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Why small change in traffic signals could make big difference for pedestrians in HRM

A pilot project has introduced a seven-second headstart for pedestrians at some intersections in the HRM.

Research shows a head start for pedestrians can reduce collisions with cars

(JopsStock/Shutterstock)

The Halifax Regional Municipality is deploying a deceptively simple tactic to protect pedestrians — giving them a head start.

Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPI) were put into effect at five of the busiest intersections in Halifax and one in Dartmouth this week.

When a light turns green, these intervals will give pedestrians a seven-second head start to walk into the intersection before motorists get the signal to start moving. 

The HRM isn't the first municipality to introduce leading pedestrian intervals. They are an increasingly popular tool to improve safety across North America.

In the first eight months of 2018, 61 per cent of car-pedestrian collisions in the HRM happened in marked crosswalks. 

Ahsan Habib, a transportation professor at Dalhousie's school of planning, spoke with the CBC's Portia Clark about why the intervals are a logical, low-cost way to protect pedestrians. Here's part of that conversation.

Can you just explain a little bit more about the logic, and how they're supposed to work by giving pedestrians that little bit more time to get across before traffic interrupts?

First of all, pedestrian are the most vulnerable road users on the road. The most important logic behind it, LPI, is the visibility of the pedestrian at the very beginning. You give a head start, three to seven seconds at least, or it could be up to 10 seconds. So at the at the very beginning, they get the head start.

The second point is, so we all assume that a crosswalks are a right-of-way for the pedestrian. But in this way, giving extra time at the beginning actually it's declared that it's their right-of-way of the pedestrian. So the pedestrian flow starts before the turning movement off the vehicles can resume. 

It's a visual clue because they're well ahead, well out into traffic. Sometimes what happens is the pedestrian and the car seem to taking that right hand turn move at the same time. 

So that tension, you can always feel that kind of tension between who goes first and trying to anticipate whether a pedestrian will make the move, kind of a chess game in certain ways. But I think this technology gives some sort of this empowerment of pedestrian at the very beginning and that breaks the tensions at least. 

It's a pilot project here. Where are they used in North America? 

I think many cities are trying [it] out. The City of Toronto has started with 12 intersection. The United States has multiple cities are doing that. There is a trend, as you know to give more...convenience for the pedestrian. But this is one of the lower-cost options, you just change the signal timing. So many cities are looking at it at the same time, because it has some also proven record of improving road safety 

There is a proven record. What have some of the pilot projects shown? 

Transportation research records show that it can reduce up to 60 per cent of pedestrian and vehicle collisions at the treated intersections. So it's quite a remarkable [change].

Another one people are theorizing about as well … is that it gives some sort of a perceived safety for the pedestrians. So we always report collisions, but there are also near-collisions, like where you don't feel safe. So this type of treatment is giving that to the pedestrian some sort of boosting psychologically that they are perceiving they're safe.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

With files from CBC's Information Morning