Hands Free Pedestrian Signals

What changes are being made and who is making them?

There are about 60 signalized intersections that the city has local control over. Before COVID-19, there were some of these signalized intersections where the pedestrian walk signal came on automatically during each signal cycle, and there were some where pedestrians had to push the “beg” button in order to get the walk signal. City staff in the Mobility Division have been working their way around the city making two types of changes:

Hanging signs at locations where the walk signal comes on automatically, so pedestrians know they don’t have to push the button; and,

Converting signals where the walk sign had to be activated by pushing the button to automatic, and hanging signs to let pedestrians know this change has been made.

Why are we doing this?

Over the past several weeks and months, we’ve all learned a lot about COVID-19 - how it’s spread and how to stay safe. One major safety precaution is to eliminate the need to touch surfaces that could have the virus on them, and then unknowingly infect yourself by touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. Pedestrian “beg” buttons at signalized intersections are one of these surfaces, so eliminating the need to touch them, can help keep us all healthy and stop the spread of the virus.

Are other cities doing this?

Yes. Making these changes to signals has been a relatively “low-hanging fruit” mobility response undertaken around the country and the world to help keep people safe during the pandemic. Many of our neighbors, including Cambridge and Brookline, have made these changes. Some cities, like Los Angeles and Minneapolis, have worked to convert hundreds of signals to include an automatic pedestrian phase. We are staying in touch with our national peers on strategies and best practices for addressing the mobility impacts of the coronavirus and ensuring that residents can access essential services by all modes of transportation.

What about audible signals?

A handful of city-owned signals include audible technology and communicate information about the WALK and DON’T WALK intervals in non-visual formats to pedestrians who are blind or have low vision.

Within the city, signals with audible technology are of varying ages and levels of technology - at some of the intersections where these signals are located, the audible tones and messages come on automatically when the WALK signal comes on; however, at other locations, pedestrians must still push the WALK button in order to activate the audible features of the signal.

We understand that this is not ideal, and we are continuing to work to make every intersection in the city as safe and accessible for all pedestrians as possible. Updates will be posted to this site as we are able to address these issues.

The city is working to make ongoing updates to pedestrian signal technology as well as to improve the safety and accessibility for pedestrians who are blind, have low vision, or are otherwise mobility impaired. This work is guided by the city’s goals to implement the Americans with Disabilities Transition Plan.

What about places where the signal is only for a crosswalk?

There are about 16 pedestrian crossing locations throughout the city that are not at typical signalized intersections (in other words, where two or more streets meet and vehicular movements need to be controlled or phased by signals). These signalized pedestrian crossing locations have been installed at crosswalks along corridors to improve safety for crossing pedestrians. Since there is no need to stop cars at these locations unless there is a pedestrian present, the city will be pursuing other improvements to enhance the safety of these locations during COVID-19.

How can I give feedback or report a problem?

In addition to giving us feedback right on this page (by taking the brief survey, adding to the map, or asking us a question), you can also email us at Transportation@somervillema.gov.

You can also always give feedback by contacting the City’s 311 Constituent Services Division by calling 3-1-1 (TTY 866-808-4851) or 617-666-3311 from outside the City. You can reach 311 via the 311 mobile app, twitter (@311Somerville), or email (311updates@somervillema.gov).

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