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University of Connecticut explores which traffic signal is best to keep pedestrians safe at intersections

Zoey Mertes

The University of Connecticut is conducting a research project to see how pedestrians and drivers interact with each other at intersections with traffic signals. It will also determine how safe different types of crosswalk signals are for pedestrians and drivers.

The study began in May 2021 when students explored how pedestrians interacted at a select number of crosswalks that stopped traffic to allow pedestrians to cross the street. They analyzed how factors — such as the length of the crossing, the speed limit of the road, crosswalk use, vehicle collisions, and type of crossing signal — would affect the safety of pedestrians and the efficiency of driving near the crosswalk.

In 2022, the state Department of Transportation installed concurrent side street green signals to a few crosswalks across Connecticut. These side street green crosswalks are where “pedestrians can cross a major road while cars on that street have a red light, but cars on a smaller side street have a green light,” according to the UConn study. These signals allow drivers and walkers going the same direction to continue freely without having drivers stop.

John Ivan, a professor of engineering at UConn and the project leader, said he believes concurrent green signals seem to be more effective than so-called exclusive signals, which require all vehicles to stop prior to entering the crosswalk. These are common at four-way intersections.

“[Because] drivers will see pedestrians push the button, then they don’t wait and then we have the walk signal come up and nobody uses it. And meanwhile the drivers are all sitting there waiting 10, 15 seconds or more for this phase when nothing is happening in the intersection,” Ivan said.

State transit officials are considering installing “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” signals with side street green crosswalks; these walking signals were previously only used with exclusive crosswalks. This would help make signals across the state become more uniform, making different types of signals less confusing for pedestrians and drivers, the study found.

Ivan said he hopes that this study will show positive results with concurrent side street green crosswalk signals. This will provide the state with evidence to reevaluate side street signals. “The study I’d really like to do now is to take a few of these exclusive phase signals around the state and convert them to concurrent and see what happens when we do that,” Ivan said.

In a previous study, Ivan found that 20% of pedestrians complied with exclusive signals while half of pedestrians complied with concurrent signals, making them safer.

Researchers are also studying through January how the concurrent signals will affect the interaction between drivers and walkers.

Eric Warner is a news fellow at WSHU.