Pedestrian signals are devices used at signalized intersections to notify pedestrians when it is safe to cross the street. Modern pedestrian signals incorporate countdown timers into their design that display the number of seconds remaining before the signal changes to “Don’t Walk”.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) oversees the installation and maintenance of pedestrian signals in San Francisco.
Individuals or community groups interested in requesting a pedestrian signal in their neighborhood should call or go to 311.
Once a request has been submitted, a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) inspector will evaluate the proposed location. If your proposed site meets the SFMTA’s placement criteria, the SFMTA will install the pedestrian signal as schedules and resources allow.
Contact SFMTA Livable Streets for more information about pedestrian signals.
See Permit Process for more information
Official Codes & Documents
- Better Streets Plan (street design guidelines)
Street types: All
Sidewalk zones: Edge Zone
Pedestrian Signal Location
Pedestrian signal indications should be used at all traffic signals. The international pedestrian symbol signal should be used rather than WALK/DON’T WALK text.
Pedestrian Signal Timing
Pedestrian signals should allow sufficient time for pedestrians to cross the street, including seniors, children, and people with disabilities.
Historically, a standard walking speed of 4.0 feet per second has been used to calculate the minimum pedestrian clearance interval (the flashing red hand plus yellow and any all-red) for pedestrian signals in San Francisco. In anticipation of upcoming changes to federal standards, the City has reduced the walking speed used to time the pedestrian clearance interval to 3.5 feet per second. In nearly all locations in the City, signals allow pedestrians walking as slow as 2.5 feet per second to cross the entire street if they step off the curb at the beginning of the walk phase.
Walking speed is a function of the age and physical ability of the population. The walking speed used to calculate the pedestrian clearance interval should closely match that of pedestrians in San Francisco, including seniors, children, and people with disabilities. San Francisco is also experimenting with video detection systems to give slower pedestrians additional crossing time. As a next step, San Francisco should conduct studies to determine if slower walking speeds are appropriate and, if so, what those speeds should be.
Pedestrian ‘scrambles’: Exclusive pedestrian phases (i.e. pedestrian ‘scrambles’) may be used where turning vehicles conflict with very high pedestrian volumes and pedestrian crossing distances are short.
Pedestrian ‘head-start signals’: Leading pedestrian intervals, which give pedestrians a head start before vehicles are given the green, may be considered at signalized intersections with a high incidence of pedestrian conflicts and right-of-way violations.
Pedestrian-actuated signals: In San Francisco, signals on short, fixed time cycles should generally be used rather than actuated signals (pedestrian push-buttons) to allow consistent crossing opportunities. Pedestrian actuation should only be used when pedestrian crossings are intermittent, at locations with relatively long pedestrian clearance time that can result in excessive delay to transit vehicles, and to activate audible pedestrian signals or to provide an extended WALK interval. Since many pedestrians fail to notice pushbutton devices, additional research on passive video and infra-red detection should be conducted.
Timed progression of traffic signals should ensure that sufficient time is allocated per cycle for pedestrian crossings.
Pedestrian countdown signals
Pedestrian countdown signals are designed to enhance the effectiveness of pedestrian signals at clearing the crosswalk before a signal changes direction. Surveys show that most people misinterpret the meaning of the flashing hand of the traditional pedestrian signal. Providing the pedestrian countdown device helps pedestrians better interpret the pedestrian signals. Countdowns also enable pedestrians to stop on a median refuge, where provided, and wait for the next phase if they find the time left to be too short to finish crossing. Pedestrian countdown signals have been shown to have a 25% reduction in pedestrian injury collisions.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is upgrading the city’s pedestrian signal network to include countdown timers at every signalized intersection.
Accessible pedestrian signals
Accessible pedestrian signals (APS) provide information in non-visual format such as audible tones, verbal messages, and/or vibrating surfaces. The MUTCD addresses specific push-button design and placement for APS and contains standards on audible tones, verbal messages and vibro-tactile devices. San Francisco’s observations have shown that APS benefits all pedestrians by providing audible and vibro-tactile cues.
APS should be provided at all new signalized intersections. Existing signals should be retrofitted over time, using the SFMTA’s APS Prioritization Tool, developed using the draft version of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) APS Prioritization Tool, in consultation with the Mayor’s Office on Disability and individuals and advocacy groups representing the visually impaired community.
See SFMTA Livable Streets’ APS page for more information
Pedestrian Warning Signs
Pedestrian warning signs are used to alert road users to the potential presence of pedestrians. Their use should follow MUTCD guidance and be limited to locations where pedestrians may make unexpected entries into the roadway or where drivers’ sight distance is restricted.
In San Francisco, placement of pedestrian warning signs has historically not followed this guidance, leading to an over-proliferation of the signs and a consequent dilution of their effectiveness. The City should review the placement of its existing pedestrian warning signs and remove them at unwarranted locations, potentially increasing their impact where they are most needed.
Generally, the City is responsible for maintaining traffic control devices, including pedestrian signals.
To report a maintenance issue with a pedestrian signal, call or go to 311.
For a more detailed description of maintenance responsibilities, see Maintenance.