A recent study by University of Calgary economists Arvind Magesan and Sacha Kapoor investigated the effects of the city of Toronto installing crosswalk-count-down timer lights at 1,800 intersections. The timers did lower the number of accidents involving pedestrians; however, the study indicates that the timers actually increased collisions between cars. The increase in car accidents was due to the fact that the timers are visible to both pedestrians and automobiles approaching the intersections and there were more rear-end accidents caused by the approaching motorist speeding up to get through the intersections. Intersections that had been previously considered “safe intersections” became more dangerous for motorists. The study found that at busy congested intersections the traffic is moving too slowly for motorist to accelerate through the intersection based on the count-down-timer; however, at less busy intersections when there is only one or two cars ahead of the motorist viewing the count-down clock, that trailing motorist would speed up during the last few seconds making rear-end collisions more prevalent.
In their conclusion, the study’s authors suggest that the cross-walk timers should be redesigned to give only an audio countdown so that approaching automobiles cannot see or hear how much time is left to get through the intersection but pedestrians can continue to benefit from the increased safety of knowing how much time there is to get across the street safely.
The cities of Ann Arbor, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek,and Brighton, Michigan have installed these types of countdown timers to increase pedestrian safety. Perhaps these Michigan cities should rethink and redesign their count-down cross-walk timers to keep all users of city intersections safe.