Pedestrian-Friendly Crossing Distances

571/Wallace/Cranbury intersection, 2007

How wide can a street be and still be pedestrian-friendly? The wider the street, the longer it will take to cross, of course, so the longer a pedestrian will be exposed to vehicular traffic.

The short answer, according to the NJDOT Pedestrian Compatible Planning and Design Guidelines, is 60 feet.  How wide is that?  If you think of downtown Princeton, on Nassau Street, it is about the width of the street that divides town and campus at Washington Road.

If a street is wider than 60 feet, NJDOT recommends providing a pedestrian refuge so that people can find openings in traffic from only one direction, and have a place to wait for an opening in the other direction. For crossings at intersections with signals, the pedestrian refuge provides a place for people to wait if they are not fast enough to cross during one signal cycle.

A good example of a pedestrian refuge is at the crossing on Clarksville Road between the Avalon Watch apartments and the strip mall on the other side. Another example is crossing Rt. 571 at Alexander Road by the Shell station, although very few people cross there, as there is currently no sidewalk on the north side of Rt. 571.

There are a number of crossings in West Windsor that exceed 60 feet and don’t have a pedestrian refuge, such as crossing Rt. 571 at Sherbrooke and the ex-Acme strip mall (Windsor Plaza), and also at Cranbury/Wallace near the train station. The WWBPA is advocating for pedestrian refuges at these crossings, and for the Sherbrooke crossing, a pedestrian-activated signal that stops traffic.

How Fast Can You Walk?

Another factor closely related to getting across that street is how fast you can walk, or roll, in the case of people in wheelchairs or scooters. We all walk at different speeds, yet traffic signals should be set so most people can cross during one signal cycle.

Progress is being made! Traffic signal standards are governed by the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which was recently updated in December 2009.  The new standard for signal timing now assumes a walking speed of 3.5 ft./sec., which is slower and therefore more pedestrian friendly than the old standard of 4 ft./sec. – people will have more time to cross. In addition, the county has installed countdown pedestrian signals, so we can see how long we have until the signal changes.

The Americans with Disabilities Act standards notes that people who are older or otherwise impaired often can only manage 1.5 ft./sec. – slower if there is inclement weather or longer distances that require frequent rests. Areas used by the disabled or elderly should allow even more crossing time.