By David Foss
Intersection timing in large urban cities such as Boston, Massachusetts often necessitates considering many other signals in surrounding areas. This, in turn can potentially result in oversaturated or unsaturated lanes and potentially dangerous behavior, from pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as motorists.
At the heart of the Northeastern University campus, Forsyth Street runs approximately a quarter of a mile, from Ruggles Station in the South, intersecting Huntington Avenue in the middle and terminating at Hemenway Street in the North. Huntington Ave. carries heavy traffic during many periods of the day, and cross streets such as Ruggles Street to the West can also face times of saturation during the day, but Forsyth Street sees almost no traffic most of the day yet has still has a long green period. Most of the streets in the area must be timed precisely in order to allow proper progression of traffic, but this has a negative effect on many of the intersections with Huntington Ave., especially including Forsyth St.
This picture was taken during the late afternoon in the middle of the week, and as you can see, at the beginning of the green light there is not a single vehicle attempting to proceed. There is a 20 second split for this phase which coincides with the beginning of the parallel pedestrian crossing. At most there may be a queue of five vehicles, which takes far less than 20 seconds to clear, yet the green period cannot be changed.
On the other hand, Huntington Ave. has a very long split, upwards of 30 to 40 seconds, which is very often oversaturated. During certain peak times during the school year, large groups of students congregate at the corner of Huntington Ave. and Forsyth St. anxiously waiting more than a half minute to cross the street. At times these groups can number 25 or more, and there can be an almost constant flow for minutes at a time. Because of this incredibly long pedestrian delay, most people will attempt to cross the during traffic flow, which presents a very dangerous situation.
On the South side of the intersection, the “walk” and ‘flashing don’t walk” periods actually end seconds before intersecting traffic has its green light, which leads many pedestrians to cross even during the “don’t walk” phase. This last until the traffic begins, even when there are still pedestrians in the crosswalk, and with many negligent drivers out there this situation could very well lead to disaster.
It is clear that something should be done in order to make this intersection safer, but because of the signalization needs for the surrounding areas there is not much that can be feasibly done to promote safety.