Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Crosswalks that work and don't work: Columbus Avenue at Northeastern University

by Chris Kelleher

Typical Crosswalk on Columbus Ave.

Columbus Ave. has a section that runs through the campus of Northeastern University.  This is an area with high pedestrian traffic, especially students crossing Columbus Ave. going to and from class.  This is one of the main functions of the road, and so should be considered heavily while designing the road.  As you can see in the picture below, there are closely spaced crossings as well as a rough pavement median to facilitate the high volume of pedestrians.

This road has a great design in favor of pedestrians.  A pedestrian will have to travel a maximum of around 1 block to reach the nearest crosswalk.  The median also provides a multitude of advantages stemming from the fact that a pedestrian will only have to cross half of the road at a time, if necessary.  Due to the high number of crosswalks, the speed of cars should tend to be low because of the constant stopping for pedestrians.  A good design does not always result in the desired function though.  I decided to examine one of these crosswalks and see how well it truly functioned.  
Correct Use of Crosswalk
Here you can clearly see the crosswalk functioning correctly.  This scholarly gentleman was walking in the crosswalk as these two cars approached and they yielded and stopped to wait for the pedestrian to clear the lane.  Although you can see the crosswalk working perfectly here, it doesn't always work flawlessly.  

Incorrect Use of Crosswalk
Here you can see that the crosswalk only works when the users of the road use it correctly.  We see that the two pedestrians have used the crosswalk correctly and the van behind them stopped when it should have.  However, this pedestrian to the right of the picture did not follow the rules of the road.  He crossed the road in a location which he shouldn't have and caused the car in front of the crosswalk to stop.  This can be dangerous to the pedestrian, as the car may not be expecting a pedestrian.

The Verdict: Good or Bad Crosswalk?
In both of these cases we saw cars yielding correctly to pedestrians.  However, this was not the case all of the time.  It is not uncommon to see pedestrians waiting to get on the crosswalk because they are scared of stepping into the road.  I also witnessed a few occasions where a pedestrian was clearly about to cross the road and had to wait as the car that should have yielded blew past at 30 mph+.  It seems that the cars can bully the pedestrians when they want and force them to yield to the cars, instead of the opposite.  What causes this problem?  The reason most of these cars won't stop is probably due to their speed.  The speed limit on a street with crossings this closely spaced should be 20-25 mph.  The speed limit on this section of Columbus Avenue? Nowhere to be found.  Going up and down this section of the road, there are no indications of what speed you should be going.  This is the major problem.  With this wide road with a median and bike lane, the travel lane seems very wide.  This can lead the cars to travel  faster than preferred, and in turn not stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.  The traffic volume on Columbus Ave. is low enough that  pedestrians can usually cross when they want, and not every car travels this fast.  But when a car travels at a speed higher that the recommended for closely spaced crossings and feels that they have the right of way, the street becomes unsafe.  So do these crosswalks work or not?  It is hard to say.  One of the main design concerns for a crosswalk is safety.  In that sense, these crosswalks can be work sometimes and not work sometimes.

There are some measures that we could use to lower the speed of the traveling cars and increase pedestrian safety.  There are a number of traffic calming techniques that could be examined for use on Columbus Avenue.  A speed hump with a low slope and long profile would be a great option to reduce speed but not by that much.

No comments:

Post a Comment