The street light cycle followed this rough pattern:
Walking Man: 17 seconds (It's safe to cross the street)
Blinking Hand: 10 seconds (Take caution when crossing)
Red Hand: 1 minute (Do not cross)
During any given cycle, we would observe up to 7 people crossing Broadway, with the majority of them crossing during the Blinking or Red Hand stages. Crossing Bond, where pedestrians competed with less traffic, we saw up to 15 people cross during a given cycle.
Here's how the system is designed to work:
Pedestrian approaches intersection, looks up to read the signal, and if the white walking man is illuminated, cross the street. Otherwise he waits through the cycle until it is safe to cross.
Here's how it actually works:
Pedestrian approaches intersection. About forty percent look to the signal to see where they are in the cycle, but most look immediately to oncoming traffic to judge whether it's safe or not. Everyone looks at traffic at some point, either not trusting or not caring what the signal tells them to do.
Waiting patiently to cross.
Inevitably, some pedestrians misjudge the speed of oncoming traffic and put themselves in precarious situations. This was especially true when pedestrians were interacting with some other technology at the same time--cell phones, iPods, etc--and didn't pay enough attention to the signal or traffic.
The only person we witnessed actually obeying the signal was a woman with stroller. She waited patiently until it was both safe to cross and legal to cross before stepping into the street.
The information that the signal gives pedestrians is related to the red-yellow-green signals given to oncoming traffic. It doesn't take into consideration that automobile traffic routinely ignores those signals. When the system breaks down for people in cars, it breaks down for people on foot.
And since at this intersection drivers routinely ignore the signals, pedestrians have to gather their own information. They're becoming the sensor that the traffic light is missing. If the traffic light sensed the speed and presence of oncoming traffic and relayed that information into a walk/don't walk sign, the technology would work much better.