LADOT Pilots “Pedestrian First” Timing on Broadway

Pedestrians crossing at Broadway and 4th. Photo via LADOT.
Pedestrians crossing at Broadway and 4th. Photo via LADOT.

It seems like a simple concept. If you give pedestrians a walk signal before giving cars the go-ahead, pedestrians crossing at intersections will be more visible and crashes and injuries will be reduced. But in a city where too much of the infrastructure is still designed to encourage cars to move quickly, even a small change that benefits people who aren’t in cars will be noticed.

In this case, some Streetsbloggers have noticed that some of the traffic signals along Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles are out of sync with the rest of the city. Even if Broadway is home to the pedestrian friendly “dress rehearsal” and has its own pedestrian master plan, people are still cautiously optimistic when they see change at the street level.

“On Sunday morning, I was riding eastbound on 4th Street when I came to a red light as I reached Broadway,” wrote Patrick Pascal. “I was shocked to notice that (like Chicago and a few other progressive places) the walk signal permitted pedestrians to begin to cross at least four seconds before the traffic signal turned green.  Was this due to an error by the DOT or is the agency finally joining the 21st century?”

Good news! It’s the latter.

“At Broadway and 4th/3rd Streets, we are piloting a ‘pedestrian priority phase’ signalized intersection that provides a three-second head start for people walking/bicycling/skateboarding across the street,” responded Bruce Gillman, a spokesperson with LADOT. “We implemented this in conjunction with the Broadway Dress Rehearsal ribbon cutting ceremony last August.  Vehicles wait those extra seconds, making people more visible to drivers as they step off the curb.”

So far the results are positive. There have been no crashes or reports of “snarled” traffic at the intersections. LADOT stresses this is a pilot program and decisions on expanding the progressive light timing to other portions of the city won’t be made until after the “dress rehearsal” on Broadway is concluded.

“The Broadway Streetscape Master Plan gave us the rare opportunity to truly create a plan that prioritized pedestrians over vehicles in a unique way in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles,” said Councilmember Jose Huizar. Huizar’s office has aggressively pushed for different projects to transform the already heavily-walked pedestrian corridor on Broadway  into a more safe and inviting one.

“As part of our unprecedented plan, my office convinced our partner LADOT to implement pilot ‘pedestrian head start’ crosswalks on Broadway.  I believe allowing pedestrians to be well into the intersection before vehicles get a green light creates better visibility for pedestrians and drivers, which makes it safer for all. It’s common sense technology that creates a safer way to walk.  My hope is our pilot will be expanded Citywide.”

Giving pedestrians first access to the street at a crossing is a proven way of both increasing the safety of the street crossing and of sending a message that streets are for people, not just people in cars. While it is not quite as exciting as a “Barnes Dance,” known locally as a scramble crosswalk, it is a lot easier for the city to implement across the city.

If you’re not familiar with a scramble crosswalk, Streetfilms made a video about L.A.’s innovative crosswalks in 2009.

The “dress rehearsal” is the first phase of the Broadway Streetscape Master Plan that implements numerous groundbreaking pedestrian-oriented, traffic-calming upgrades along the historic Broadway corridor. The project was spearheaded by  Huizar and the Bringing Back Broadway initiative and is a collaboration among his office, Downtown stakeholders, and numerous public and private agencies working together to create one of Los Angeles’ first large-scale Complete Streets projects.

23 thoughts on LADOT Pilots “Pedestrian First” Timing on Broadway

  1. “a three-second head start for people walking/bicycling/skateboarding across the street” — so this implies it’s ok/expected to bike in the crosswalk, right?

  2. Good point. Hadn’t caught that on the first read-through. Presumably that’s an error in referencing bikes since they’re still considered a vehicle same as automobiles. But still a curious statement nonetheless…

  3. Nope. (a) Bicycles are NOT vehicles in California and (b) Bicycling IS allowed on sidewalks in the city of Los Angeles so long as it’s done safely.

    In case you were wondering, bicycles in California are subject to NONE of the regulations which control vehicles, however bicycle RIDERS are subject to all of the California laws pertaining to DRIVERS.

  4. Thanks Jennix! That clarification still seems a bit odd about bicycles vs bicycle riders, but at least you helped catch my confusion on the application of vehicle laws. Much appreciated :-)

  5. This is a great start to protect pedestrians. Please put more of these in heavily pedestrian trafficked intersections, such as those near rail stations and major bus stops.

  6. Can we also do something about the constant LAPD stings downtown where they give $200 tickets to pedestrians for crossing during the countdown phase? It seems incredibly counterproductive if our goal is make downtown more pedestrian friendly.

    Yes, I know the letter of the law says that you can’t step off the curb to cross once the timer begins. But many other cities have the same law but its not actually enforced to the degree it is here.

    Its especially insulting when the non-countdown part of the walk phase is only 5-10 seconds followed by a full 20 seconds of countdown. Its hard to feel like its anything other than a revenue generating trap, even if that’s not LADOT’s intention.

  7. I was very pleased when I noticed this shortly after the streetscape installation. It makes things much easier, truly hope they implement it city wide.

  8. Yup, totally free to ride (respectfully and without endangering anyone) on sidewalks in the city of Los Angeles. Just make sure you don’t do it in Santa Monica or West Hollywood!

  9. Intersections with pedestrian controls should also have red arrows prohibiting turns during the pedestrian phase.

  10. Think this is very considerate. Hopefully this mentality will make it up here to The Capitol. But then, we are about two technological decades behind Southern Calif.

  11. Yes! One of the worst is at 5th and Olive – a major crossing where tourists are constantly baffled, especially since you don’t get the walk light across 5th – it’s one way on the east side.

  12. of course NONE of this will help, as long as police feel like pedestrians are impeding the flow of traffic. The should get off the pedestrians backs and onto the backs of all those inconsiderate drivers who think they own the streets they travel on and therefor feel no need to stop, not even for pregnant women or mothers with strollers.. A$$HOLES!

  13. Agreed! And first up for removal of beg buttons should be all crosswalks within 1-2(-3?) blocks of a Metro station!

  14. I’ve always felt the flashing-hand countdown timer does a great disservice to pedestrians, mostly because it subtly implies that it is indeed OK to still cross. (And to be honest, there’s no real benefit to the current countdown timers as all they measure is the time until one don’t-walk [flashing hand] phase ends and the next don’t-walk phase [solid hand] begins. Useless.) Instead, LA should switch its countdown timers to count down the *walk phase* so we pedestrians know how long we have to actually begin crossing. If I see a walk countdown on “2” from half a block away, I won’t waste time rushing to the light. If it says “22” then I’d know I have time to cross.

  15. Hard to believe but new “beg” buttons have been installed downtown at 8th & Grand and 8th & Olive. What the heck is going on?

  16. From a recent discussion at LADOT’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, the new additions you’re seeing in DTLA are not “beg buttons” per se, but Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) which are supposedly going to be the new standard citywide. While they do not need to be pressed in order to cross the street, if they are pressed they provide audio cues for those who have vision impairments.

    I can foresee some problems with this system, the first of which is that many of the already-installed APS units are virtually identical in appearance to beg buttons. While APSs are supposed to have slightly different signage from traditional beg buttons, many of the new APSs were installed with the incorrect beg button signage. :-( Couple that with the fact that even with the correct signage, the APSs look so similar to beg buttons that as they roll out across the city, the average person will believe they are beg buttons instead.

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