Bill and I are riding east on Washington after our Wednesday morning ride to Wishbone for breakfast. We are both heading towards the loop. At Halsted I see the counter on the light telling me there are three seconds left and I am about 75 feet from the corner. I decide to come to a stop as the light turns yellow. A rider behind is is bolder and speeds through the intersection as the light turns red.
Bill and I talk about the thin line between wisdom and anxiety at the light and as we ride on the next green. We ponder our decision to stop at Halsted and whether we would have gone through when we were younger. We give ourselves some credit as we are both getting on in years and we are out here on a chilly morning when most people our age would have let the weather keep themselves indoors. We are telling ourselves that this was wisom. We are on our bikes but we are not going through a turning light at a busy intersection during rush hour.
Just as we are reaching back and patting ourselves on the back for our decision to stop at Halsted we approach Clinton. I again see the light tell me there are three seconds left and I am again about 75 feet from the intersection. Again, I stop, thinking we had just reaffirmed that this was a good decision. I come to a stop and watch as the light remains green for at least five seconds after we had come to a stop before turning yellow and red. This light does not count down to the yellow but down to a void of "still green but about to turn" that confounds and annoys me. This is a light I could have safely passed at three seconds.
Bill and I go under the viaduct when the light is again green discussing this arrhythmia wondering why the lights are not consistent. This consistency would be much safer and allow drivers, riders, pedestrians and anybody else to know what to expect. We are still discussing this as we come to the civic opera house at Wacker Drive and where the light counts down, three, two, one and turns yellow just as it had done at Halsted. We comment that had a rider experienced the useless "grace period" at Cinton he/she might be killed riding through the intersection at Wacker.
We enter the bike lane and wonder why the traffic overlords even bother with this countdown when we have no idea what it leads to.
The countdown is for the pedestrians. I agree, they don't always align with the traffic light. I wish the city, and the state for that matter, would start using flashing green to indicate a light is about to turn yellow. Many states do that. Given that Chicago has had a short yellow for ages, and was actually caught shorting the yellows when red light cameras were installed, it would make sense to give traffic an indication that the light is about to change.
There's SOOO much more information you can convey via traffic lights. Flashing green to indicate the green is almost done; red/amber to indicate the green is about to come, diff shapes to help in case you cant see color clearly, etc.
Good observation about the inconsistency between how the countdown functions at Halsted and Wacker versus at Clinton. I'll keep an eye out for this elsewhere.
Lincoln/Sheffield/Wrightwood is a great example of this. Every intersection along Lincoln (from Wellington to Armitage) has the pedestrian timer synced to end when the light turns yellow, except this intersection.
Going south Lincoln, the traffic lights at this intersection cycle from green to yellow when there are still 4 seconds on the pedestrian countdown. I am sure I have seen some close calls between all users because the timing of the lights is just that different from just about every other intersection; I'm actually surprised I haven't seen an actual collision and not just close calls.
(Then again I see enough stupid people tricks by all users on any given day/week/month that something needs to be truly memorable to stick out more than a day or two)
The city changed the timing of some "don't walk" signs a while back, seemingly at random. It has come up in previous threads, including my speculation that it may have contributed to the car / cyclist collision at Roosevelt and Halsted earlier this year.
This may be true. I had shared this thread with an engineer friend who railed against the inconsistency and said the ability to have all lights be the same is what allowed actors to make choices. He went on to mention that it really doesn't matter if the numbers are actual seconds as long as the countdowns end the same way and that in wider streets or busier intersections the interval could be greater than a second. I was thinking about intersections that cross Lake Shore Drive near Grant Park. Of course, a countdown with it's own variable speed as you mention, would be equally evil to having them end at a "still green" at some intersections and a yellow at others. If I had to boil it down to a pithy aphorism that would turn Emerson over in his grave, I would say, "inconsistency is the hobglobin of traffic safety."
I've noticed this at a few intersections as well. I realize the counters are there primarily for pedestrians, but they are valuable to both cyclists and drivers as well. I think the city (and other municipalities where these are popping up) should be encouraged to settle on one predictable scheme.
Yes, it's an interesting example of something intended to benefit X group also benefitting Y group.
The classic example I always think of is handicapped-access ramps. Intended to help people in wheelchairs and scooters, but as it turns out they help all sorts of people: parents with strollers, delivery people, etc.