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This Machine Kills Cyclists (and pedestrians)

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This Machine Kills Cyclists (and pedestrians)

Old 07-31-23, 10:25 PM
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This Machine Kills Cyclists (and pedestrians)

MassDOT has recently developed an infatuation with deadly-misleading "improper crossing lights"



What's wrong here? Well, nevermind that it requires trail users to stop and push a button rather than get a timer-based phase comparable to that which users of the the intersecting road receive...

The problem is it lies!!!!

It tells both drivers and crossing users that they may use the crossing at the very same time!

(And it's also so unconventional and novel that nobody understands it)

But let's look at the failings in detail:

Idle State: The trail is shown the "don't walk" but the road is shown nothing at all - no lights, off entirely. So drivers think this device is simply derelict and do not remember it as something that might be green now but could be red another time. From a car perspective it is irrelevant - either broken or not yet in use.

Post-button Yellow: An absurdly long 13 seconds. Those drivers who are going to honor it have already stopped, and given what is to come, trail users had best be on their way now after verifying it, rather than waiting for permission.

Crossing Phase: a mere 7 seconds. That's right SEVEN SECONDS. If you're not already there, don't bother, you'll only end up dead, because next comes..

Dishonesty Phase: trail users are shown a countdown as if it's still safe to (complete) crossing. But drivers get flashing red lights - and the sign explicitly says that it's okay to proceed on flashing! And this lasts 10 seconds - longer than the actual crossing phase!

Do you think drivers see that second user hammering to get across before needing to wait for another phase? Not on your life - and I really mean, your life.

The sign says they're allowed to proceed, and with the first user who pushed the button already across or at least in the opposing lane, that is exactly what they are going to do!

The way this thing tells inconsistent stories to both sides is going to get someone killed! There's already been a schoolkid grievously injured in a crosswalk with the same infernal machine in the next town east, but the state just keeps installing more of them - some as in this case replacing what were previously properly honest crossing lights.

I've talked to drivers who didn't understand why a (different) cyclist was yelling at them, and only began to grasp it after a return experience of the same lying crossing light in pedestrian mode.

Out of the entire ~30 second cycle time of this infernal machine, during only 7 seconds are trail users actually afforded any degree of protection.

Last edited by UniChris; 07-31-23 at 10:52 PM.
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Old 08-01-23, 06:20 AM
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Unfortunately, it will probably it will take deaths and lawsuits to change the design and function, rather than common sense. Let's hope not.
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Old 08-01-23, 07:00 AM
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send it to your local representatives office.
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Old 08-02-23, 12:29 PM
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I have one of those on my auto commute to my 2nd job. it's very confusing & there have been some close calls w/ riders trying to make the crossing after a pedestrian. also amusing are the cars that just sit there after someone crosses as they try to figure out what they should do. I haven't timed anything & honestly don't remember if there is ever a solid red light. don't know what's wrong with simple red & green lights
https://goo.gl/maps/zX5hEw8tXTDBUGZE6

at approx. 615 Old Connecticut Path Framingham, Massachusetts
where the Cochictuate Rail Trail / aka Reservation Trail / aka Cochictuate Brook Trail / crosses Old Connecticut Path (aka Route 126)








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Old 08-02-23, 12:31 PM
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Originally Posted by UniChris
MassDOT has recently developed an infatuation with deadly-misleading "improper crossing lights"
where is this one?
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Old 08-02-23, 12:52 PM
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Originally Posted by rumrunn6
where is this one?
Norwottuck Rail Trail crossing of the Connecticut River between Northampton and Hadley - sadly replacing what had been a proper red-yellow-green traffic light before the reconstruction of Damon road and related drainage work tore the whole area up.

The school child seriously injured was over in Hadley where the same device exists at an ordinary pedestrian crosswalk of route 9 near a school. The Hadley police decided to observe the light and discovered a really intolerable fraction of drivers couldn't figure it out - which impeaches the whole idea of the design relative to a well understood traditional traffic light. Some of these issues (though not the lack of a green state to remind of its existence) got briefly temporary attention covered at https://www.gazettenet.com/Hadley-Se...ghway-48860038 (may sometimes take a long time to load, something odd with that paper's servers)

There's yet another one planned where the "solution" (if it can be called that) for Damon road changes from being a bidirectional MUP on the west side to directional shoulder bike lanes - sadly meaning that anyone headed northbound would, at least in the officially imagined usage pattern, have to unnecessarily cross the road twice using these. I predict a fair number of northbound commuters will skip the offside MUP and simply ride that stretch on road on the proper side, though it's been left unnecessarily narrow with a nasty granite curb.

Since they're still building them even after local police and the state senator and rep expressed concerns, it seems the state has refused to learn from the experience of actual users and is just charging ahead anyway.

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Old 08-03-23, 04:38 PM
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I don't understand what the designers had in mind.

I accept the logic for a demand light vs. a regular timer if trail use is relatively light, since there's no need to have people stop and wait for no reason at all. After all many road intersections work the same way using vehicle sensors. Possibly a sensor vs. a push button would address the OP's issue.

However, after that the rest is nonsense. A simple green for trail with a corresponding red for the road is SOP design and there's no reason to tinker. The interval lengths need to be functional, ie. a yellow long enough to allow slowing to a stop vs. a surprise hard braking (4-5secs?), yet not long enough to encourage "racing the yellow". The crossing interval should be long enough for someone with limited mobility to make it across, possibly with a yellow to the road user as the crossing interval ends to remind drivers to wait until all crossers make it through.

Another example of why road engineers need to be reminded of the importance of KISS, and not overthink problems.
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Old 08-03-23, 04:54 PM
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Pedestrian hybrid beacons have been in use for over two decades, and have a remarkably good safety record in terms of crash and injury reduction. The initial research showed a higher red compliance than standard green-yellow-red signals.

Do you have any actual data to support your assertions?
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Old 08-03-23, 09:31 PM
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Originally Posted by RCMoeur
Pedestrian hybrid beacons have been in use for over two decades, and have a remarkably good safety record in terms of crash and injury reduction. The initial research showed a higher red compliance than standard green-yellow-red signals.
Sounds like you are talking about something different as such a claim is simply not credible for the devices currently being installed in MA - and that's the police department's finding, even more than mine. Nor is there any logical basis for such a claim.

Part of the issue with compliance is that they don't show a green phase when idle, so people don't remember that there is a device there. I think I've only ever actually seen the one over in Hadley activate once, the rest of the time it just looks like some past or future detritus of non-ending construction.

But if you re-read more carefully, you'll see you're also missing the bigger issue: they dishonestly tell drivers they can go at the same time they tell crossing users they can be completing crossing.

This is astoundingly misleading, because crossing users are used to honest traffic lights which continue to show a solid red to the road during the complete crossing countdown.

Yes, a driver is not technically permitted to proceed while someone is still in the crosswalk - but that requires that they see the person.

And yes, technically crossing users are not permitted to begin crossing once in the countdown phase - but people unaware of the nature of these new deceitful devices have a lifetime of experience of doing exactly that, especially when the countdown falsely appearst to indicate 10 remaining seconds of safety.

The problem is their novelty and dishonesty.

Do you have any actual data to support your assertions?
See the linked article where the Hadley police observation found huge rates of confused drivers misunderstanding theirs - they weren't ticketing, just plainclothes observing. And this followed a school child's injury at theirs.

In actual practice, survival requires treating them as uncontrolled crosswalks - you go when traffic in both directions has stopped, and you do so even if the walk light isn't on yet, because the walk light is far too short and then allows drivers to start up again - drivers eyes on you, not the light, are what enable survival.

And they're basically one user / party per button push - if you weren't already at the line, an attempt to ride across is going to result in a collision when drivers start up after the person their eyes were tracking is across.

The way these "novel" designs are willing to get the unexpected second user killed just to enable driver's convenience relative to a traditional solid-red light is just plain unacceptable.

Last edited by UniChris; 08-04-23 at 09:19 AM.
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Old 08-04-23, 12:22 PM
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the manufacturer and seller probably gonna get sued cause if it's as confusing as this thread it's a death trap
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Old 08-04-23, 04:40 PM
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I've never encountered such a signal in real life and wouldn't want to argue with traffic safety engineers, but it certainly seems like the flashing red phase would just add confusion. Especially with signage advising drivers they can proceed on flashing red. I don't really see the benefit of adding a new twist to the age old signal system that everyone understands.
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Old 08-04-23, 04:55 PM
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A link to a YouTube video of the light in action (both from the trail and road views) would be helpful.
I used to live in MA. Too many drivers there didn't care about red lights anyway.
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Old 08-04-23, 05:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Bald Paul
A link to a YouTube video of the light in action (both from the trail and road views) would be helpful.
That's actually what I was trying to do, but the glare shields made it impossible to find a diagonal position which clearly captured both road and path lights in the same shot.

And if you only look at it from the perspective of one route at a time and thus the exclusion of the other, you don't see the dangerously inconsistent lie it's telling the two categories, and so merely wonder why the people on the other route are behaving like idiots.
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Old 08-04-23, 06:34 PM
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I'm traveling today, so I don't have a lot of time for commenting. Instead, I'll just post a link to the FHWA Proven Safety Countermeasure page on PHBs:
https://highways.dot.gov/safety/prov...hybrid-beacons

If this one location is seeing problems significantly greater than the thousands of other PHB locations across the US, it may be a local driver pathology issue, which is sometimes observed in certain dense urban areas. Might need a different crossing ROW device to compensate for it - and then evaluate again to see if conditions improve. But it doesn't mean PHBs are not effective elsewhere.
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Old 08-04-23, 09:04 PM
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Originally Posted by RCMoeur
If this one location is seeing problems significantly greater than the thousands of other PHB locations across the US, it may be a local driver pathology issue...
That makes the second time you've responded entirely from pre-existing assumptions without even bothering to read the explanation of precisely why the specific devices installed here in Western Mass are so dangerous.

Last edited by UniChris; 08-04-23 at 09:10 PM.
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Old 08-04-23, 11:58 PM
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Originally Posted by UniChris
That makes the second time you've responded entirely from pre-existing assumptions without even bothering to read the explanation of precisely why the specific devices installed here in Western Mass are so dangerous.
I "bothered to read". I read your emotionally wrought claims, and I read the linked article. I also re-read the research findings and the technical guidance on PHBs. So if you're going to make accusations, it might be best to not make ones that are materially false on their face.
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Old 08-05-23, 12:04 AM
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Oh, and if anyone wants to start lobbying the Federal Highway Administration to remove this type of beacon from national traffic control standards, be aware that this might not be looked upon favorably by national pedestrian advocacy organizations. And given PHBs' positive record in most other US locations, it's rather unlikely that FHWA would act to de-authorize the use of this device.
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Old 08-05-23, 12:19 AM
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Originally Posted by jon c.
I've never encountered such a signal in real life and wouldn't want to argue with traffic safety engineers, but it certainly seems like the flashing red phase would just add confusion. Especially with signage advising drivers they can proceed on flashing red. I don't really see the benefit of adding a new twist to the age old signal system that everyone understands.
Research over the past 15 years has made it clear that on roadways with 2 or more lanes in a/each direction and speeds greater than 35 mph, motor vehicle drivers just don't yield to pedestrians at midblock locations, even with enhanced crosswalk markings and a bunch of signs. The only devices that show significant driver yield rates are rectangular rapid-flash beacons (RRFB) or pedestrian hybrid beacons (PHB), and the PHB is considerably more effective in getting drivers to stop than RRFBs (although RRFBs are better than no active device at all).

The reason PHBs use a solid red interval followed by a flashing red interval is to bring all cross traffic to a full stop for the crossing user who activated the beacon, but then allow traffic to stop during the flashing red (flashing red is functionally and legally equivalent to a STOP sign), assess if there are people still crossing or entering the crosswalk, and if not, then proceed. Holding it solid red for that entire time would significantly impact traffic flow to the point where agencies would decide not to install a PHB.

There is research underway to see if standard red-yellow-green signals can be used effectively for midblock crosswalks. But past experience by some agencies was reported to not be as positive, which is why it's currently not encouraged by design guidelines.
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Old 08-05-23, 12:37 AM
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There has also been recent research by Dr. Richard Nassi (the originator of the pedestrian hybrid beacon concept) on how to better adapt PHBs for crossings with high bicyclist volumes. This has been published in the Journal of Traffic Control Device Research at https://ncutcdjournal.org/index.php/...article/view/2
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Old 08-05-23, 04:28 AM
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Fwiw-
drove thru/past the one in my area early Thursday evening

it was a good experience from an auto drivers point of view. It was a busy evening with minimum of 6 cars 3 in each direction & and on the MUP quite a lot of ppl & at least one bike that I remember

as I approached I saw pedestrians push the button. The lights turned yellow then red the cars stopped the ppl crossed the lights went from solid red to flashing red the ppl were clear so the cars proceeded. It all seemed very efficient

however it did seem pretty quick which in this case seemed to work OK

some day Iíll bike thru it & see what itís like from that perspective
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Old 08-05-23, 09:55 AM
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I did just notice that the sign being used with the beacon at this location is not the standard sign for these installations. There is a possibility that driver interpretation of those signs could be influencing behavior during the flashing red interval.
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Old 08-05-23, 10:07 AM
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I think we have something similar here in Jax, Fl that just recently starting to pop up, but I haven't really given them a close look...I'm going to have to go give them a look


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Old 08-05-23, 01:19 PM
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Originally Posted by RCMoeur
I "bothered to read".
Your replies and language make it very clear that you did not read. They only prove that you are still ignoring what was said, and stuck in your pre-existing assumptions.

Fact is, allowing drivers to resume movement during the crossing countdown phase is dangerous. period.

There is absolutely no way that is "safer" than the standard solution it replaced, the standard solution where the light for the road stayed solid red until the end of the crossing period.

That people would even be trying to make an argument for this is prime evidence that we prioritize cars over people.

The car-view bias that "we must not inconvenience drivers" is blatantly there in your own links arguing for these, showing the fundamental dishonesty of such arguments. And if you substitute another flow of cars for the flow of pedestrians and bikes, it becomes obvious that this "solution" would never be allowed.

It exists only because society only pretends to care about people outside of cars, so long as it can do so in a way that puts all of the burden on them, and none on drivers.

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Old 08-05-23, 01:25 PM
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Originally Posted by RCMoeur
I did just notice that the sign being used with the beacon at this location is not the standard sign for these installations. There is a possibility that driver interpretation of those signs could be influencing behavior during the flashing red interval.
Wrong again, and more proof you didn't read the repeatedly explained issue - the one that most other thread participants immediately understood.

Drivers resuming moving are doing exactly what this device is designed to allow - which as repeatedly explained is to move in a way that does not take the possibility of an unnoticed second user into account.

The problem is that the by dishonestly showing incompatible signals to the conflicting users, this infernal device falsely makes it seem the crossing is still safe, at a time when in fact it is not.

Either address the repeatedly explained issues, or kindly depart the thread if you have nothing relevant to contribute.
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Old 08-05-23, 01:39 PM
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Originally Posted by rumrunn6
some day I’ll bike thru it & see what it’s like from that perspective
Terrifying.

Pedestrian in in front of you pushes the button, so you think "oh, great, I'll just follow through behind on what they activated" only just as you're about to enter the road, with an ample 10 seconds remaining on the countdown, crossing traffic starts up again.

Because that's exactly what this infernal device is designed to enable, permit, and encourage.

Thanks to the view that we must not inconvenience drives by making them wait more than 7 seconds, you're going to have to stop, push the button, and wait until the "but I just did that!" exclusion expires and it begins another crossing cycle. Most of which will be wasted on the absurdly long yellow, during which drivers sit there looking at you like you're an idiot while you obediently wait for the crossing light to give you permission to go. And promptly go you shall, because 7 seconds later they start moving again...

If we actually valued people outside cars, we'd have a conventional traffic light that simply ran on a timer, just as we have for road vs road interactions.

But no, people outside cars are an inconsequential rarity - even in the cases where they outnumber the people in the cars.

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