About Davis Square Signal Timing Improvements

Currently, it can take about four to six minutes for pedestrians to legally cross the intersection diagonally. As a result, over 75% of pedestrians cross outside of the pedestrian phase.

In late June 2018, the City of Somerville will be performing signal timing changes at the intersection of Highland Avenue/Holland Street/College Avenue (aka Davis Square). The most significant change will be to remove the existing “pedestrian scramble” phase and replace it with crossing phases that occur at the same time as certain vehicle phases. This change will help the intersection run more efficiently, allowing pedestrians to cross when it is safe to do so, and shortening the overall length of time it takes for the signal to make a full cycle, reducing delays for everyone. Vehicles making certain turns will now need to yield to pedestrians crossing legally in the crosswalk. Pedestrians will be given a “head start” aka a leading pedestrian interval, to allow themselves to begin crossing before turning vehicles enter the crosswalk.

Over the course of an hour...

  • Pedestrians get a “Walk” signal 8 more times
  • Drivers on Highland Avenue get about 3 more minutes of green time
  • Drivers on Holland Street get about 2.5 more minutes of green time
  • Transit users on the MBTA busway get 8 more green signals

Pedestrian Delay Significantly Reduced

  • Existing maximum delay was 105 seconds for all crossings
  • Future pedestrian delay improves by 24 and 74 seconds depending on crosswalk location/time of day


  • Updates

  • Background

  • Presentations and Information

  • Timing Changes at Other Intersections


Over the next week, traffic and pedestrian signal timing in Davis Square will be changed to give both vehicles and pedestrians more time to get through the main intersection. The change is scheduled for midday on Wednesday, June 27.
Weather permitting, traffic lights will be turned off on Saturday, June 23, from 8 a.m. to noon, and Wednesday, June 27, from 10 a.m. to noon, so they can be set up for the change. These outages are likely to result in some traffic backup, so plan extra travel time or find an alternate route. There will be a police detail on site during the work.
Once work is completed on June 27, the new light pattern will be in place and for everyone’s safety, we ask drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to be cautious when traveling through the square. Pedestrians should wait for the walk signal at each leg of the intersection, and drivers and cyclists should be aware of pedestrians in the crosswalks and yield to them.
If you have any questions, please call 311 or 617-666-3311.

The signal cycle in Davis Square is over two minutes long, meaning long waits for everybody as they try and get through the intersection. For pedestrians, this is an especially long time, especially in cold, hot, or rainy weather, or if a pedestrian has mobility issues. Depending on when you arrive at a crosswalk, it can take about four to six minutes to legally cross the intersection diagonally (e.g. between Oath and JP Licks). However, many pedestrians have noticed that it’s pretty safe to cross certain crosswalks during parts of the signal phase. At the crosswalk across Holland Street, it’s currently safe to cross during 60% of the signal cycle, but pedestrians are only given 20% of the signal cycle to cross. Similarly, at the Day Street crosswalk, it is safe for pedestrians to cross during 80% of the signal cycle. As a result, pedestrians do not wait for the exclusive pedestrian phase. Over 75% of pedestrians in Davis Square (during observed times) cross outside of the pedestrian phase.

Rather than enforce this unrealistic and pedestrian-unfriendly phasing, we have decided to formalize the safe crossing locations that naturally exist during the signal cycle. This will allow us to make the signal more efficient by removing the exclusive pedestrian phase. When a crosswalk is safe to cross, pedestrians will receive a walk signal. Walk signals will no longer all turn on at the same time, so depending on your direction of travel, you may be able to cross multiple crosswalks with minimal wait. Delay for pedestrians crossing during pedestrian phases will be reduced by 24-70%, improving walkability in Somerville’s most walkable square. Pedestrian phases will now occur automatically, so if you forget to press the button, no worries! You’ll still get a pedestrian signal.

In the next phase of this project (which we will be planning for over the next few calendar years), we are hoping to upgrade the traffic signal equipment to include countdown timers and audible signal indications.


The signal timing changes being made in Davis Square are the first in a larger effort by the City to improve flow for all users – pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. View the main project page for more details.