All I want to do is be a responsible, respectful pedestrian.
I’m grateful for the traffic lights that help maintain order in messy street intersections. I’m also grateful for the improvements that the my village has been working on in terms of the sidewalks – replacing tiles, smoothening sidewalks and installing more covered areas. (Thank you, Legazpi Village!)
However, the traffic light changes that were made to the Salcedo/Gamboa Street intersection are very frustrating for a pedestrian. Tonight, in particular, I crossed this street a number of times and my sustained discomfort finally pushed me to write out my thoughts and feelings at length. The concern may seem like a small matter, but I’ve seen the lights at the intersection put motorists and pedestrians in danger (or anger) enough times to feel like this needs attention.
It’s only been a few months since the lights were installed, but I cross Gamboa Street (from the corner with the BPI toward Legazpi Active Park/Legazpi Parking Lot and back) very often. On foot, this intersection gets me to most places I go on a regular basis, so the past weeks have allowed me lots of opportunity to observe and draw some agitating conclusions:
(If you are not living in Manila, this may be a good time for you to proceed to other more useful, happy, relevant reading, as I am about to break down my observations and recommendations regarding a pedestrian/traffic matter in the Philippines.)
1. It seems like the pedestrian never gets a go signal.
The pedestrian light on my usual crossing barely ever turns to WALK (in reality, the white-light walking man). This particular crossing is on Gamboa street, on the Legazpi park side of Salcedo Street.
On many, many occasions, I have stood at the corner for a long time, trying to be obedient to the light. An orange hand signalling STOP is ever-present. I understand that is there to keep me safe. But often, you are held in this spot long enough to wonder if it will ever be your turn to cross. (I have also tried the “push to cross” button, but have not yet experienced the actual effects of this on the lights.., perhaps I’ve been too impatient?)
2. The traffic enforcer, during every occasion I’ve experienced, helps to move vehicular traffic in this intersection, with little mind to the pedestrians.
On many busy times of the day, the traffic lights are supplemented by a human traffic enforcer who keeps the vehicles moving. This is all well for those that ride in cars, making sure there are no bottlenecks or not-so-smart-or-respectful cars that block the backed up intersection. But this it is not well for pedestrians, it seems the human traffic enforcer often forgets them as they stand waiting their turn. I have tried waiting.
3. The traffic lights assist cars, but not pedestrians. The current program of the traffic lights puts pedestrians in danger of getting run over.
Because of instances 1 and 2, and their often simultaneous occurrence (no pedestrian go signal + human traffic enforcer forgetting humans traveling on foot), pedestrians awkwardly and dangerously try to find their way across a street.
It gets agitating when there is actually a legitimate pedestrian crossing but no properly allotted time programmed for human beings to cross it safely. Cars also do not tend to give way, as they are simply following the traffic lights themselves. Drivers also will tend to get mad at pedestrians that try to cross whenever they can, without knowing that the pedestrians are not being provided a safe and timely moment to cross.
If pedestrians are conscientious, or shy street-crossers, they will do their best to wait. I see many try. I often do. But often the wait is just too long for it to make sense. You notice the lights go through their full cycle, all the cars have been let through, and yet you are still standing there waiting.
4. The traffic lights themselves are confusing for drivers.
Not only is it dangerous for pedestrians, but this Gamboa Street, traveling in the direction of Amorsolo street, has two stop lights that have the following:
- a green and yellow light for cars going straight,
- a green and yellow arrow light for cars turning left and
- one red light.
This is a pretty new set of traffic lights, so many drivers are not familiar with it. They are particularly unfamiliar with the arrangement that they cannot turn left unless there is a left-turn green arrow. Most drivers assume that when there is a green light, they can go straight and also turn left without any problems. The problem with this assumption is that the opposing lanes have a green light at the same time. There is no left-turn red arrow to keep cars from turning left when it’s not their turn.
This is actually pretty dangerous. I’ve seen a couple of near accidents when cars turn left into Salcedo Street without knowing that the cars on the opposite lane are still allowed to keep going straight. The left-turning cars are not aware that they need to wait for a left-turn green arrow.
I’ve also seen drivers trying to wait patiently for the green left arrow, but impatient cars behind them honk without ceasing. In one specific occasion, the first car finally turned because the second car was pounding on his horn. First car turned safely, but the second car (the honking one) almost got hit by an oncoming car. The oncoming car had a proper green light. He honked back and wouldn’t let that second car go through.
You know that for many years there were no lights in this intersection?
5. Pedestrians can follow their walk light at their own risk.
I was talking to myself as I crossed the street for the last time today, does the pedestrian light ever allow anyone to cross? Does it ever turn white, or is that orange hand just always lit up?
I paused and waited. And then, ta-daaa! the walk light finally signaled that I could walk across the street! (I was coming from the Legazpi park side.)
For a moment, I was very happy! And then:
a. I realized the left turn arrow for cars on Salcedo (turning into Gamboa) was green, at the same time that my light (crossing Gamboa) told me to walk.
b. There was a vehicle turning left as I was trying to cross. Both our traffic/pedestrian lights told us we could proceed safely. Not true!
c. The driver didn’t see my pedestrian light and he was simply following his light.
d. I was also simply following my light.
e. I had to stop in the middle of the street/pedestrian crossing to not get run over by the car. I let it go ahead.
f. While I stood there midway, waiting for the vehicle to pass, my pedestrian light turned to a STOP light. That orange hand again. It had been barely a few seconds since I left the sidewalk.
g. Thankfully there was only one vehicle turning left, so I made it across safely. I noticed though that left turn green arrow into Gamboa was still green. Had there been more cars on the road, I still would not have been able to cross. I would’ve gotten stuck in the middle of the road as the cars on Gamboa get their green light to go straight. (This has happened to me before.)
6. This intersection is not fair.
I really want to follow the rules. I understand how pedestrians crossing at random times and random places cause accidents and more unwanted traffic. But intersections like these make it difficult to follow the rules because the rules were programmed unfairly.
Because I hate to just complain, here are a few suggestions for how to improve the current situation:
A. Post clear signage that say help motorists know what’s going on (especially for instances where a special left-turn green light is required for turning left). Also post signage as changes are being made, to warn motorists in advance.
B. Adjust the programming of the lights to accommodate pedestrians. (Three seconds is hardly enough time to make it across the road, especially for senior citizens or children).
C. If a human traffic enforcer will be working the intersection, make sure they wear lots of reflective gear. (They are sometimes almost invisible!) Perhaps the traffic lights can flash rather than stick to regular programming, so motorists know to proceed with caution. Remind traffic enforcers to also allow pedestrians to cross at certain intervals.
Now, how to get this feedback to the folks that can make some changes?