Reader Seth pointed me to this excellent article from the Boston Globe in response to my query about the “Shared Streets” signage in Boston. Seems like Beantown is trying to get its woonerven on, at least as much as an American city can.
There’s much of interest, but one bit that struck me was when queuing theorist Richard Larson, at MIT (who appears in the book), discussed his idea for a sort of reverse countdown signal, in theory to reduce dangerous jaywalking. Rather than telling pedestrians how much time they have to cross, tell them when they cancross.
“Drivers expect to have their needs served in due time. The pedestrian? Unsure. Do I have to push the button, or will it just give me the walk signal? And when? So what we do, Larson says, is serve ourselves. “Most of the time, it’s safe if you’re a rational person. That’s when people jaywalk. But a car can come out of a driveway, and that’s when trouble happens.” Larson has a suggestion to counter this self-service risk-taking: “We have these clocks that show you how much time you have to cross the street until you’re in grave danger.” Why not do the opposite – tell pedestrians how long until they get to cross the street? This sort of information, Larson says, has been shown to keep people from taking risks.”
The only catch?
“But the problem, many say, is that pedestrians would not be happy if they found out how long they had to wait. Many of Boston’s intersections with traffic lights have cycle lengths of 90 to 100 seconds. Off -peak, they may go down to 80 seconds or less. The catch, according to Ann Hershfang, one of the founders of WalkBoston, is that studies have shown that pedestrians will wait just 30 seconds before they get restless and cross.”