Earlier this week KCMO’s Parking and Transportation Commission voted, without public comment, to accept KCMO staff recommendation to fund some bicycle and pedestrian improvements as part of the Greater Downtown Area Plan implementation. The recommendations were approximately $20,000 for bike lanes, $1.3m for audible pedestrian signals (for the blind and visually impaired) and $588,000 for automatic pedestrian detection along Broadway and Grand.
So all great right? We think otherwise.
First, what is automatic pedestrian detection and why does it cost over a half-a-million dollars? From the website PedBikeSafe.org:
Automated pedestrian detection devices are able to sense when a pedestrian is waiting at a crosswalk and automatically send a signal to switch to a pedestrian WALK phase
In other words it’s not much different than a push button pedestrian signal. Instead of hitting a button to get a “WALK” sign, the signal senses that you are there and turns it on for you. But, this process, sometimes referred to as actuation, is less desirable for pedestrians because it often means waiting through an entire cycle of the traffic signal just because you arrived at the intersection a second too late to hit the button. In fact, in much of downtown Kansas City the walk signals are on fixed-timers so they automatically turn to WALK. What pedestrian advocates have dubbed the “beg button” has nearly been eliminated in the most walkable cities in the US in order to make crossing the street on foot safer and more reliable.
The recently released Urban Street Design Guide from the National Association of City Transportation Officials is now the leading guidance on street design for much of the US. What does it have to say about detection versus fixed-time traffic signals?
Fixed-time signals are recommended in all downtown areas, central business districts, and urban areas in which pedestrians are anticipated or desired and speeds are intended to be low.
The guidance goes on to comment about detection and push button signals:
Use of semi- or fully-actuated signal operations should mainly be restricted to suburban arterials and rural roads. In suburban corridors, motorist compliance can be increased and delay reduced through use of actuation.
So why is the city actually regressing on pedestrian safety and convenience in downtown? And why are they proposing to spend so much money on it?
If the city really wants to improve conditions for pedestrians in downtown and the rest of the urban core they should, at little to no cost, do the following:
Automate all pedestrian signals in the densest parts of the city
Introduce pedestrian leading interval in areas of high pedestrian density
Adopt new performance metrics that consider pedestrian and biking quality and not just automobile throughput
Require temporary pedestrian paths when sidewalks are closed for construction
And what could be done with that $580,000? How about adding a little to the proposed $20,000 bike lane budget? It could also go toward improved traffic calming in downtown, enhanced crosswalks, road diets or sidewalk improvements. That kind of money could build out the entire BikeKC network in the greater downtown or at least a few miles of separated cycle tracks.
These would be far better alternatives than the proposed anti-pedestrian “improvements”.