Walking and Traffic Signals

Chances are you will encounter an intersection with a traffic signal during your walk in Cambridge -- we have over 130 of them. Traffic signals are an important part of the transportation infrastructure and in Cambridge we design and operate them with pedestrians in mind. Here you will learn more about traffic signals as they relate to walking.

Pedestrian Signals

All pedestrian signals have two parts: the walking person signal and the upraised orange hand. These symbols replace the WALK and DON'T WALK text displays common in the previous decade, but the meanings are the same:

WALK

The walking figure indicates that this is the best time to cross the street. Step off the curb and look for turning vehicles and bicycles. It is the law that all turning vehicles and bicycles yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, but make sure that they stop before stepping into the street. 

In Cambridge most traffic signals are set so that WALK signs come on with the green light. This policy is known as "concurrent pedestrian signals." To learn more about concurrent pedestrian signals, please click here. In nearly all cases the WALK sign will come on three to five seconds before the green light. This is called a leading pedestrian interval. To learn more about the leading pedestrian interval, please click here.

Flashing DON'T WALK

When the walking figure changes to the flashing upraised hand, this does not mean you have to run! If you are already in the crosswalk when the flashing DON'T WALK interval begins, you have enough time to finish crossing the street. The duration of the flashing DON'T WALK interval for each crosswalk is carefully designed and depends on the length of the crosswalk and a walking speed assumed by engineering standard. 

If you are still on the sidewalk and you see that the flashing DON'T WALK interval has already begun, you may not have enough time to cross the street. It is better to wait for the WALK sign.

Steady DON'T WALK

When the orange upraised hand is not flashing, it indicates that this is not the best time to cross the street. The WALK signal will appear shortly.

Countdown Pedestrian Signals

pedestrian headMost of our pedestrian traffic signals includes a countdown display, such as the one shown here. As mentioned above, we used engineering standard assumed walking speeds to set the duration of the flashing DON'T WALK interval. However, some people walk slower or faster than this speed. The countdown legend gives the pedestrian additional information so that he or she can decide if there is enough time remaining to cross. The display shows the amount of time, in seconds, before the end of the flashing DON'T WALK interval.

Buttons

Some Cambridge intersections have buttons on the pole. There are two kinds of buttons.

  • Silver buttons are older and must be pushed for the WALK sign to appear
  • Buttons on a tall metal box are modern audible pedestrian signals. In most cases these buttons only activate the audible signal, which is used by people with vision impairments. The WALK sign will come on automatically. To learn more about audible pedestrian signals, please click here.

Contact Us

TP&T performs all maintenance of city-owned traffic signals. If you believe that a pedestrian signal or button is broken, please use Commonwealth Connect. Generally we are able to make the repair within two business days.

If you have any questions about walking and intersections with traffic signals, please contact us.