On Wednesday, DC officials unveiled the Vision Zero plan to make roads safer for walkers and cyclists, as well as drivers. But at the very intersection DDOT made the announcement, pedestrians are already getting short shrift.

The new beg button to cross Maryland Avenue at 10th NE. Photo by Andrea Adleman.

A new traffic light recently went in at the intersection of 10th and Maryland NE after years of community requests to make traffic along the street safer. But at the signal’s crosswalks, a pedestrian walk signal only comes on if you press a button and wait. DDOT’s rules say these “beg buttons” are a bad idea, but they keep installing them anyway.

After requests by the local ANC, DDOT changed the light to be pre-timed from 7 am and 7 pm, meaning it has a pedestrian walk signal during every cycle from green light to red light. But at all of the other lights along Maryland, there’s a walk signal during every cycle at all times.

Moreover, at 10th and Maryland, if someone presses the button during a green light, they have to wait for the light to turn red and then green again to get a walk signal, despite the fact that the sensor will extend the green time if more cars show up during the cycle.

The ANC had asked that this signal always be pre-timed but DDOT responded that they would have to study the issue more to ensure that it wouldn’t delay vehicles. However, DDOT’s own study has shown that many cars are actually speeding at this intersection, with over 90% driving over the 25 MPH speed limit at 5 am.

Image from DDOT.

DC’s rules discourage beg buttons

Pedestrian Actuated Signals, or “beg buttons” as they are often derisively called, are more common in outlying areas than they are in the city but can still be found in the District. Another location that has them is the intersection of North Capitol & L and along M Street NE at the NoMa Metro.

DDOT specifically discourages them, including in the MoveDC plan, because they make people wait longer to cross on foot, they’re less predictable, and they’re more challenging for people with disabilities who may not see or be able to easily reach them. Specifically, MoveDC says beg buttons should not be used near transit stops or in any area where pedestrians are present for at least 50% of the cycle during the hours that see the most use.

This does not mean, of course, that such signals should be used at areas that don’t meet these conditions.

Image from DDOT.

While it’s true that DDOT has recently made some helpful changes by adding the traffic light and changing the layout of 10th and Maryland, the pedestrian buttons violate the spirit of Vision Zero that the Mayor showcased at Wednesday’s event.

Retiming the light to make it so all cycles have a pedestrian phase would make crossing at 10th and Maryland much safer. And on a bigger scale, DDOT’s engineers and consultants would do well to follow the agency’s pedestrian safety policies a bit more closely.

Tony Goodman is an ANC Commissioner for 6C06 in Near Northeast/NoMA and member of the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he is a Construction Project Manager with a Masters degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan and has lived in Washington, DC since 2002.