Crossing the four corners of the downtown Denton Square is soon going to get safer for pedestrians.
A new pilot program that goes into effect early next week will have an exclusive pedestrian phase so that when people cross, no car traffic at the intersection will move at all. The plan was presented and approved during a Denton City Council work session Tuesday afternoon.
Brian Jahn, the city’s traffic engineer, said pedestrians will push the button at the crosswalk and it will trigger lights in all four directions to go red at the same time. There will be enough time for a pedestrian to cross on foot across two streets or cross diagonally, he said. Additionally, this means cars won’t be able to turn on red at the four intersections.
“It increases the convenience for people walking. They have a better feel, it’s more inviting and the safety is enhanced,” Jahn said. “Again, we’re trying to get people out of their cars and feeling safe about walking around downtown. This goes a long way in promoting that pedestrian activity.”
Currently, when a light is green on Elm, Locust, Hickory or Oak streets the walk sign in the same direction will be on for pedestrians. Those on foot get a five- or six-second head start so they can become more visible in the crosswalk to car traffic moving in the same direction. But this can still be a problem as cars try to turn onto other streets though, creating clashes and delays with both pedestrians and vehicles, Jahn said.
“I wasn’t satisfied with the ‘giving the pedestrians an edge’ plan, it felt like you get a little head start in the race of playing chicken against the cars, so I am thrilled for this,” City Council member Deb Armintor said.
Staff is bringing the plan to the Committee on Persons with Disabilities on Thursday night for feedback, and plans to implement the change on Monday. There will be new signs put at each of the 16 crossing points explaining the change, as well as new “no turn on red” signs at each traffic light.
It will take about a month to see if the new crossing configuration is working, Jahn said. The plan is to run the program for the next five or six months and get feedback before permanently implementing the change.
Mayor Chris Watts said in this pilot program he wants staff to be mindful of how the change impacts businesses downtown, too. He said he’s seen decreased traffic in some businesses as construction on surrounding streets has been off-putting for customers to park and walk up to the Square.
“I want to make sure we aren’t overburdening our Square with changes that will continue to impact business in a negative way,” he said. “I don’t know if this will or not. I would just hate to continue to put things on them that keep people from some respects from parking their vehicles and walking to the Square.”
If the pilot goes well, the only ongoing impact would be minor construction to the crosswalks, Jahn said. City staff will look at adding ramps at diagonal crossing points as well to make crossing diagonally a reality for people with disabilities if this becomes a permanent change.