It was designed to make us safer, but the “countdown” pedestrian traffic signal may have actually increased car accidents at Toronto intersections.
That’s the conclusion of a new study looking at the effect of installing the new pedestrian signals across the city.
University of Toronto doctoral students Arvind Magesan and Sacha Kapoor observed 1,794 intersections between 2004 and 2008. The first countdown signals were added in November 2006.
The researchers found the new pedestrian signals made pedestrians safer, estimating about five fewer collisions between cars and pedestrians per month.
But the story changes for vehicle-on-vehicle collisions, the study says.
Magesan estimated that the city averaged a total of about 22 more such collisions per month involving intersections with pedestrian countdowns than those that didn’t have them.
The reason lies in driver impatience, says Magesan, now an assistant professor at the University of Calgary.
“I’m pulling up to a light and see this information that tells me, if I speed up, I’ll make it. And if I don’t, I won’t,” he said.
“We’re seeing that most drivers are responding by speeding up.”
Collisions in the city decreased overall between 2004 and 2008. But in intersections with one of the new countdown signals, that decline happened slower, Magesan explained.
Mike Brady, manager of traffic for the city’s transportation service department, is skeptical about the findings, saying an increase in collisions doesn’t add up.
“In terms of telling the pedestrian community, or the entire community, that these devices have made it safer or not, we really need to look at the long-term impacts,” he said.
To figure that out, the city is observing how the clocks have changed the way pedestrians act at intersections, research that’s still being conducted.
Both agree drivers may use the countdown clocks to decide whether they can beat a red light.
“Their focus really should be on the activities within the intersection and not the count display on the signal head,” Brady said.
The researchers suggest the impulsive race against the clock could be eliminated by finding a way to make the countdown visible for pedestrians and but hidden from drivers — something Brady says the city may consider.
“Once we’ve done more thorough analysis, if we find indicators that behaviour is very consistent, then I’m thinking that we will look at the output of those particular displays.”
Columns Everything you need to know about purchasing, maintaining and driving your car.
Become a member
Register now to access all features including:
- Save and ask friends to review vehicles
- Exclusive rebates & offers from local dealers
- Premium content, reviews and tools
All for free!
Already a member?
Registration 2 of 2
Welcome to Wheels!
As a final step we've sent a confirmation to your email address as a security measure. Please click the link in the email to complete your registration.
Terms of services
DISCLAIMER OF WARRANTIES AND LIMITATION OF LIABILITY
TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW, TORONTO STAR IS PROVIDING THE TORONTO STAR WEBSITES ON AN "AS IS" AND â€œAS AVAILABLEâ€ BASIS AND MAKES NO WARRANTIES OR REPRESENTATIONS, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, IN ANY CONNECTION WITH THE TORONTO STAR WEBSITES, THEIR CONTENTS, OR ANY WEB SITE OR CONTENTS WITH WHICH IT IS LINKED. TORONTO STAR DOES NOT WARRANT THAT THE FUNCTION OF THE TORONTO STAR WEBSITES OR THEIR CONTENTS WILL BE UNINTERRUPTED OR ERROR FREE, THAT DEFECTS WILL BE CORRECTED, OR THAT THE TORONTO STAR WEBSITES OR THE SERVERS THAT MAKE IT AVAILABLE ARE FREE OF VIRUSES OR OTHER HARMFUL COMPONENTS.
TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, NEGLIGENCE, SHALL TORONTO STAR BE LIABLE FOR ANY LOSS OF USE, LOSS OF DATA, LOSS OF INCOME OR PROFIT, LOSS OF OR DAMAGE TO PROPERTY, OR FOR ANY DAMAGES OF ANY KIND OR CHARACTER (INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION ANY COMPENSATORY, INCIDENTAL, DIRECT, INDIRECT, SPECIAL, PUNITIVE, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES), EVEN IF TORONTO STAR HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES OR LOSSES, ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE USE OF THE TORONTO STAR WEBSITES, THEIR CONTENTS, OR ANY WEBSITE OR CONTENTS WITH WHICH IT IS LINKED. IN NO EVENT SHALL TORONTO STARâ€™S TOTAL LIABILITY FOR ALL DAMAGES, LOSSES, AND CAUSES OF ACTION, WHETHER IN CONTRACT, TORT (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, NEGLIGENCE), OR OTHERWISE, EXCEED THE AMOUNT PAID BY YOU FOR ACCESSING THIS SITE.X