Pedestrian Signal Timing:

There are several types of signal timing for pedestrian signals, including concurrent, exclusive, “leading pedestrian interval” (LPI), and all-red interval. In general, shorter cycle lengths and longer walk intervals provide better service to pedestrians and encourage better signal compliance. For optimal pedestrian service, fixed-time signal operation usually works best. Pedestrian pushbuttons may be installed at locations where pedestrians are expected intermittently. Quick response to the pushbutton or feedback to the pedestrian should be programmed into the system. When used, pushbuttons should be well-signed and within reach and operable from a flat surface for pedestrians in wheelchairs and with visual disabilities. They should be conveniently placed in the area where pedestrians wait to cross. Section 4E.09 within the MUTCD provides detailed guidance for the placement of push buttons to ensure accessibility.1

In addition to concurrent pedestrian signal timing (where motorists may turn left or right across pedestrians’ paths after yielding to pedestrians), exclusive pedestrian intervals (see Traffic Signal Enhancements) stop traffic in all directions. Exclusive pedestrian timing has been shown to reduce pedestrian crashes by 50 percent in some downtown locations with heavy pedestrian volumes and low vehicle speeds and volumes.2 With concurrent signals, pedestrians usually have more crossing opportunities and have to wait less. Unless a system is willing to take more time from vehicular phases, pedestrians will often have to wait a long time for an exclusive signal. This is not very pedestrian-friendly, and many pedestrians will simply choose to ignore the signal and cross if and when there is a gap in traffic, negating the potential safety benefits of the exclusive signal.3 Exclusive pedestrian phases do introduce a problem for pedestrians with visual impairments, as the audible cues associated with surging parallel traffic streams are no longer present, which makes it difficult to know when to begin crossing.

A simple, useful change is the LPI. An LPI gives pedestrians an advance walk signal before the motorists get a green light, giving the pedestrian several seconds to start in the crosswalk where there is a concurrent signal. This makes pedestrians more visible to motorists and motorists more likely to yield to them. This advance crossing phase approach has been used successfully in several places, such as New York City, for two decades and studies have demonstrated reduced conflicts for pedestrians.4 The advance pedestrian phase is particularly effective where there is a two-lane turning movement. To be useful to pedestrians with vision impairments, an LPI needs to be accompanied by an audible signal to indicate the WALK interval.

There are some situations where an exclusive pedestrian phase may be preferable to an LPI. Exclusive phases are desirable where there are high-volume turning movements that conflict with the pedestrians crossing.

• A “Pedestrian Scramble” provides an exclusive pedestrian crossing phase with no conflicting traffic.
• A short all-red clearance interval provides a better separation between cars and pedestrians.
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• A “Pedestrian Scramble” usually creates a longer cycle length and a longer wait between crossings.
• The Scramble may eliminate the ability to synchronize timing at adjacent traffic signals.
• Scramble timing is most applicable to downtown areas with high pedestrian volumes (e.g., more than 1,200 pedestrian crossings per day).
• Scramble timing eliminates conflicts with turning vehicles if pedestrians and motorists obey their signals.
• The benefits of this treatment may not extend to vision-impaired pedestrians.
• Wider intersections require longer cycle lengths.
• Longer walk or pedestrian clearance intervals may also lead to longer cycle lengths.
• Use fixed-time operation unless pedestrian arrivals are intermittant.
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  Estimated Cost
Adjusting signal timing is very low cost and requires a few hours of staff time to accomplish. New signal equipment ranges from $20,000 to $140,000.
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  Case Studies
Beverly Hills, CA 
Monterey, CA 
San Francisco, CA 
Orlando, FL 
St. Petersburg, FL 
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Exclusive walk phase or "Pedestrian Scramble." Sketch by Michael Kimelberg

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U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration