DOT, UConn study of pedestrian safety in CT focuses on crossing signals at intersections

In an effort to reduce the number of pedestrians hit by cars, a new research project conducted by the state Department of Transportation and the University of Connecticut is studying the type of crossing signals at some intersections. 

Eight municipalities across Connecticut received upgraded crossing signal lights as part of the research project run by DOT and UConn’s Connecticut Transportation Institute, which looks at traffic patterns and ways to improve safety on the state’s roads.

Two of the upgraded crosswalk signals are in Groton, with one each in Bridgeport, Clinton, Danbury, Darien, Middletown, Shelton and Windham, according to Marisa Auguste, one of the project’s researchers.

“The Traffic Engineering Division of the Connecticut Department of Transportation recently completed installations of concurrent pedestrian crosswalk signals at several intersections around the state to improve safety,” Auguste said.

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Pedestrian study

Concurrent pedestrian signals have been installed at the following intersections:

• Route 1 (Long Hill Road) at Maxson Road in Groton

• Route 184 (Gold Star Highway) at Kings Highway in Groton

• Route 217 (East Street) at West Lake Drive/East Lake Drive in Middletown

• US Highway 1 (East Main Street) at Meadow Road/Mallard Lane in Clinton

• Route 66 (Boston Post Road) at Mayo Street/Adelbert Street in Windham

• Route 202/6 (Mill Plain Road) at Kenosia Avenue in Danbury

• Route 1 at Clinton Avenue and Brook Lawn Avenue in Bridgeport

• Route 1 at Center Street and Squab Lane in Darien 

In the study, side street crossing signals were switched to concurrent signals, which allow pedestrians to cross the main road while drivers traveling in the same direction have a green light, she said. Side street greens mean pedestrians can cross a major road while cars on that street have a red light, but cars on a smaller side street have a green light, she said.

“Concurrent pedestrian signals clarify when pedestrians should cross while also reducing delays for both pedestrians and drivers,” Auguste said.

“Pedestrians will use a push button to initiate the 'WALK' signal to appear, indicating that it’s safe to cross," she said. "A flashing countdown meter lets pedestrians know how much time they have left to cross the road. Drivers turning left or right must yield to pedestrians crossing the road.”

The study focuses on side streets with pedestrian crossing signals that look like miniature stop lights, with a green light to signal it is safe for pedestrians to cross, DOT spokesperson Josh Morgan said.

Concurrent signals are clearer, by flashing “WALK” or “DON’T WALK” and including a countdown message for pedestrians, Morgan said.—

The study, which was funded with a $200,000 Federal Highway Administration grant, began with the first few crossing lights installed in May and June, he said.  The final three crossing signals, located in Bridgeport, Darien and Shelton, were installed and put online within the last week, Morgan said.

The project's goal is to determine whether concurrent signals are safer than exclusive signaling, said John Ivan, the project's leader and a UConn engineering professor. Exclusive signaling halts traffic from all directions to allow pedestrians to cross.

“Pedestrians don’t wait for 'WALK' signals at exclusives, then the car shows up by time they’re across the street. The turning vehicle arrives, doesn’t expect pedestrians in the crosswalk,” Ivan said. “Bottom line is, exclusive is safer when pedestrians wait — but they don’t wait. The drivers especially get frustrated when a pedestrian pushes the button. but doesn’t wait, and then the walk signal comes, and everyone's stopped and there’s no one walking.”

The concurrent signals are most often used in areas with high pedestrian volume, but they can be less effective as it takes longer for the signal to cycle through the green traffic lights and allow pedestrians to cross, he said.

With exclusive signaling, “there were fewer total crashes, but they were more severe,” Ivan said. “We found fewer crashes overall, irrespective of phase, but looked at the crashes at intersections. There were more pedestrian crashes at side street greens compared to exclusive. But there were more serious pedestrian crashes at exclusive phases.”

In 2019, 53 pedestrians were killed by cars in Connecticut, according to the nonprofit Governors Highway Safety Association. In 2020, the number of pedestrian fatalities rose to 61 in the state, according to GHSA.

From January 2021 to September 2022, the state reported 1,884 car crashes involving pedestrians, according to UConn’s crash data depository. In September alone, there were 74 car incidents involving pedestrians, according to DOT’s crash database.

A major concern in the study’s effectiveness, however, is the low pedestrian use of the areas studied, Ivan said.

“(DOT) gave us a list of locations that they were considering ... then we selected from that list. Essentially to create a study design so that we could control for factors that we think would be important and related to interactions between pedestrians and vehicles for examples,” Ivan said. “We looked at all locations on Google Earth to make sure it’s a place where there actually were pedestrians.”

Despite the preparation, Ivan and his team said they are concerned about the lack of pedestrians in the designated areas. A group of undergraduate students working with Ivan spent hours stationed near the crosswalks in the study to observe pedestrian and driver behaviors.

“We did not anticipate or think-through how few pedestrians there are. We looked at all the locations one-by-one to see, are there houses on one side and businesses on other?” Ivan said. “We looked at some we thought for sure there was going to be a lot, like a senior center on one side and neighborhood on other and: nobody.”

Included in the study are crosswalks with the new concurrent signals, a few with the old stoplight-style crossing signals and some with exclusive signals for comparison, he said.

Aside from the crosswalk signal, each of the intersections has the same variables, including distance to cross the street, traffic volume and whether there are sidewalks on both sides, Ivan said.

The study's observation period began in July and is expected to conclude at the end of October. Ivan said he hopes to prepare a draft of the study report in about March and complete a final report by June.

Abigail Brone can be reached at abigail.brone@hearstmediact.com.