Kingston, NJ, a few miles outside of Princeton, is a pretty small town with an active main street lined by local businesses. Unfortunately, that main street is Route 27, which is a big barrier to pedestrians. The intersection of Route 27 and Heathcote Road / Laurel Ave is particularly dangerous, because Heathcote Road funnels commuter traffic from Route 1 onto Route 27. At rush hour, much of this traffic is headed for Princeton. To cross the intersection, there is a crosswalk, which has a push-button for pedestrians with a sign saying ‘PUSH BUTTON WAIT FOR GREEN LIGHT’ (see photo above). The only question is: where is the green light?
Normally, with a push-button crossing, there is a signal on the opposite side of the street, which indicates ‘Walk’ or shows a light with a green walking person to let pedestrians know when it’s safe to cross. Looking across Route 27, however, we can see the crosswalk extending across the road, but no signal in sight…
Nor is there a pedestrian signal in the other direction, across Laurel Avenue-
What then, does the button do? After thinking about it for a while, we guess that the green light that pedestrians are supposed to wait for is the green traffic light! Clearly somebody thought that the cost of putting up a green ‘walk’ signal wasn’t worth it. Why bother, when pedestrians can just use the light that’s there for cars? At busy times of day, when there is lots of traffic and it is most dangerous to cross, the light turns green regardless of whether anybody pushes the button. At these times, the push-button does absolutely nothing for pedestrians. In fact, it restricts pedestrians’ ability to cross the road, because if it wasn’t there, pedestrians would have right-of-way on the crosswalk to cross during all signal phases.
Route 27 is our main street in Princeton too, only we call it ‘Nassau Street’. There are many pedestrian crossings, and they are either unsignaled crosswalks, at which pedestrians always have right of way, or there are clear pedestrian signals to indicate the appropriate time to cross. Having just a button with no dedicated signals is a new one to us, and we can’t help thinking it is the most half-baked crosswalk design in the local area. It certainly gives the impression that pedestrians are far down the priority list when it comes to designing street intersections on State roads like Route 27. That is sad, because if we only plan for cars and traffic, then cars and traffic is what we will get. Planning for people is how we create life and enhance the vitality of our downtowns. Kingston deserves to be a place for people to live and walk, not just a place to drive through.
Is it obvious to you that you should follow the green traffic light when crossing this road? Can you think of other examples of push-button crossings where pedestrians are supposed to follow traffic signals for cars? Is New Jersey is doing enough to make our roads safe for pedestrians? Or is right to try to save money on intersection design? Let us know in the comments!