The Rush Hour Tango

Intersections are not merely crossing points between streets; they are hubs of activity and nodes within communities where interactions and routines take place. Ideally, drivers and pedestrians would cross paths in an organized and timely fashion, like an intricate dance. However, impatience and human error often lead to one party stepping out of turn. Drivers are legally allowed to turn right through red lights, and pedestrians sprint across the street at any chance they get, regardless of the walk signal. Busy intersections like 5th and Spring St need an interface that can increase safety and awareness for people both on the road and on the sidewalk.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, approximately 65,000 pedestrians are injured by moving vehicles in a given year. In 2014, almost 5,000 of those injuries resulted in deaths. From a pedestrian’s perspective, crossing should be straightforward if you follow the visual walk signals. Additionally, the sounds of loud trucks, buses, and cars speeding down the street act as an indicator of when to or not to cross. For someone who is visually impaired or easily distracted, on the other hand, a direct and alert auditory signal might be a beneficial instruction. Many crosswalks are now implementing buttons that speak to users when pushed, emitting a forceful yet poor sound quality “wait!” or “crossing!” I would improve this interface by making the voice more clear and neutral, as the signal should be neither alarming nor calming; its purpose is to relay information, not an emotion.

From the driver’s perspective, sitting at a traffic light certainly is not an enjoyable experience. Although many states have laws protecting pedestrians in crosswalks, drivers attempt to make quick turns or speed across intersections without paying attention to the people around them. Distractions from phones, radios, and activity outside the vehicle all take away from the task at hand. I would improve driver awareness by including a signal in the intersection interface that is emitted to vehicle radios or possibly cellphones that alert a driver when pedestrians are crossing. Such a voice would need to be neutral, as Clifford Nass and Scott Brave state that “the same voice cannot be effective for all drivers.” It would be difficult for an outside interface to detect a user’s emotion from within the vehicle, so neutrality is key to appealing to the masses.


  • Chandler Thompson

    I would agree with the idea that a voice should be present to warn drivers of crossing pedestrians, but perhaps the voice shouldn’t be neutral in valence and arousal. It might be better with both higher to get the attention of the driver more suddenly. Such a situation requires immediate response, which might not be provided in reaction to a less stressing voice.

    • Jessica Grimmett

      While a higher pitched voice could act as a signal to the driver, it could also act as a distraction. An alarming voice has the potential to startle the driver, causing him or her to lose focus on the instructions given.
      A neutral voice with an average speech rate is the best choice since it would come across as straightforward and easy to understand. This eliminates the possibility of confusion, allowing the driver to quickly react to the spoken information.

  • Walter King

    Though a system to make drivers more aware pedestrians should be implemented, I am not convinced of the effectiveness of the proposed interface. Utilizing cell phones or radio receivers to communicate with drivers is unreliable. It assumes that the radio is turned (and tuned to the same frequency the interface is broadcasting on) and that the motorist has access to his or her cell phone (which they should not be looking at in the first place). I believe that a visual indicator dedicated to displaying information about foot traffic in the intersection would be the most effective way to implement the desired interface.

    • Abinay John

      I agree with you in that cellphones and radio broadcasting might not be the most efficient way to increase driver awareness. It might be more feasible if there were a standard radio frequency that every car was hardwired to be tuned to at all times; as far as cellphones are concerned, with today’s technology, it may be possible to connect the cellphone to the car’s interface and create a visual interface, thus making it less of a distraction to drivers as physically picking up their cellphones. Regardless, I think it would still be very inefficient: too hard to implement, and even harder to enforce to all drivers.

  • Aaron Acee

    After looking at the intersection myself, I agree completely that both drivers and pedestrians distracted by cell phones and other media tend to hold up the flow of the intersection. This is especially so when the light turns such that people are allowed to cross Spring street. Pedestrians on there phone are slow to react which causes the crosswalk to be backed up for a longer time which then causes 5th street to be backed up from drivers trying to turn right. I like the ideas presented. Adding a sound to the crosswalk would help signaling distracted people that it is time to walk. Also, adding some sort of interface to drivers’ radios would add a new level of safety to pedestrians using the crosswalk.

  • Kaitlin Kitchens

    I think you bring up a very interesting concern about drivers also being distracted. Most of the blog posts have discussed the pedestrians being the ones that are distracted; however, many times when drivers are making right hand turns, they are only cautious to oncoming traffic, not the pedestrians crossing the road. By having pedestrian walk-signals sent to radio stations and phones, this could allow drivers to be more cautious. The only problem I see with this is that it would be difficult to know which cars were turning right and which cars were going straight. If the sound was based off of location, that would mean that everyone is given the same signal to their radio/phone, regardless of whether he or she is turning right or near pedestrians. Other than that, I think that the overall idea created is a smart and promotes safety.

    • Cameron Coffey

      In such a scenario, I don’t think a radio sound would be as effective as displaying a picture that denotes that someone is currently crossing the street besides the light itself. People are often jamming to their favorite song in the car by using an auxiliary cord. Now, while having the signal hooked up to phones may help a little bit, I would be inclined to put my phone on airplane mode so I could listen to my music uninterrupted. The last thing a driver wants is for their favorite song to be interrupted by an another sound. While I agree that something must be done about increasing a driver’s awareness, I do not think a sound going off in someones car is the right way to go about it.

      • Graeme Sharpe

        Cameron, you make a solid point that most people would not tolerate their favorite song being interrupted but a visual interface would not necessarily help reduce the amount of pedestrians injured by cars. The reason for this is that a visual interface already exists; the drivers can see both the red light and the individuals themselves. However, drivers are easily distracted and if they cannot already see either the people or light they will most certainly fail to see the proposed visual interface. I am confident that the sound based interface would be far more effective in warning the driver. I do agree that the proposed sound interface needs refinement but it seems more realistically effective than an additional visual interface.

  • Itzel Trejo

    I agree that there should be a speech directed interface for the pedestrians that cross the streets while distracted. However, if the pedestrian is already too distracted to listen to the sound of the cars on the street or to see the visual cues of the crossing signal, then a neutral tone of voice will not be effective. A neutral tone of voice will blend into the surroundings of the pedestrian, particularly when we consider there already are people talking in the intersection. The speech interface will be ignored if it has a neutral tone. Instead, I propose to give it a deep pitched authoritative tone. This will get the pedestrian to listen and force them to pay attention to whether it is safe to cross or not.

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