What happened to New York’s pedestrian crossing signals?

Walker with a sash

I noticed it within a few hours of getting to New York. Actually, my sister (who is also a Walker) noticed it first. As we crossed the street, we looked up at another walker, who was, frankly, not looking so bright. “It’s like he’s wearing a little sash,” she observed. We laughed at our pedestrian humor, as Walkers do. But when we got up the next morning and began our daytime stroll, we realized this wasn’t a joke. It was an epidemic.


Throughout New York City, the pedestrian crossing signals are in various states of de-lumination. We saw walkers without feet, arms, torsos, even ones who had lost their entire heads. Why are there so many burnt-out walkers in New York?

Broken walker

I suppose bulbs can burn out over time, but I didn’t notice any of the red hands missing any fingers. And wouldn’t these kinds of signals use some kind of LED-that-lasts-an-eternity bulb anyway? It’s kind of an impossible thing to Google since I just come up with a list of the city’s other pedestrian issues. Can anyone solve the mysterious case of New York’s dimming pedestrian signals? As as Walker, I would like to know how I can help.

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  • khoivinh

    This has been going on for quite some time, without any clear explanation. The Times wrote about it over at City Room a few years ago. I don’t think there was any follow-up, mostly because I think most New Yorkers find crossing signals beneath them.

  • Anonymous

    Realize that most, if not all, of New York City’s pedestrian signals date back to when the city’s department of transportation originally converted them from “DONT WALK” and “WALK” to the hand and man in the early 2000s. Beginning in 2000, the city’s D.O.T. installed brand new (then) L.E.D. module inserts for the pedestrian signals throughout the boroughs, and they were manufactured by CooperLED/AtLite Inc. The conversion took about four years to complete, and, by 2004, all of the city’s pedestrian signals were successfully converted. Generally speaking, the average lifespan of such a L.E.D. module inserts is roughly 7 to 10 years. Most throughout the city have/had reached the end, and countless have been removed over the years and replaced with newer L.E.D. module inserts.
    Aside from pedestrian signals in New York City, original L.E.D. signal indications for traffic signals also date back to the conversion. As I recall, the city originally replaced the incandescent red and green signal indications with new L.E.D. module inserts from CooperLED/AtLite Inc., and they have a general lifespan of 7 to 10 years as well. Most, of course, are not as functional as they once were, and the city has replaced many over the years with brand new inserts from different companies.

  • Ryan

    Actually, if you see something like that, just report it to the DOT here: http://service.nyctmc.org/alias3/ts.asp

    The origins of this signal date back to the early 2000s when the DOT began installing the hand/man LED modules in lieu of the existing, incandescent, “WALK/DON’T WALK” signals. Many of these signals have a service life of ≈7 years, so afterwards, they have difficulty working.Those signals above were made by Cooper/Atlite Inc. The newer, replacement ones are made by GE, Dialight, and Marbelite/LEOTEK.

  • Ryan

    Really? I thought it was LEOTEK.

  • Alissa

    Awesome, thanks for this information. Next time I’m in NYC, I will!

  • Anonymous

    The original inserts that New York City installed in its pedestrian signals were provided by CooperLED/AtLite Inc. As of present day, the business no longer manufactures its own inserts for both vehicle and pedestrian signals.

    General Traffic Equipment had provided its model P-6 housing (both 1st and 2nd generation) to New York City over the years, and it now seems that Marbelite’s polycarbonate M-P6-L pedestrian signal is the ideal housing. D.O.T. now installs the G.E. “incandescent look” GT1 countdown module insert in the Marbelite housing.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for the info about the modules! I was confused for a second.

    Anyway, regarding the pedestrian signal heads, I think that NYCDOT does not prefer either GTE or Marbelite signal heads; they just use whatever is available. Although, it seems that NYCDOT has been using GTE heads since 1999 or so, so there are bound to be more GTE heads around. (Previously, NYCDOT also used Winko-Matic and Peterco signal heads.)

  • Anonymous

    That is likely true that the city’s D.O.T. uses whatever is in stock. I merely based what I mentioned in my previous comment from personal observations.
    In regards to older pedestrian signals, the first version of the G.T.E. P-6 pedestrian signal first appeared on the streets of the city in the mid 1990s. It was around the same time, too, that the company’s electro-mechanical signal controllers (brand new at the time) first appeared. You’d be surprised that there are as many G.T.E. P-6 housings in use as there are of Winko-Matic VI 2L AG housings today. When the D.O.T. converted its original pedestrian signals in the early 2000s, the housings were untouched, since they were merely retro-fitted with the then new L.E.D. module inserts from CooperLED/AtLite Inc.

  • Ryan

    I’m actually quite surprised.that there are as many, if not more, GTE signals as there are WM (Winko-Matic) signals. I’m guessing the manufacturers of the pedestrian modules themselves based on personal observation.

    Though, I don’t think WM, GTE and Marbelite are the only three pedestrian signal head manufacturers that the DOT buys pedestrian signal heads from. I think they bought signal heads from foreign company Peterco as well, though Peterco pedestrian signal heads are rare.