Monday, August 20, 2007

Beacon Street observations

Two interesting sights on Beacon Street from my ride in this morning.

The first was truly moving: a mother and two children crossing Washington Street on their bikes. A boy of about 7 was on a tag-a-long behind his mother and a nine-ish girl was on her own bike. What made it moving were the crutches strapped to the tag-a-long. They were clearly not temporary. It seems that the boy has some sort of disability. But, regardless of the disability, the family was biking to its destination. And, the crutch set up looked like riding was a reasonably frequent event.

Inspiring. If only more able-bodied children were encouraged to bike and walk!

The second was an automatic pedestrian detector on a mid-block crosswalk between Fairbanks and Marion Streets (I think). An automatic pedestrian detector, as the name implies, automatically detects a person about to enter a crosswalk and triggers a pedestrian crossing cycle.

I'm a little skeptical of technical solutions at crosswalks out of concern for the false negative, a pedestrian entering the crosswalk without having pushed the button or tripped the sensors. Obviously, the point of these automatic detection systems is to lower the false negatives by eliminating the need to have the pedestrian do anything. But, I wonder about having to rely on technology that can malfunction, especially when it can take a while for broken things to get fixed.

If the technology proves out, I think the automatic detection systems make a lot sense on busy roads, like Beacon Street. On busy roads, it's not appropriate to lower speeds for all traffic to pedestrian-friendly speeds. And, pedestrian-detection means that traffic flow is only interrupted when there's actually a pedestrian.

Apart from the cost, I don't think such a system makes sense on more residential streets. The point of traffic calming on side streets is to lower traffic speeds overall, not just when a pedestrian needs to cross. Pedestrian-actuated signals, automated or not, send the signal that motorists only have to slow when there is a pedestrian ready to cross. And, that's the wrong message.

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