With the support of a grant from The Boston Foundation, WalkBoston has been working closely with the City of Boston to change signal timing policy to make it walker friendly.
Since our founding in 1990, one of our major goals was the retiming of Boston’s traffic signals to better serve pedestrians. In 2004, the City of Boston adopted a new timing policy to make WALK signals automatic and concurrent with vehicle green with maximum time for pedestrians, as is the standard in U.S. cities. There are some exclusives (all-way walks) for intersections with special crossing needs, such as areas with many elderly walkers.
After 2004, WalkBoston staff took to the field,. Westood at street corners with stopwatches and recommended signal retiming in high pedestrian areas all across Boston—in Downtown, the Seaport District, Charlestown, North End, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Chinatown, South End, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, Mattapan and along the Orange Line. Our members also send in information and press for improvements. Changes have been made in many of these locations and we expect more when funding is available.
Central Artery Project (CAT) Signal Timing
Reconnecting downtown Boston with its waterfront was one of two major goals of the Central Artery Project—through traffic would be moved underground and easy pedestrian access encouraged on the surface. WalkBoston attended 10-20 meetings with CAT and BTD staff and received a commitment to maximize concurrent WALK timing in signals along the CAT corridor. Our assumption was that easy pedestrian access between downtown and the waterfront would be a priority for the City of Boston. After signals were installed, we did extensive fieldwork to assess CAT signal timing and submitted recommendations to both CAT and the City of Boston.
Observations on Current CAT Signalization Status (2013)
Since WalkBoston’s founding in 1990, one of our major goals has been retiming of Boston’s traffic signals to better serve pedestrians. In 2004, the City of Boston adopted a policy to make WALK signals automatic and concurrent with vehicle green as is the standard in U.S. cities. With underwriting from the Boston Foundation, WalkBoston staff took to the field, assessed conditions, and made recommendations for signal retiming in high pedestrian areas.
The CAT project, then underway, had the potential for new signals installed and timed properly from the outset. To further this goal, WalkBoston members attended 10-20 meetings with CAT and BTD staff and received a commitment to maximize concurrent WALK timing in signals along the CAT corridor. After signals were installed, we undertook extensive fieldwork to assess CAT signal timing and submitted many recommendations to both CAT and the City of Boston
Observations on Current CAT Signalization (2013)
During our fieldwork, we were dismayed to find that many CAT locations have long waits—up to 75 seconds—for minimal pedestrian WALK/Flashing Don’t Walk time, especially crossing the Greenway. Vehicle volumes are surprisingly light along the corridor (except for some rush hour traffic), which should free up time for longer WALKs and shorter waits. As one example, the crossings to Haymarket Station are treacherous and waits are very long, a pedestrian’s nightmare. These conditions are particularly bad on the Surface Artery Southbound (SASB) side of the Greenway.
WalkBoston assumed that all signals along the corridor would be automatic WALK, but we found that at several crossings, pedestrians must push a button to get a WALK signal even with heavy rush hour pedestrian traffic. These intersections should be concurrent; apparently the signals are not working properly. We hope they will be corrected.
In the center of the corridor, we were shocked to find crossings that have exclusives and very short WALKs even though there are no conflicting vehicle movements, such as State/SASB and Milk/SASB. According to the CAT signal plan, these protected crossings in the heart of the Greenway Corridor should be timed for concurrent WALK.
Possibly due to long waits, short WALK times, and occasional surprises where it is necessary to push a button to get a WALK, walkers often ignore the signalization and cross during gaps in traffic. At crossings where the WALK is not automatic, confused tourists wait patiently for a WALK that never materializes. Consistency is crucial, even if vehicles are occasionally affected. At many intersections, Right Turn on Red and Left Turn On Red from SASB into cross streets impede and endanger crossing pedestrians because drivers barely slow down.
In general, Atlantic Avenue is more accommodating to pedestrians than the SASB, possibly because it has a parking lane and only 2 travel lanes. Also, there are nicer sidewalks, more walking destinations and better views than along the SASB and Purchase Street. Even on Atlantic, however, signal phases are too long and WALK times too short. Long wait and minimum WALK times do not live up to the promise of the CAT, which was to move people not vehicles and to make an urban surface street.
From our discussions with BTD we understand that pedestrian crossing times cannot be increased because the side streets that intersect Atlantic Avenue have loop detectors. This means that pedestrian times have been set at a minimum, allowing very short vehicle phases for the streets on the ocean side, which carry low traffic volumes. While this approach may facilitate vehicle movement, it obviously does not serve pedestrians who receive minimal WALK times. The decision to install loop detectors along the CAT is unfortunate and not easily undone. In the future WalkBoston would like to see loop detectors eliminated from urban roadway designs.
The maps in the STAF plans that detailed the streetscape design specified locations intended for permanent parking and those with “managed parking” allowed at non-rush hours. We observed that managed parking is not provided at all intended locations, which is especially unfortunate in the central area along the SASB between State and Pearl where traffic is light. Parking here would narrow the roadway to two lanes, slow traffic, protect pedestrians, shorten their crossing distances and, most important, calm and humanize this roadway. We have sent the results of our survey to the Boston Transportation Department and will discuss it with them in the hope that managed parking will be provided where promised.
Overall, in addition to the specifics outlined in the chart in the full report, we recommend that:
(1) Signal timing be adjusted to reflect the CAT signal plan
(2) Pedestrian recall be extended until 11pm as this tourist and entertainment area does not shut down at 8pm
(3) Loop detectors gradually be phased out along the CAT corridor as roadway repair work is undertaken
We have sent our CAT observations to the City and will be meeting to discuss them. click here to download the full report.