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.

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