Thursday, May 15, 2014

Accessible City Design: Request-to-Cross Buttons

Back last fall, I posted how little things can have a big impact on the walkability and the promotion of active transportation. In Downtown Surrey, I noted the introduction of a controlled, mid-block pedestrian/cyclist crossing along King George Boulevard.

In the South of Fraser, when you pull up to an intersection with a traffic light, in a car, the light automatically changes; there is no need to get out of your car to push a request-to-cross button. As a cyclist, even in areas with bike lanes, you usually have to go onto the sidewalk to push the pedestrian request-to-cross button. Besides being an inconvenience, it sends a message that cycling is a second-class mode of transportation. Vancouver puts cyclist request-to-cross buttons near the street for easy access and I’m even starting to see this in Downtown Surrey. These cyclist request-to-cross buttons are completely missing in both the City and Township of Langley. This is interesting because even people who ride horses have specially installed push-to-cross buttons in South Langley.

You would think that pedestrian request-to-cross buttons would be conveniently located for pedestrians, but this isn’t always the case. In many areas in Downtown Langley, the buttons are located on the main traffic light pole which can be some distance from the actual intersection crosswalk. Sometime due to the orientation of the intersection and the traffic light pole, there can even be confusion as to which button requests what crosswalk (i.e. at non-perpendicular intersections). While this is inconvenient for even a fully able-bodied person, it is a major hassle for people with mobility issues. It also sends a message that walking isn’t an important mode of transportation.

Easy to access request-to-cross button in Los Angeles.

When I was in Los Angeles, I was pleasantly surprised that most intersections provided easy access to the request-to-cross button. While walkability and Los Angeles aren’t normally top of mind, it seems that the City has put thought into improving accessibility within the community. If Los Angeles can improve the pedestrians and cyclist experience at intersections, surely we can do this in places like Downtown Langley.

While it may seem silly to be focusing on request-to-cross buttons, it really is little things that can make active transportation more appealing and send the signal that active transportation is a priority for a municipality.

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