Sunday, July 5, 2009

"Look" signs

A few years ago there were a couple of pedestrian deaths caused by motorists near the University of Illinois. There were two legal responses to this: (1) reduced speed limits to 15 right around campus; and (2) signs at intersections saying you must yield to pedestrians (even in zones where speed limits weren't reduced). (1) was probably not a bad idea , but (2) never made much sense to me and predictably caused more confusion, not less (not to mention there were still a couple of pedestrians hit in the year or so following the posting of the signs).

First, the "yield to pedestrians" signs did was make less clear who had the right of way between a car on the street and a pedestrian who had not yet actually entered the crosswalk. Smart pedestrians will still pause when there is approaching traffic because her incentives are well-defined. But forgetting that relatively minor confusion, it created a Pelzman Effect and you would increasingly see dumb (sometimes intoxicated) undergrads wandering out into intersections without care, and sometimes talking on their cellphones.

U of I sent out surveys and I said then what I'll say now: They should have put up signs warning pedestrians to look both ways before entering the intersection. It's so simple we teach it to kindergartners. Anyway, they have such signs painted on the crosswalks in Vancouver (where I attended a conference last week) for pedestrians that say "LOOK ->." Maybe their health care system isn't what we want, but their attitude towards dummies who don't pay attention in traffic is admirable.

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