Time Lapse: Pedestrians Ignore This Traffic Light That Prioritizes Cars

Pedestrians and a cyclist disregard a red light to cross Wynkoop St. at 16th St.
Pedestrians and a cyclist disregard a red light to cross Wynkoop St. at 16th St.

Does Denver time its traffic lights for humans? Or do the city’s engineers follow rules from an outdated book that prioritizes vehicles, frustrating pedestrians with long waits that send them darting into traffic, even though they far outnumber cars?

In the time-lapse video above, which Streetsblog shot today over a 40-minute period outside of Union Station, you’ll see many more pedestrians than other road users — and they often walk into the crosswalk with little regard for the “Don’t Walk” pictograph of an orange hand.

As the the light moved through red, green and yellow phases, it showed pedestrians the hand for most of the 90-second light cycle at 16th & Wynkoop Streets.

The light burdens pedestrians with a long wait due to lights that allow bicycles and vehicles to make turns without pedestrians in the crosstalk. But during the noon hour today, few vehicles turned. Not one cyclist used the bike signal. And pedestrians made up the majority of traffic.

Pedestrians in all directions are stopped during green light intended for turning cars, but few cars turned during the allotted time.
Traffic lights signal for pedestrians to stop in all directions during a green light intended for turning cars, but few cars used the time to make turns.

Why are pedestrians stopped for so much of the time? Nancy Kuhn, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Works offered a partial answer.

“We are dedicating time for people on bikes to make that left onto Wynkoop,” she said. “We can’t allow that movement at the same time as allowing people to cross on foot. To prevent that conflict, the pedestrians get the red and people on bikes are allowed to go.”

Cyclists need and deserve their own signals, and this one might make sense at certain times. But no cyclists went in that direction,  perhaps avoiding 16th St. due to the weekday ban on bikes past Wynkoop St. Cyclists who traveled in other directions navigated the intersection with little trouble.

But of each 90-second light cycle, bikes got just 11 percent of the time. Walk signals made up 49% of the total cycle time. And cars got the green light for 66% of the time.

Despite the city’s Vision Zero goals and a preponderance of pedestrians here, this 40-minute observation offers a clear conclusion: The Department of Public Works still prioritizes cars over people.

Pedestrians disregard a red light during a 10-second bicycle phase that no cyclists used during a 40-minute period.
Pedestrians disregard a red light during a 10-second bicycle phase. During a 40-minute period, no cyclists used the time allotted for bikes.


16th Street Mall

  • 10-second bicycle signal, no walk signal
    • 0 bicycles used this signal
  • 25-second green light with walk signal
  • 65 seconds: Don’t Walk
Wynkoop both directions
  • 19-second green light with walk signal
  • 22-second green light with no walk signal (for turns)
    • Left turns from NE-bound Wynkoop to NW-bound 16th
      • 4 turns during phase with no walk signal
      • 5 turns during other phases
    • Right turns from SW-bound Wynkoop to NW-bound 16th
      • 2 turns during phase with no walk signal
      • 7 during other phases
  • 49 seconds: Don’t Walk
  • TakeFive

    Few things. Assuming the middle of the day, say from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and obviously at ‘lunch hour’ seeing more pedestrians than either vehicles or bikes wouldn’t surprise me. But 16th St provides primary access to Union Station neighborhood and is used by the 16th St Mall shuttle buses.

    When I was there last summer, I didn’t always wait for a signal to cross the street. I still have two good legs and eyes and I felt perfectly safe crossing when no vehicles were present. I would be curious to know the traffic counts by the hour throughout the day though.

  • james

    The city should not waste money on bike signals, no one pays attention to them, cyclists or pedestrians and for good reason. They are only in a few places, so you never know when to expect them or where to look. I feel like we are all adults and can judge our safety on our own given cyclists and pedestrians have no blind spots. Only vehicles with blind spots such as motorcyclists with their visor helmets and cars should heed vehicular traffic signals.

    Spend that money on protected bike lanes and pedestrian infrastructure.

    • Wranger

      I agree in many places that makes sense since bikes and pedestrians usually mesh just fine. However, in places like the Broadway protected bike lane (as short as it still is…) I think the bike-specific traffic lights are needed to be sure cyclists go when the left turn signal is red and they know to stop when the left turn signal is green. Although when the quiet little cross streets have the signal (like Cedar St) then most cyclists will still cross against the light since often zero cars go by.

      • james

        I think you make a good point. Now if they could only finish that bike lane…. I think we have studied the idea enough.

        • Wranger

          OMG, right!?! I’m told that they’re in the design phase now and will start work on it again next year. Fingers crossed…

  • LazyReader

    If the hand is red, don’t walk or you’re dead, if the body is green you’re on the scene…….but if you do get hit by a car the lawsuit will go far.