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270 traffic signals in Northwest now give pedestrians and cyclists more time to cross

“Leading pedestrian intervals” are becoming more common in the city

Pedestrians cross a street in view of a domed capital building.
Pedestrians use a crosswalk along North Capitol Street.
The Washington Post via Getty Im

City transportation officials have reprogrammed 270 traffic signals to allow pedestrians and cyclists more time to cross the street throughout much of Northwest. Those people will get a few seconds’ head-start ahead of adjacent drivers, thanks to so-called “leading pedestrian intervals,” the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced late last Friday. Research shows the intervals help reduce traffic collisions because they improve visibility.

The rejiggered traffic signals are situated in the area bounded by Rock Creek Parkway to the west, Florida Avenue NW and U Street NW to the north, North Capitol Street to the east, and I-395 to the south, according to DDOT, which plans to retime 655 total traffic signals in this zone. In 2018, the agency similarly retimed traffic signals at 93 intersections in in Navy Yard, Southwest, and neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River as part of project to go until 2022.

DDOT says the changes fall under the city’s Vision Zero initiative to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2024. “The data show that LPIs are an effective tool to make our streets safer for some of the most vulnerable users of the roadway, pedestrians and cyclists,” says DDOT director Jeff Marootian in a statement. Under D.C. law, cyclists can abide by leading pedestrian intervals and move forward upon walk signals—not just green lights for drivers.

A map of traffic lights in a city where pedestrians and cyclists get a head-start to cross streets ahead of adjacent drivers.
Leading pedestrian intervals in central D.C.
District Department of Transportation

The department also said it would implement the following actions within the specified area:

“Create 29 new pre-timed crossings, eliminating the need for pedestrians to push the ‘walk’ button, bringing this feature to 98 percent of the intersections in the downtown network during high-demand hours;

Adjust signal timing to improve bicycle mobility along high-demand bike corridors such as R Street NW; 15th Street NW, and M Street NW;

Adjust late-night signal timing programs along specific corridors to discourage speeding;

Modify traffic signal sequences to reduce conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians at 14 intersections, including protecting right turns at three intersections along the 15th Street cycle track; and

Install two new exclusive pedestrian cycles at the intersections of 20th Street NW and Virginia Ave NW and Connecticut Ave NW and Desales Street NW.”

Leading pedestrian intervals are said to be relatively cheap ways of improving traffic safety. City leaders are weighing additional changes to the law to advance the goals of Vision Zero.