Thursday, June 13, 2019

Experiment at Nassau Street Intersection: a Pedestrian Only Signal Phase

Nassau and Vandeventer at 4:15 on a Wednesday afternoon, three days in to the experimental "pedestrian only signal phase," which clears the intersection of all cars while pedestrians cross. This is the latest attempt to make this intersection safe for cars and pedestrians, and each time the waits get longer.

The upside? Having all pedestrians cross at the same time, while all cars wait, creates a clarity for pedestrians that was missing in the past. I saw one pedestrian sneak across out of phase, but my guess is that the pedestrian-only phase will get more respect from pedestrians than its confusing predecessor.

The downside? Well, five years ago, it was the drivers coming up heavily shaded, low-slung Vandeventer who had to wait while drivers coming down sunny Washington Rd exercised the "arrogance of the high ground," continuing to turn left onto Nassau even when their green arrow had disappeared.

Now. drivers on Vandeventer again seem to have the longest wait, with only 12 seconds to get through the intersection. I counted 20 cars waiting, backed up almost two blocks, and only ten managed to get through the intersection each time. The long wait can cause some drivers to get distracted and not notice when they finally have the right of way, causing even more inefficiency.

Still, the pedestrians-only phase is wonderful to experience if you're a pedestrian. Thirty seconds of relief from a car-soaked culture is to be savored.

Can it work? Maybe with some tweaking. The solution proposed on this blog five years ago was a flashing yellow arrow to make more clear to drivers that they must yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians before making a left turn. The flashing yellow is used in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and probably many other states as well, but apparently not in NJ. That simple change five years ago might have avoided the multiple, traumatic, expensive alterations since then. Currently, there is some two-way traffic during the 45 seconds of green devoted to Nassau Street. Compare that to Washington Rd (15 seconds of one-way traffic) and Vandeventer (a mere 10 seconds of one-way traffic). A flashing yellow arrow could potentially allow some 2-way traffic during the Washington Rd/Vandeventer phase as well, adding efficiency and reducing the wait time for car drivers while keeping the pedestrian-only phase. The current pedestrian phase is 30 seconds long, which seems ample.