Previous Next 1 / 12
Why does this traffic signal for trail users turn red 24/7 — even when nobody’s around?
Transit police in Bend, Oregon, are perplexed by what looks like an unusual traffic signal — designed to enable people to cross a tributary of the Santiam River.
“That is a flashing red light, that’s not an indication of, ‘Turn right.’ Does it say, ‘We’re running traffic in that direction?’” asks officer James Roby to reporters.
“Yeah,” replies Emma Miranda, the city engineer.
Her boss, Rich Simonetti, disagrees.
“There’s no flashing red light. There is a signal at the intersection, but it’s a pedestrian signal. We have them at all different intersections, as a matter of fact,” Simonetti says.
“And it doesn’t go on 24/7?” Roby asks.
“No,” Simonetti replies.
“All I know is, it’s posted around town as a pedestrian signal, not a signal for cars,” Roby says.
Roby walks to the site to see what he can find. It’s blocked by tall grass, but in a matter of minutes, not only is the red signal in place, but it’s either gone up or at least flashing — as if there’s a cyclist in the area, which is not actually the case.
“So when there is no pedestrian traffic, it doesn’t go on 24/7? It just turns red?”
Simonetti seems confused by the question.
“Well I understand that now. Now what about, when a pedestrian comes? What happens if a pedestrian comes?”
Roby struggles to explain why a pedestrian signal only works one way and has to be “transparent” at any other time.
CITY OF BEND, OR
As it turns out, just because the pedestrian signal isn’t switching with a marked signal doesn’t mean it doesn’t function all the time. The big clue lies in the name: the signal is designed to help people when they’re walking, or jogging or biking.
And the lights are still blue — both, and can indeed be switched over in any mode of travel.
“It would be like having a light that just lights blue that kicks on and switches on at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, on the Umpqua River, for example,” Simonetti explains.
A common phenomena is when “monotony” comes into play, Simonetti says. Some of the lights can change so often that people don’t notice anything unusual.
But it’s not the time or the location, but the novelty factor that people find strange. Simonetti says there is a little bit of mystery in that.
“Somehow, some way, the city decided to put it up and now people don’t know how to function in it, so they think that it’s new,” he says.
“But it’s not new,” asks Roby.
Simonetti says it’s got some “fuzzy” wiring inside, which often disappears. He finds this peculiar because they’ve had “millions” of new city lights put in over the past five years, with pretty much all going green or red.
As far as Simonetti is concerned, the most likely explanation is that someone just hasn’t done any maintenance over the years, but that’s something that could easily be corrected. If he’s right, we could all be living in a different world.
Once he finished the interview, Simonetti did find time to add that for their part, the city officials have heard from the Oregon State Police.
“They are calling and saying, ‘Hey, we want you to leave our lights alone,” says Simonetti.
“You have to send them something back to say, we’ve taken care of it. What exactly are you guys waiting for?” asks Roby.