I had an amazing day yesterday in Washington DC for Redux DC, an event bringing together regional speakers from the IA Summit and the IxDA Interaction conferences of 2009. After an educational day of great presentations, a Rhodia filled with scribbles, and a brain full of ideas, how could I not stop and ponder this walk/don’t walk light that I encountered on nearly every block of Georgetown?
What stood out to me the most was the high number of seconds on the clock. I stopped at this particular corner and observed it for a few cycles, out of curiosity and also because I had to find the correct ISO on my camera to capture double digits instead of single (they must alternate at an undetectably high speed). I passed a few corners and commented to my companions before I committed to watching it begin, count down, and reset again.
Here in Philadelphia, our walk/don’t walk signs have changed slightly in the last few years. Basically they work like this (from memory): The light turns green for cars, and pedestrians get the “walk” sign, the white outline of a person walking. Once the traffic light turns yellow, you get the blinking hand and a countdown on the clock, starting at about 10 seconds. That always signifies to me, you better HUSTLE if you want to get across this intersection (they’re usually at larger intersections in center city).
In Georgetown, the clock begins the second you get the walk signal and the traffic light turns green. It starts at about 48 (or 45?) seconds, and down goes the clock. From a pedestrian’s perspective, seeing that high of a number actually helped me plan earlier on whether or not I was going to make that light. I’m not sure it’s as effective to a driver, who may be distracted by the countdown, especially because it was on the same pole as the traffic light, instead of the traffic light hanging from a central point above the street.
Being a city dweller for upwards of 13 years, I rely on my feet to get me mostly everywhere. They’re my single most reliable form of transportation. Living in NYC for over four years, taught me how to move quickly and weave through crowds of people moving at varying speeds. Walking is something that can be leisurely or determined, depending on where you’re headed… and where you’re going. There must have been some reason why the urban planners of Georgetown deemed this a necessary design change. I’d love to hear their reasoning.
On a final note, I’m glad I got to spend a small part of yesterday wandering around Georgetown, a lovely area. Many thanks to the organizers of RedUX DC for inviting us down.