“What the heck is that?!”
That seems to be a common reaction of local motorists as they first encounter one of the flashing yellow arrow (FYA) traffic signals that have popped-up at San Antonio intersections over the past year or so. What began as an experiment in late 2008 at a couple dozen intersections along Wurzbach Rd. and San Pedro Ave. has now spread to about 40 or so intersections across the city and will now become a standard, not just here in San Antonio, but nationally as mandated by the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). As often happens in these cases, there has been some second-guessing amongst the general public as to the necessity of this newfangled signal, but understanding the research that went into it and why it’s beneficial generally allays those knee-jerk criticisms.
History Roads Safety: Alamo Regional Mobility Authority Braun Road Loop 1604 superstreet Texas Department of Transportation traffic signals
Well, once again, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. I’ve been working on what I think will be an exciting new addition to my website (stay tuned for more on that soon.) However, as I was watching the Sunday morning political talk shows, my wife mentioned something that motivated me to write this post, which is one that I’ve been meaning to do for a while. While Facebooking (can that really be a verb?), she came across a new Facebook group with the same title as this post. After rolling my eyes (as I often do in these situations), I realized (also as I often do in these situations) that the creator of that group– and those who subscribe to the explicit as well as implicit sentiment of it– probably just doesn’t have the back-story to understand why things are the way they are and that my initial reaction made me just as guilty of jumping to conclusions as that person was. Whoever created the group is obviously frustrated– they even say they’re “pissed off” at the “stupid” traffic lights, and I sympathize with their frustration. But, as is often the case, there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and maybe if folks understood how things got to be as they are, they might be more forgiving. This posting is an attempt at that.
If you read my previous post about pedestrian scrambles, you know that it’s not the newest dance craze sweeping the nation, but rather an experiment by the City of San Antonio at improving vehicular and pedestrian traffic downtown by installing “exclusive pedestrian phases” at more than a dozen intersections. I was back downtown again today for a meeting with some colleagues and discovered two more intersections with the new setup that I missed last time: Navarro at Crocket and Navarro at College. Also, all of the locations along Commerce, Market, and Dolorosa that had not been activated last time were now online. Alas, though, still none at Convention Plaza.
While walking to lunch with my colleagues, we stopped for a “don’t walk” signal at one of the scramble intersections. One of them noticed that the signal for vehiclular traffic headed our direction was green but that we had a “don’t walk” signal and instinctively realized that something was amiss. Ah, she must not have read my blog! (Doesn’t everybody?) After I explained what was afoot (pun completely intended), she commented that she was really happy with the new configuration and couldn’t wait to cross diagonally– it was like being able to finally do something that had long been verboten.
While out and about, I noticed many other people taking advantage of the diagonal crossing ability. I did see a couple of instances, though, where people were crossing against the light and obstructing turning vehicles, thus thwarting the intent of the project. Over time, I’m sure people will understand and adjust to the changes.
If you’ve been downtown lately, you might have noticed several intersections where pedestrians can cross in all directions (including diagonally) at once, a la the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo. The City of San Antonio is installing these crossings, known colloquially as “pedestrian scrambles” or “Barnes Dances” (or more boringly by their technical name of “exclusive pedestrian phasing”), as an experiment to see if they improve both pedestrian and vehicular traffic downtown. During a recent jaunt downtown, I counted 14 intersections outfitted with the equipment for pedestrian scrambles (that being a third pedestrian crossing signal on each corner oriented diagonally across the intersection), with half of them actually in service.