Many years ago when traffic volumes were much lower than they are today, pedestrians could take their cues from the same traffic lights as motorists. Things are more complicated today, so it shouldn't be surprising that questions are frequently asked about pedestrian signals that were introduced to improve pedestrian safety.
Why are pedestrian signals available at some intersections and not at others?
Pedestrian signals are installed for two main reasons: a high of foot traffic at an intersection, or the signals directing motorists don't meet the needs of pedestrians.
For example, some intersections are laid out at odd angles, and pedestrians can't see traffic signals. In other cases turning and merging lanes make intersections so complex that special provisions must be made for pedestrians.
Shouldn't pedestrian signals be available at every intersection? Wouldn't that make things safer?
If existing traffic signals meet the needs of people on foot – the signals are easy to see and provide plenty of time to cross safely – there is no need for pedestrian signals. Pedestrian signals won't improve safety in such cases, and are costly to purchase, install and operate. However, it is generally the policy of the City to install pedestrian signals at all traffic signals were pedestrians are permitted to cross the street.
Why are the words "walk" and "don't walk" being replaced by symbols?
Transportation engineers world-wide are moving toward the use of symbol signs in place of word signs because they are easier for people to comprehend in a shorter amount of time. Easily recognized symbols also accommodate people who can't read English.
In the case of pedestrian signals, both "word" and "symbol" signs are currently in use. Here's what the mean: "Walk" or walking pedestrian symbol means you may start crossing.
A flashing or steady "Don't Walk" or an upraised hand symbol means it's to late to begin crossing. Don't enter the street, but finish crossing if you have already started.
Why does it always say "don't walk" before I've completed crossing the street?
The flashing "don't walk" or upraised hand is a warning to people who have not yet entered the intersections that it's to late to safely cross the street before the traffic signal changes allowing cars to proceed. Signals are timed to allow plenty of time for people who have already started walking to safely cross the street.
Is it really necessary for me to push a button to activate the pedestrian signal? Can't I just wait for the light to change?
Where buttons are available to pedestrians, it's because the traffic signal is timed for cars, not for people on foot. If you don't activate the pedestrian signal by pushing the button, the traffic light won't give you enough time to safely cross the street. You only need to push the button once for it to be activated.
Can I count on a safe crossing if I carefully follow the pedestrian signals?
The signals assign your legal rights in the intersection, however, it is important to be cautious when crossing busy intersections.
The following suggestions are offered in the interest of safety:
If you have questions, requests or suggestions concerning traffic, please call the Traffic Engineering Division at (714) 536-5487.
City of Huntington Beach
Public Works Department
2000 Main Street
Huntington Beach, CA
Phone: (714) 536-5431
Fax: (714) 374-1573