diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 06, 2020

This is the pedestrian crossing in the centre of the Olympic Park.
It connects the southern half to the northern half.
It's an example of a straight-across single stage crossing.

To get your bearings this is Waterden Road, the busiest road in the Olympic Park connecting Westfield to the A12. A separate minor road joins at a T-junction just to the left. This was once the most pedestrian-friendly crossing in East London, likewise the most vehicle-hating, thanks to a green man phase lasting far longer than was generally ever necessary. The T-junction is now being drastically remodelled which means temporary lights have been installed for well over a year, and their changing cycle is much less generous.

The precise location of this junction isn't important, I'm just using it as an example of a crossing that makes you wait on the pavement much longer than is technically necessary.

If you turn up here as a pedestrian 🚶 you are very unlikely to find the green man green. The green man phase lasts for just six seconds, whereas red lasts more like a minute.


That's six seconds of green, meaning cross, followed by nine seconds of no illuminated man at all, followed by a minute of red. In reality most people who arrive during the 'dark' phase are going to start crossing anyway, perhaps at hastened pace, interpreting the lack of man as "hurry up". So far, so normal.

Here's what the traffic 🚗 closest to you sees.


A red traffic light shows initially while pedestrians are crossing. Then the lights turn green and vehicles on the main road get about half a minute of flow. The lights then change back to red while traffic exiting the side road gets priority, after which the cycle repeats.

During the final half minute the traffic in front of you is going nowhere so you could cross to the central refuge in perfect safety. But annoyingly the signal stays red because this is a straight-across single stage crossing. Loitering in the centre is not approved. Nothing by halves. All or nothing.

Here's what's happening with traffic 🚓 on the other side of the road.


This time there are two flows, first from the main road and then from the sideroad, totalling almost a full minute. That's why the straight-across single stage crossing keeps you on the pavement. But there's always a gap in the middle of that minute because traffic takes a few seconds to emerge from the sideroad. If you were standing on the central refuge you could easily nip across and complete your crossing. Nipping across, however, is never taken into account when phasing lights.

TfL have to assume that pedestrians are slow and saintly, for example in a wheelchair, using a walking stick or pushing a child. But you're probably not, indeed recent research shows that 80% of Londoners cross within 30 seconds of arriving at a pedestrian crossing irrespective of whether or not a green man is shown, and more than 50% cross within five seconds of arriving no matter what. In real life sinners outnumber saints by a considerable margin.

This particular crossing has a red man phase lasting over a minute, much longer than 30 seconds, suggesting that most people turning up on red will cross anyway. I usually do. Observation confirms that I am not alone. The big danger, however, comes just before the traffic lights turn green. As a pedestrian it's not possible to tell that the lights are about to change colour because every traffic light is screened from your view, making it all too easy to step out at precisely the wrong moment.

More helpful would be a straight-across two stage crossing, because each side of the road could be signalled differently. Pedestrians would be invited to cross safely to the central refuge during a period of almost half a minute, not just six seconds. There'd still be a wait on the other side, but the risk-taker would have a much better chance of being able to nip through a gap in the traffic... which in this case is actually scheduled.

Alas TfL don't believe in straight-across two stage crossings. They worry, perhaps rightly, that pedestrians will choose to see the green man on the far side rather than the red man halting immediate passage. Sometimes TfL install those horrible louvre strips to try to ensure that this green man is only visible when you're halfway across, but all this tends to do is make the green man annoyingly hard to see. In some circumstances staggered crossings are installed instead, but these have a nasty habit of slowing pedestrians down by adding a faff of a walk in the middle.

Paris trusts its citizens to use straight-across two stage crossings, erecting signs saying 'Traversez en 2 temps' where this is the case. It's not rocket science to learn to look at one signal for half the road and another signal for the other half.

But in London straight-across single stage crossings are the default, even on the widest roads, often without a central refuge to aid a jaywalker's passage. These are all well and good for the slow and saintly but, for the 80% of us who are going to lose patience and try to cross anyway, a straight-across two stage crossing might actually be a lot safer.

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