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St. John’s automates traffic signals to prevent COVID-19 spread

Pedestrians walk in downtown St. John’s on Monday. City council is considering changes to roadways to promote greater physical distancing for pedestrians and cyclists. KEITH GOSSE/THE TELEGRAM
Pedestrians walk in downtown St. John’s on Monday. City council is considering changes to roadways to promote greater physical distancing for pedestrians and cyclists. KEITH GOSSE/THE TELEGRAM

City considers reconfiguring streets to allow greater physical distancing



ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — At the regular meeting of St. John’s city council on Monday, Coun. Sandy Hickman, transportation lead, made a motion for changes to city streets in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Council voted unanimously to automate traffic signals so pedestrians no longer have to touch the push buttons to cross at traffic lights.

City staff will soon begin that work, which Mayor Danny Breen said will take some time because staff have to physically visit each signal to adjust the timing, and then post signs advising pedestrians they should no longer push the button.

“The benefit of placing a traffic signal on pedestrian recall is that the walk signal will activate on every cycle of the traffic signal without having to press the button, cutting down on one potential source of COVID-19 transmission,” reads a city news release issued after the council vote.

That means motorists will now have to wait for the “walk” sign to stop whether or not pedestrians are waiting to cross.

These changes will only be made at full traffic signals, not at stand-alone pedestrian signals. According to the city, those pedestrian signals — such as overhead flashers and flashing beacons — would require new equipment and “substantial modifications,” and therefore will not be changed.

Council also discussed other changes to city streets in order to promote greater physical distancing among pedestrians.

Some of the options city staff will consider include lane reconfigurations assigning space only for pedestrians or cyclists, full street closures or a traffic-calming boulevard that would restrict vehicle traffic to make the area safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

The city will soon seek public input on these options.

Hickman said even though people are being asked to stay home as much as possible, there will still be people walking because gyms are closed and sports are cancelled, so “walking is it.” Therefore, he said, the city should try to enhance that experience and make it safer.

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