One small change to delight those who walk around our city

red walkEvery few months I get a bee in my bonnet about the settings on the pedestrian signal at a traffic light. Most recently I watched two big groups wait through a whole cycle of lights just outside the Piccadily cinema. They were crossing the skinny part of the street (Childers) so they had oodles of time but because they were in two big groups and the light was red and no one had broken ranks, they collectively ‘wasted’ about 15 people x 70seconds = over quarter of an hour. This cycle is repeated in various forms throughout the city all day every day.

Every year or so, I do something about the bee in my bonnet and try to engage Adelaide City Council. I’ve been doing this for the past 6 years but I haven’t been overly successful.  I’ve learnt along the way so I thought I would document some of the points and continue to advocate for a mini co-design process that would get us a good outcome.

And what a good outcome it could be. Based on an estimate of 10,000 pedestrian movements that could be improved daily, a 30second saving per person equates to 30,000 hours per year saved, happier pedestrians and a more vibrant city. That’s right! Our traffic light design wastes pedestrian time to the equivalent of three+ people’s lives. That’s not how much time is spent standing and waiting[1], just the time unnecessarily wasted.

I won’t go on about the case for change, you can read my documentation and recommendations for Council yourself.

Here are some reasons for a co-design process:

  • the experts need to be involved but everyone I have met won’t drive change in a timely way – a higher force is needed.But also a champion to sit with the process – I’ve offered repeatedly to be the provocateur but I suspect they don’t want me. 😉
  • The experts can’t see the car-centric paradigm that dictates all their current designs. Incremental change would need to be respectful of this current paradigm.
  • there are issues. The end of my street was put on a ‘long green’ and then reversed because the local blind people couldn’t hear the signal.
  • future proofing means you might consider the responsiveness as being important. In future, we might expect our app to highlight to a traffic signal that we are approaching.
  • this appears to be city-centric. The CBD has dedicated walk settings for large numbers of pedestrians but the next level out have many lights, often across low-traffic and skinny streets. This is the main opportunity for improvement.
  • with co-design you can iterate around cheap options and more expensive / longer term alternatives.
  • we need to remember this is a techno-social system so changes need to be backed up with car and walker education.

Finally, I am torn on a path forward. I will give the Council one last opportunity to respond positively but then I need to be more proactive myself with a clear “change-tactic”. I have avoided campaigning to date, after all, this is a little issue, surely not worth tying everyone’s time up with but I probably need to find more allies. My preference is to keep poking the system until I find a champion – sometimes this can be about a policy ‘window of opportunity’.

All ideas welcome.

[1] Public Spaces and Public Life Study 2011 reports that many parts of the city have between 5,000 and 25,000 pedestrians during a day. It would be fair to guess 100,000 movements per day that wait at one traffic signal (probably more) for an average of 45seconds (because you can be waiting for 90 seconds). That’s 500 people waiting 24-7 all year around. Some of this is unavoidable but it does make my estimates for improvement above look rather conservative.

About Heather

I am an energy and climate change specialist with a background in industrial energy efficiency and climate change policy.
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2 Responses to One small change to delight those who walk around our city

  1. Jenni McGlennon says:

    Heather, you may have some kindred spirits/lobbyists in Walking SA? http://www.walkingsa.org.au/news/counting-walking-make-walking-count/

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