The danger of the green light in pedestrian traffic deaths is rarely discussed or even acknowledged. Even if you don’t consider yourself a walker or a pedestrian, you still have to cross the street sometime.
The Texas Transportation Code pertaining to pedestrians begins with this Section:
Sec. 552.001. TRAFFIC CONTROL SIGNALS. (a) A traffic control signal displaying green, red, and yellow lights or lighted arrows applies to a pedestrian as provided by this section unless the pedestrian is otherwise directed by a special pedestrian control signal.
(b) A pedestrian facing a green signal may proceed across a roadway within a marked or unmarked crosswalk unless the sole green signal is a turn arrow.
(c) A pedestrian facing a steady red signal alone or a steady yellow signal may not enter a roadway.
There are two major aspects of this particular section of law that are interesting. One most people don’t realize, even attorneys. The other is a law that is part of a set of laws that puts pedestrians in grave danger, the sole green signal aka “the green ball.”
As indicated in the statute, pedestrians are to obey traffic signals meant for motor vehicles, and for whom these statutes are primarily written. If there were no motor vehicles traffic control signals would not be a thing, so there is that. Then there is the “if there is no signal specifically pertaining to pedestrians, those on foot will need to chance crossing the street as if traffic is scanning for them,” which it often isn’t.
This is where the green ball comes in. The green ball–or light as most refer to it–signals to motorized traffic to continue forward or make that left or right turn. This is where the greatest danger is for pedestrians, even in lighted crosswalk sections and even where there are pedestrian safety crossing markings and lights in boxes of little white men indicating it is safe to cross. It isn’t always.
Why isn’t it safe to cross when the walk sign is lit and the green ball is on for motor traffic? Part of the problem is America just doesn’t walk. It is a health crisis, for sure, and when it comes to cars v. pedestrians it is an issue of visibility. When nearly everyone on the road is in a car, the human response is to not visually scan for other types of vehicles such as bicycles, people on motorcycles, bicycles, or even people on horses (it happens) or pedestrians for that matter. This puts vulnerable road users at serious risk of injury even death because a vehicle scanning only for other cars is unlikely to see them, especially a person on foot.
When the green ball comes on and a car needs to make a left hand turn, that is precisely when the statute and the pedestrian signal (if there is one) indicate it is safe to proceed across the street on foot. Without a green arrow–and the corresponding don’t walk sign–that car is likely not looking for pedestrians and may turn and injure or kill someone.
Slate Magazine wrote a very interesting article with great nuances explaining our health crisis and the difficulties created by a society that doesn’t walk. The more of us that walk the more visible we will become. As our friend Katie Delloz, a walking coach, says: “walking is a social activity.” Go be social and go for a walk. But be aware of the green ball of death.