosswalk push-button and obey the pedestrian signal. He said that some pedestrians might look at the northbound signals and assume that it's safe to cross when they turn red for vehicle traffic.

"That's not a good assumption because the southbound signals turn green immediately after the northbound turn red. The traffic signal has always worked this way. The difference since the change to two-way is that when the southbound lights turn green, cars used to only be allowed to turn right," Frederick said.

Now that cars can proceed southbound on First Street, this is where some problems might arise with pedestrians being unsure of when it's safe to cross. To avoid this, the best bet is to push the pedestrian button and proceed eastbound across First Street only when the walk symbol comes on.

Frederick said that the reason the pedestrian push-buttons are required at certain locations instead of having the walk lights on fixed time is that the three-interval nature of the signal phasing makes it impossible to accommodate the pedestrian times within the cycle length of traffic signals. This makes it necessary to have the pedestrian signals activated exclusively on demand.

Please e-mail Dr. Delay at to share your traffic concerns, comments and questions. Check out Dr. Delay's Bay News 9 blog at to read more about commuting issues.

Crosswalk buttons more essential than ever in downtown St. Petersburg 01/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 17, 2009 3:30am]
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