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November 2008
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The Countdown is On

I was recently part of a discussion about the countdown signals at intersections. Designed for pedestrian’s they count down the seconds for one to cross the street. Some intersections  are based purely on a countdown clock (i.e they start a fixed time and countdown to zero), some are based on sensors in the road (i.e when a car pulls up to the intersection the countdown clock begins) and some are based on a combination of these two (i.e the clock counts down but if no car pulls up to the line than the signal reverts back to the walk sign).

Some drivers are now using the countdown as either a primary or secondary cues in their decision making process at intersections.

I’m guilty of it myself using the countdown as a measure of whether to speed up or slow down when approaching an intersection, but it is always a secondary source of information the traffic light is the primary factor in my decision making process.

Is it wrong that we combine both factors when determining what to do at a traffic  light? Ultimately the traffic  light governs what to do at the intersection but I wonder if these help to reduce the number of yellow and red light ‘runners’? Are there any studies on the impact of the countdown on the driver? What about for the pedestrian? Are there fewer pedestrians who get ‘caught’ in the intersection?


Comment from sasha
Time November 14, 2008 at 12:18 am

sounds like your intersection needs some sensors underneath! you should call the city and ask if the light is on sensors. If they say yes, ask why it takes you so long to get through the intersection.
I’ve heard that we all have a tolerance for waiting at a light for about 30seconds before we get frustrated and sometimes make foolish decisions. Keep waiting patiently though please, I need you around!

Comment from Ferne
Time November 13, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Hi Sasha – you should visit my neighborhood -there is an inter-section where i wait every morning for a min of 5 minutes! yawn…

I have yet to see a single pedestrian at this intersection – should I call City of Mississauga?