Greater City Providence

News & Notes

Streetsblog: Obama to Propose Four-Year Transpo Bill Funded By “Business Tax Reform”

obama-official-portrait-vertA fact sheet from the administration indicates the proposal would increase dedicated funding for transit more than funding for highways.

The proposal would represent a 38 percent spending increase over the current $109 billion, 2-year law, known as MAP-21, and is the most concrete long-term transportation bill proposed by the Obama administration, which has never put forward a funding stream until now.

See also: FACT SHEET: President Obama Lays Out Vision for 21st Century Transportation Infrastructure

The New York Times: When Pedestrians Get Mixed Signals

But the indication to walk never came. I was contemplating a four-lane dash when a man appeared who told me I had to press the “Walk” button. I did, and at the next signal change for cars, my signal appeared as well.

At first, I applauded this municipal beneficence, which I encountered during a visit while researching my book. Los Angeles is looking after its pedestrians! In New York City, by contrast, the once-functioning “Walk” buttons were left to go dormant, then largely removed. But in my subsequent visits to Los Angeles, my feelings have shifted.

The reason the buttons were rendered obsolete in New York is that there was no need for them. There were always pedestrians waiting to cross. In Los Angeles, the working button came to seem a rare and feeble plea: May I please cross the street?

In Providence I’m all the time seeing people push the wrong walk button. People press the one closest to them, but that is not the button for the street they are hoping to cross.

But the article is really about the misguided crack-down on “jaywalking” in some cities.

If tough love will not make pedestrians safer, what will? The answer is: better walking infrastructure, slower car speeds and more pedestrians. But it’s easier to write off the problem as one of jaywalkers.

Bloomberg: Woes of Megacity Driving Signal Dawn of ‘Peak Car’ Era

In the globe’s growing megacities, pollution and gridlock are putting a damper on driving. In India, some commuters are leaving their cars at home to avoid traffic snarls and long prowls for parking. More young Americans are forgoing the dream of auto ownership for public transport, bikes and vehicle-sharing. Cars on the road are lasting longer than ever.

All of that may herald a new era for an auto industry weaned on a century of global growth. The world will reach “Peak Car” – a point at which annual global sales growth will top out – in the next decade, several auto-industry analysts predict. Researcher IHS Automotive, for one, sees annual sales cresting at 100 million within that time.

Grist: The city should shovel your sidewalk

Cities, and especially suburbs, throughout the country take the bizarre position that roads are a public good but sidewalks, where they even exist, are a luxury that homeowners must maintain for themselves.

[A] New York City council member has proposed that the city up the fine to $250 and use the proceeds to pay for the shoveling itself.

Greater City Providence

Promoting the smart urban growth of the Greater Providence region.


  • Does anyone know why most walk signals in Providence aren’t automatic? Personally, having to haul a baby carriage and child over a mountain of snow to hit the walk button sucks, but probably isn’t the experience of most people. Overall, I think that a lack of automatic walk signals makes drivers less aware that they should be looking for pedestrians, and more surprised when that pedestrian crossing legally in the crosswalk that has a broken light actually expects to cross.

  • Part of the problem with some of the ITS signals in Providence is that they are oriented a bit strangely in some locations. They need to correct that. In essence the button is oriented in the direction of travel.

    And a trick that works on some of the ITS walk signals – tap it five times in succession. You’ll see traffic in the opposite direction stop and you get the clearance to walk. No wait at simple interesections. Cluster intersections like the one down on Atwells where it intersects with Eagle, Kinsley etc. But if you watch the cycle goes: Kinsley, then Atwells to either Eagle or the cross street left turns, then Atwells straight through whcih means you get to cross the cross street.

  • “This would be an improvement. But it would be even better if the city just took on the responsibility of shoveling all sidewalks. Why should cars get a publicly cleared path while pedestrians do not? Sidewalks are as much of a public good as roads, and pedestrians should be as entitled to safe, ice-free surfaces as cars.”

    I absolutely agree. Not only is it pathetic that this isn’t the nationwide standard way of doing business, it’s pathetic that the city being responsible for public property is seen as such as a radical or imprudent idea. That space is no less important and no less public than the streets are.

    I don’t care where we get the money from, but there’s no excuse not to turn sidewalk clearing responsibility over to DPW immediately. None whatsoever.

  • There shouldn’t be ‘on demand’ walk-signals anywhere in Providence or in most urban environments. Period.

    The vehicular signal, in most cases, will change automatically, so why not the pedestrian signals?

    The issue is further exasperated by the large number of non-functional walk signals. With vehicular traffic stopped and with a defunct pedestrian signal, more often than not, we are forced to make a choice between waiting or crossing — as pedestrians, it is our innate goal to get to the other side, so we end up crossing.

    But without a functional walk-signal, we often find ourselves crossing as the vehicular signal changes from red to green.

    Due to the wide dysfunction within the system, this has created a culture of pedestrians who cross the street whenever and wherever – working walk-signal, crosswalk, red light, green light or no light. This has become an epidemic in Providence and needs to change. I think with implementation of automatic walk-signals this would help to decrease, if not eliminate, most of this type of ‘J-Walking’.

    However, if the current infrastructure is non-existant or dysfunctional, then it leaves pedestrians to make the dangerous choice of crossing.

    In addition, to Moira’s point, how is Providence ever to become a truly walkable, livable, critical mass orientated city if we expect those who live the urban experience of walking to and from work, school, markets, food, home, etc. carrying bags, children, groceries if our basic infrastructure is not conducive to what is expected amongst urbanites?

    It would be helpful if the vehicular signals were coordinated in a fashion that allowed for better traffic flow. Although, we do not have the simplicity of a grid such as in places like NYC where timing of signals is made easier, we can certainly view Providence in three distinct grid-like areas: Downtown, East Side and the West Side.

    Lastly (you’re welcome), as a cyclist, pedestrian and car owner in Providence, we need a comprehensive strategy that first addresses our basic infrastructures and utilities. Furthermore, I’d reallllllly like to see increased enforcement and citation of what I’ll call “Vehicular J-Driving” – aka. cars blocking intersections at green lights and cars stopped atop crosswalks, etc.

  • “The vehicular signal, in most cases, will change automatically, so why not the pedestrian signals?”

    It only makes sense if there are pedestrians there most of the time. The minimum walk + flashing don’t walk time for a pedestrian phase is often longer than the minimum green + yellow time. If the walk comes up every time at a location with few pedestrians, it makes for unnecessary delay.

    There are also locations where pushing the ped button activates all the walk signals at once. I can’t think of any in Providence, but there are some in Pawtucket, and at virtually every signal in Massachusetts.

  • I don’t think the light changes at most intersections downtown are timed different when the pedestrian button is pushed versus when it’s not. It might be the case outside of downtown where traffic is lighter and traffic lights are based on a sensor rather than automatic timing, but does it matter? If the walk signals changed every time the lights changed, drivers would get used to seeing the walk signal rather than “DON’T WALK” or a red hand. And we’re not talking an unnecessary delay on the order of more than a minute (it’s probably more like 30 seconds at the average intersection).

    Being an urban environment in all of the city, it makes sense all of the time to be safer for pedestrians, even if it means delaying drivers by 30 seconds to a minute.

  • Runaway Jim: What actually happens is that pushing that “beg button” pings a signal back into the traffic signal controller which tells it that some idiot is begging to be allowed to cross the street. The controller then says “well, that’s too bad for them. We’re in the middle of the current traffic phase and it’s not due to expire for another 20 seconds or so, but – because we’re so generous – we’re going to slide in the pedestrian permission phase next.”

    Most reasonable people, of course, would decide around 15 seconds into that 20 second countdown that the button doesn’t actually do anything. Some of them will stop pressing the button altogether.

    Particularly aggressive jerks like myself press the button and then step into the crosswalk as soon as there’s enough of a gap in traffic to do so, signals be damned. Haven’t gotten hit yet!

  • Ryan: I know this. I’m the same way. All pressing the button does downtown is turn on the walk signal once the lights change. Pressing it does not speed up the traffic sequence to favor the pedestrian. If it’s not pushed, the traffic sequence is the same amount of time, but the walk signal does not come on. If the walk signal came on automatically, it would make drivers more aware that there could be pedestrians in the road. What MP was suggesting is that having the walk light be automatic would delay drivers. 30 seconds is a lot more time for a pedestrian than it is for a driver.

  • Or, what pushing the button does is tell the controller that a pedestrian is waiting to cross the street, so it should change even if no vehicles have been detected. And if the walk signal came on all the time, even when there are no pedestrians, it would just desensitize drivers to seeing walk signals. Better that the signal looks different when there are actually pedestrians crossing. And I don’t think there are any signals left downtown that are on fixed timing; they all have full vehicle detection.

    I disagree that 30 seconds is negligible to make drivers wait when there are no pedestrians. That’s a lot of time to allow vehicles to needlessly stack up and idle, affecting more than just drivers’ travel time.

  • “Part of the problem with some of the ITS signals in Providence is that they are oriented a bit strangely in some locations. They need to correct that. In essence the button is oriented in the direction of travel.”

    I notice this a lot downtown; the buttons are perpendicular to their respective crossing instead of parallel.

  • I get to the light just as it turns green and push the button, it does not change.

    I stand on the curb through the entire cycle when I should be able to cross with the green because I got to the curb seconds too late to activate the walk light.

    I then wait through the entire red phase, when I can’t cross.

    The light then turns green again and the walk light still doesn’t come on.

    I never bother pushing the button again because they don’t work.

  • What you’re saying, MP is that a pedestrian who follows the law gets to the light just as it turned green and presses the button. It still says “don’t walk.” The traffic cycle goes, and cross traffic gets the green. You wait for those to go and then the light changes. You finally get the walk signal. So the pedestrian has no waited on the order of minutes, versus a car waiting about 30 seconds. Is the city catering to the cars or pedestrians in this case? They should be catering to pedestrians who are forced to wait on the corner in the cold, snow, rain, sleet, heat, whatever. Instead, the cars get priority. I say let the cars build up. It will teach people that driving isn’t necessarily the best way to get around downtown.

  • Point proven.

    Get rid of on demand pedestrian signals. No mid to major city uses them. Vehicular signals still change without vehicles being present and regardless time delay.

    Auto-centri-cities do more harm than people-oriented-cities.

  • Well, at least we’re in good company on this issue:
    Steven Can Plan (Chicago):
    and apparently in the book by Jan Gehl, “Cities for People”

    i’m really itching (in all my spare time) to read that Chicago Complete Streets guide. The slip lanes item that Steven mentions in the first link is certainly relevant on many or our streets.

    I did some reading last week on light timings with pedestrian signals. It seemed to me that for most streets, a walk signal + don’t walk flashing signal should last about 15 seconds for a street around 40 feet in width (curb to curb), not the 30 seconds that was thrown about earlier. Designing to accommodate for pedestrians really isn’t that big a deal for delaying traffic/making drivers wait, since the minimum green/yellow phase is likely to be 8 to 10 seconds.

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