Why don't we have enough time to cross? (Why does the WALK change to DON'T WALK before I finish crossing?)

Many people do not understand the meaning of the WALK/DON'T WALK pedestrian signals (or WALKING PERSON/UPRAISED HAND). Many pedestrians want to see the WALK signal during the entire crossing. This is simply not possible in many cases, especially when crossing wide streets. The WALKING PERSON symbol or WALK signal really means it is OK to start crossing.

A typical WALK interval requires a minimum of four (4) to seven (7) seconds. This is the time for people to start walking into the street. After a few steps into the street, pedestrians may see a flashing orange upraised hand or DON'T WALK signal. When this occurs, there should be enough time to complete crossing the street, but if you have not stepped into the street, you should stay on the curb and wait for the next walking man or WALK signal.

The duration of the flashing DON'T WALK, which is similar to the yellow clearance interval for motor vehicles, should be long enough for a pedestrian to cross the entire street (or to a median or other place of safety) at a typical walking speed of 4 feet per second. If there are a high proportion of elderly pedestrians or mobility impaired walkers using the crossing, the signal should be timed for a slower walking speed of less than 4 feet per second. The solid orange UPRAISED HAND or DON'T WALK signal means that it is unsafe for the pedestrian to be in the street.

Some agencies install signs at the traffic signal explaining the meaning of the WALK, flashing DON'T WALK and steady DON'T WALK signal to help pedestrians understand the signal indications. Other agencies are testing countdown pedestrian signals to show pedestrians exactly how much time they have left to cross the street. While these countdown clocks give the pedestrians the best information available, some pedestrians may continue to start crossing on the DON'T WALK because they think that they will have adequate time to cross if they hurry. In addition, there are concerns that some motorists may use the countdown clock to speed up to 'make' the signal.

Traffic signals with pedestrian push buttons will often not display a WALKING PERSON or WALK signal unless the pedestrian pushes the button. Additionally, when the signal displays the WALKING PERSON or WALK indication (or at an intersection with only a green traffic signal for motor vehicles moving parallel to pedestrians), pedestrians should continue to watch for turning vehicles and those motorists who may run the red light.

Learn more about signals and signs in our engineering section.