Traffic Signal Enhancements:

A variety of traffic signal enhancements that can benefit pedestrians and bicyclists are available. These include automatic pedestrian detectors, providing larger traffic signals to ensure visibility, placing signals so that motorists waiting at a red light can’t see the other signals and anticipate the green, and installing countdown signals to provide pedestrians with information about the amount of time remaining in a crossing interval.

Countdown signals may be designed to begin counting down at the beginning of the walk phase or at the beginning of the clearance (flashing DON’T WALK) interval.

Since pedestrian pushbutton devices are not activated by about one-half of pedestrians (even fewer activate them where there are sufficient motor vehicle gaps), new "intelligent" microwave or infrared pedestrian detectors are now being installed and tested in some U.S. cities. These automatically activate the red traffic and WALK signals when pedestrians are detected. Detectors can also be used to extend the crossing time for slower moving pedestrians in the crosswalk. Automatic pedestrian detectors have been found to improve pedestrian signal compliance and also reduce pedestrian conflicts with motor vehicles. However, they are still considered experimental and their reliability may vary under different environmental conditions.5

More information on some of these technologies is available online at This web site was developed in 1999 and includes information on several types of smart technologies, the problems they may address, and the vendors of the devices. Locations where many of the devices were installed at that time are also included as case studies.

• Improve pedestrian accommodation at signalized crossings.
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• Pedestrian signals need to indicate the crossing interval by visual, audible, and/or tactile means if pedestrians with vision impairments are to take advantage of them.
• The effects of pedestrian countdown signals on pedestrian safety are not well known. Further research is needed to better understand their effects.
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  Estimated Cost
About $5,000 to add new pedestrian signals and mark crosswalks.
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  Case Studies
Clemson, SC 
West Palm Beach, FL 
St. Petersburg, FL 
Beverly Hills, CA 
St. Petersburg, FL 
Boulder, CO 
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Illustration by Christian Valiulis

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U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration