Crossing Continents

One of the downsides of being 7 time zones behind the bulk of your normal twitter peeps is that the evenings are long and silent (on twitter, obviously – I could talk to the actual people around me but let’s not go mad here) whereas when I’m blearily checking what’s going on while having my morning coffee everyone else is half way through their day and ready to discuss pedestrian countdown timers and flashing amber signals and other such important matters in great detail.*

So, despite my blood-coffee levels being rather low, I was drawn into a conversation about one of the things I dislike about American roads (I mean, apart from the fact that even the residential roads here are wider than Big A Road at home, so crossing anything more than a cul de sac takes serious sprinting ability) which is the way that even when you’ve got the green man, the cars turning left or right also have a green light so they have to give way to the pedestrians. And while they mostly do (although not when there’s something important to get to, as I’ve found in the past) I’m not that keen on sharing MY light cycle with a bunch of people in enormous pickup trucks.

The problem is that there’s a school of thought among cycle people that we should switch to doing a similar thing in the UK, because this allows for separate light cycles for bikes without messing too much with the traffic (or something – I’ve never really sat down and gone through the reasoning). They argue that the Dutch and the Danes and in fact everywhere except the UK has drivers turning across pedestrians crossing on the green man so it should be fine, but I’m not convinced. For a start not *everything* the Dutch do is wonderful (scooters in bike lanes, cheese for breakfast, the whole clog thing) and for another start, Dutch drivers have had years to learn that when you turn left or right you’ve got to check for pedestrians even if you have a green light, whereas UK drivers have had the same amount of time to learn that green means go, like now, come on what are you waiting for? Given how reluctant they are to stop for people on zebra crossings, what are the chances that a driver with a green light will give way to some poor pedestrian who thought that the green man might actually mean it was safe to cross? And besides, I have long been of the opinion that making things better for bikes should NOT be at the expense of making things rubbish for pedestrians, however much sense it might make otherwise. So the fact that only the UK has pedestrian-only phases at junctions should be something to celebrate, not do away with.

So this leaves us with the problem of how to fit in bike phases of the lights as well as all the other phases (assuming we’re not just going to let the cars wait until nightfall…). So I had a brilliant idea (hey, it was early): we already have ‘green scrambles’ for pedestrians where all traffic stops in all 4 directions and the pedestrians can cross any way they want to. The Dutch also have them for bikes, which works pretty well too. So how about this, at any busy city 4-way junction: first the pedestrians get their green light and can go in any direction. Then the bikes get their green light to go in any direction. And finally the cars get their green light to go or turn in any direction, negotiating amongst themselves who gets to go in what order. The shared-space people would love it because they’re always claiming that there’s nothing better than a little uncertainty to make the cars behave. And for anyone else who’s thinking ‘but that would be carnage!’ then I respectfully submit that so would it be if we suddenly changed the rules so drivers could turn into roads where pedestrians were crossing with the green man, only the pedestrians would have even less chance than the other drivers…

Anyway, this is all just a long winded way of explaining why I’m not a traffic engineer (thankfully) so I leave the last word to Karl-on-Sea for his winning suggestion

Oh, and it was gloriously sunny and warm again today, but I’m trying not to bang on about it.

* I gather there is a whole other twitter out there where people talk about reality television programmes and send each other pictures of cats but what can you say, I seem to have fallen in among traffic engineers…

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5 Responses to Crossing Continents

  1. Andy in Germany says:

    It seems this is another case of someone in the UK seeing a ‘good’ idea and not looking at the wider picture.
    In Germany cars can turn on a green man, but we have strict liability, so if a car does hit a pedestrian then the a driver has to prove they were not at fault. “SMIDSY” doesn’t apply: if you didn’t see the pedestrian, then you are liable. Next.
    Despite this, there is still a certain amount of jostling and bullying on turnings when drivers try and squeeze through crowds of people, so I dread to think how dangerous that would be in the UK where drivers know they can generally get away with driving through people.
    The main reason though is that it sends a very clear message that cars are too important for them to wait for mere pedestrians to cross the road, so pedestrians have to fit in the gaps when cars don’t need it.
    The gap in the lights in the UK is one of the few cases pedestrians have priority: leave them as they are.

  2. Paul M says:

    I would echo Andy-in-Germany’s observation about strict liability – anywhere I have seen this proceed-with-caution approach has been a strict liability country, ie I haven’t seen it in the UK or Eire (and I haven’t been to Malta or Cyprus since early childhood,, and I’ve never been to Romania, so I can’t speak for them). There is no doubt that strict liability has some effect on motorists, at least in terms of how they deal with pedestrians. Look at France, with which I am most familiar – there, the rule or at least the convention on zebra crossings seems to be that cars just carry on through them unless you actually step out in front, in which case they always – always – give way. Unlike the UK where the rule (I think) is that if they are beyond the ziggy-zaggy things then they MUST stop if they see someone waiting to cross. And they usually do, but not always, as I discovered yesterday crossing a zebra in our town centre when a late middle-aged (ie probably in his 60s) man in one of those small Volvo cars (340 or whatever) so beloved of retired middle class middle England citizenry blasted through while I was walking across. (I was concentrating so hard on trying to kick his car – unsuccessfully – that I didn’t have the presence of mind to catch his registration. Not that it would have done any good anyway). In fact, down in leafy suburban upper-middle-class SW Surrey I have often observed that the most inconsiderate and dangerous drivers are usually older people, not “yooves”. Actually it’s not just how they drive either, but how they behave generally.

    I digress. France – despite the apparent informality of its zebra convention, pedestrian injuries seem to be rare. In fact, as a country with an overall much worse road casualty toll than the UK, pedestrians and cyclists fare better – it is the people in the cars who come off worse.

    Another factor, with those turns, though might be engineering. The impression I get is that turns at lights are normally engineered to keep speeds down – simple things like tight radii mainly – so any car taking a turn in such circumstances can’t get enough speed for the driver to make many mistakes.

  3. disgruntled says:

    Aha, at last a real reason for Strict Liability.

  4. Neil says:

    Yes. Green lights are advisory for pedestrians so do not mean you are allowed to go now it means it is safe to go, traffic has been stopped.

  5. disgruntled says:

    Ah – you reminded me of the other thing about US roads – jaywalking laws!

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