Don’t Make Us Beg

I’m giving a little more context to the 1st of the 7 low-hanging-fruit actions cities can take right now to be more bike-friendly.

#1. Eliminate beg buttons city-wide (especially during this global pandemic).

Maybe you see yourself or someone you love in one or more of these bike-related scenarios:

  • You decide that the stretch of road you’re traveling at the speed of bike is too dangerous-by-design and you walk your bike for a bit on the sidewalk during a particularly egregious section. You get to the corner where you want to cross. The traffic light is green but your crossing signal is not. A sign says “Pedestrian must push button to cross.” You push the beg button (with your elbow — see the last scenario below for why) and stand there while motor vehicles going in your direction flow freely and then the traffic in the other direction gets its turn before you finally are allowed to cross. Did I mention it is raining?

  • You are riding on the sidewalk with kids in suburbia. You have taught them to stop and walk their bikes across busy intersections but you also cross several signalized low-traffic intersections and the constant requirement to stop and push the button in order to get the signal to cross is tedious and, frankly, feels punitive since drivers in motor vehicles do not have to do that. The kids are noticing who gets the priority here, and it’s not them. (“Hey, I thought we were a family -friendly city!” your 11-year-old exclaims. God bless her — she’s been paying attention at those city hall meetings via Zoom and she sees that the rubber-hits-the-road reality ain’t adding up.) That one time you all decide to cross with the flow of traffic even though your crossing signal is not green, you get honked at and harassed by a driver who believes he does not need to wait for you to turn. If you are hit by a three-ton SUV while in the crosswalk if your signal is not green (even though you are going with the flow of traffic), you will be considered at fault.

  • You have a disability and try to use a bike, trike, or other adaptive cycle as a mobility aid. You choose to ride on the sidewalk (even though it may be illegal where you live) out of self-preservation because you are concerned about your ability to see, hear, or otherwise react quickly enough to motor vehicles and there is no safe-access-for-all on the road. There are several beg buttons on your common routes to work, shop, and otherwise conduct your life independently that you cannot reach because they are too high up or inaccessible due to shrubbery or other obstacles. You get stuck one time too many and eventually give up trying.

  • You live in a city where riding a bike on the sidewalk is actually legal (hello, Dunwoody). You wish that the crossing lights not only would coincide with the flow of traffic, but would actually give you a few seconds head-start so that you could avoid deadly right turns and left hooks from motor vehicle drivers as well as distracted drivers who text during stops at lights and don’t notice you are about to cross (as recently happened to a 12-year-old girl who was hit in that Metro Atlanta suburb-city).

  • You are living in the midst of a global pandemic of a fast-spreading virus that is potentially contagious via touch. You know that many cities have eliminated beg buttons for this reason alone. You wonder why yours has not.

Spotlight: When I ride my bike in most of Downtown Atlanta, there are occasions when I walk it on the sidewalk to take photos, meet Today’s Nice Stranger, traverse a one-way street in the opposite direction, or avoid a block or two that feels too dangerous-by-design. Most of the crosswalks do not even have beg buttons, and the crossing signal changes automatically. This is very nice. Additionally, many crosswalks provide a “leading pedestrian interval” (LPI) so that those walking (or walking a bike, or in a wheelchair) can cross a few seconds earlier than motor vehicle traffic. Signals on several concrete-protected two-way cycletracks in Downtown Atlanta have actual bike signals as well (pictured above).

Here’s the “legacy” background on traffic signal timing. It’s time to change that. Don’t make us beg.

“The traffic signal timing and optimization models we use continue to focus only on automobile traffic. These legacy signal timing policies at intersections have prioritized vehicle movements, leading to large and sometime unnecessary delays for pedestrians.” – ITE Journal May 2018
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