About five years ago, municipalities across the United States, Canada, and likely points elsewhere began installing new technology for crosswalk safety.

Gone were many of the simple “WALK" or “DON'T WALK" signals (or corresponding hand or figure illustrations) like this one:


Image via Thinkstock.

They were replaced by ones with countdown clocks, telling pedestrians how much time they had before they could no longer safely cross the street. The video here is an example, or here's an image:

Image by Oran Viriyincy/Flickr (cropped).

These new crosswalk signals had a pretty clear goal: keep pedestrians safer by giving them advance warning as to when the traffic lights would change.

And guess what? According to a study published in 2014 written by a pair of economists (PDF available here), the crosswalks worked.

The two researchers, Sacha Kapoor and Arvind Magesan, studied the change in accident rates at nearly 2,000 intersections in Toronto and concluded the pedestrians stopped when the timer ticked too low and rushed to safety at other times — and as a result, dangerous intersections became less dangerous.

The planned outcome of the new crosswalk signals worked.

Unfortunately, the researchers discovered that pedestrians weren't the only ones making use of the countdown.

Drivers were noticing them too, and that unintended use had an unintended — and hardly positive — outcome. Toronto was left with a bunch more car accidents.

Over time, the rate of accidents at these intersections increased.

NPR explains:

The largest increase is in rear-end accidents and we think it's because two cars approaching a light, who both see the countdown, the guy behind, he sees the two or three seconds and thinks, oh, the guy in front of me is going to floor it too, I'll floor it and we'll both get through the intersection. Whereas the guy in front thinks, OK, I only have two or three seconds left, I'm going to slowdown. And this is exactly the type of accident that would happen in that case.

To make matters worse, the researchers (per NPR) discovered that “the biggest increases in crashes come at intersections that were previously safe intersections."

Further, as drivers got used to the timers, they began to realize that even having one second left on the clock is enough time to get through the intersection if they're willing to gun the engine, even if recklessly. So, over time, the rate of accidents at these intersections increased.

Unfortunately, Toronto's city government, upon hearing of the research, objected to the results and showed little interest in making any changes, at least initially.

If Toronto or any other city wishes to fix the problem, though, the solutions put forth by Kapoor and Magesan are pretty simple: either find a way to shield the countdown information from drivers or, if that proves difficult, put the old-style crosswalk signals in generally safe intersections.

That second idea wouldn't be out of the ordinary — it is exactly the strategy New York City employs.

Image via Thinkstock.

Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know ("Learn Something New Every Day, By Email"). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

True

From the time she was a little girl, Abby Recker loved helping people. Her parents kept her stocked up with first-aid supplies so she could spend hours playing with her dolls, making up stories of ballet injuries and carefully wrapping “broken” arms and legs.

Recker fondly describes her hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as a simple place where people are kind to one another. There’s even a term for it—“Iowa nice”—describing an overall sense of agreeableness and emotional trust shown by people who are otherwise strangers.

Abby | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Driven by passion and the encouragement of her parents, Recker attended nursing school, graduating just one year before the unthinkable happened: a global pandemic. One year into her career as an emergency and labor and delivery nurse, everything she thought she knew about the medical field got turned upside down. That period of time was tough on everyone, and Nurse Recker was no exception.

Keep Reading Show less
via Pexels

The Emperor of the Seas.

Imagine retiring early and spending the rest of your life on a cruise ship visiting exotic locations, meeting interesting people and eating delectable food. It sounds fantastic, but surely it’s a billionaire’s fantasy, right?

Not according to Angelyn Burk, 53, and her husband Richard. They’re living their best life hopping from ship to ship for around $44 a night each. The Burks have called cruise ships their home since May 2021 and have no plans to go back to their lives as landlubbers. Angelyn took her first cruise in 1992 and it changed her goals in life forever.

“Our original plan was to stay in different countries for a month at a time and eventually retire to cruise ships as we got older,” Angelyn told 7 News. But a few years back, Angelyn crunched the numbers and realized they could start much sooner than expected.

Keep Reading Show less
True

It takes a special type of person to become a nurse. The job requires a combination of energy, empathy, clear mind, oftentimes a strong stomach, and a cheerful attitude. And while people typically think of nursing in a clinical setting, some nurses are driven to work with the people that feel forgotten by society.

Keep Reading Show less

We're dancing along too.

Art can be a powerful unifier. With just the right lyric, image or word, great art can soften those hard lines that divide us, helping us to remember the immense value of human connection and compassion.

This is certainly the case with “Pasoori,” a Pakistani pop song that has not only become an international hit, it’s managed to bring the long divided peoples of India and Pakistan together in the name of love. Or at least in the name of good music.
Keep Reading Show less

Dr. Alicia Jeffrey-Thomas teaches you how to pee.

A pelvic floor doctor from Boston, Massachusetts, has caused a stir by explaining that something we all thought was good for our health can cause real problems. In a video that has more than 5.8 million views on TikTok, Dr. Alicia Jeffrey-Thomas says we shouldn’t go pee “just in case.”

How could this be? The moment we all learned to control our bladders we were also taught to pee before going on a car trip, sitting down to watch a movie or playing sports.

The doctor posted the video as a response to TikTok user Sidneyraz, who made a video urging people to go to the bathroom whenever they get the chance. Sidneyraz is known for posting videos about things he didn’t learn until his 30s. "If you think to yourself, 'I don't have to go,' go." SidneyRaz says in the video. It sounds like common sense but evidently, he was totally wrong, just like the rest of humanity.

Keep Reading Show less