The pedestrian signal cycle is comprised of three parts:
the WALK interval,
the flashing DON’T WALK interval (also called the "pedestrian clearance interval"), and
the steady DON’T WALK interval.
Pedestrian signal intervals:
1. Walk Interval (Signal says "WALK" or shows a white silhouette of a person walking)
The minimum walk interval is four seconds, the most common Walk interval throughout the U.S. is seven seconds.
Pedestrians who begin crossing during the Walk interval are in the crosswalk legally until they complete their crossing, regardless of what the signal says after they start. Sufficient time is provided to enable the average pedestrian who starts during the walk interval to complete the crossing (see notes below).
2. Pedestrian Clearance Interval or “flashing DON’T WALK” (signal flashes orange “DON’T WALK” or flashes an orange hand)
indicates that pedestrians should not begin crossing, as there is no longer enough time for average pedestrians to start and complete a crossing.
The length of the pedestrian clearance interval is calculated by a walking speed formula. All pedestrian clearance intervals are to be timed so that a person who travels at 4 feet/second and starts to cross during the Walk interval (that is, before the clearance interval starts) will reach the far side of the "traveled way" before the end of the clearance interval.
Where there is a parking lane, the far side of the “traveled way” ends where the parking lane begins, not at the opposite curb.
Engineers are encouraged to use a slower travel speed formula at crossings where there are lots of pedestrians who are elderly or disabled.
3. Don’t Walk Interval (signal shows a solid orange "DON’T WALK" or hand)
Traffic is moving (or about to move) on the street you want to cross -- you should be out of the street.
Pedestrian timing is a COMBINATION of the WALK interval and clearance interval.
It is designed so that pedestrians can be in the crosswalk during both the WALK signal and the clearance interval (flashing orange “Don’t Walk” signal)!
NOTE: In most jurisdictions, it is illegal to start crossing when facing a pedestrian signal that does not indicate “WALK”!
Strategies to deal with / adapt for the need to push button:
At actuated intersections, it may be necessary to push a pedestrian button in order to get a WALK signal that can help assure enough time to cross.
Following are strategies for using the pedestrian pushbutton:
How to use the pedestrian button: If you push the button at any time except when the "WALK signal" is on, the WALK signal will come on the NEXT time the signal changes to green for traffic going your way (be sure to note the exception below).
Thus, after you've pushed the button, you can start to cross the next time the traffic movement on the street beside you indicates that their signal is green (be sure to consider "complex traffic patterns" when determining that their signal is green).
If you push the button during the walk interval, the WALK signal won’t come on next time it changes to green unless someone pushes it again! Therefore, be sure to push it after the WALK signal is finished.
If you fail to start crossing during the WALK signal, the button must be pushed again (after the walk signal is finished) in order to get another WALK signal during the next cycle, when you plan to cross.
Exception: In certain situations, the WALK signal might not come on the next time your signal turns green -- instead, it might come on as soon as you push the button! The situation in which this might happen is when:
there is a button for both streets, and
you're crossing the minor street, and
no vehicles or pedestrians are waiting to cross the other street (the major street)
Why is it important to know this? Because in order to be assured of having enough time to cross, you must cross when the WALK signal is on, so if you are not aware that the WALK signal is on when you don't expect it (such as immediately after you pushed the button) you may
end up crossing when the WALK signal is not on.
That is, if you are expecting the WALK signal to come on when the traffic on the street besides you starts to move, but there is no WALK signal when you expect it because it already gave you the WALK signal as soon as you pushed the button, you'll be crossing the street when there may not be enough time to complete your crossing.
See "Exceptions" for more details and for strategies to deal with this situation and other exceptions.
NOTES: Most actuated intersections are semi-actuated -- they require a pushbutton only for crossing the main street, not the minor street.
This is because the timing of the signal to cross the minor street always allows enough time because the minimal time given to the traffic on the main street is long enough for the average pedestrian to cross the minor street.
Some actuated intersections provide pushbuttons for pedestrians on only one side of the cross street. If no pushbutton is found for crossing a main street on one corner of an actuated signal, the pedestrian might cross the minor street to look for a button there.
However many actuated intersections provide NO pushbutton to provide time for pedestrians to cross the main street. Pedestrians should be aware that if the intersection is actuated and they cross the main street when the signal is green but they didn't push any pedestrian button, there may not be enough time to cross. It would be beneficial to contact the traffic engineer and advocate for the installation of pedestrian buttons to cross (see "Blind Pedestrian Killed; Intersection Design Contributing Cause").