Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What do you know about Puffin crossings?

Following a report that the crossing at the Coleridge Road/Davy Road/Radegund Road crossroads was operating a ludicrously short pedestrian phase, within which I was challenged to be able to cross, I took a look for myself.

I confirmed that the green man was only shown for about 5 seconds and that the beeping sound finished slightly before this. This did indeed seem somewhat extreme - I barely crossed in time with a fast walk and someone alongside me with a child was less than half way across when the crossing went red for pedestrians.

Thanks to a very fast response from the county council (who immediately checked out the crossing to make sure it was safe) I now know that this is exactly how this new-style of crossing, the 'Puffin' crossing, is supposed to work. The Puffin crossing is identified by the pedestrian signals being presented at a low height, just above the button, on the same side of the road as the pedestrian such that looking at the console one can see approaching traffic on the near side of the road.

While I was already aware of the Puffin crossing, I did not know that the signals operated differently from the Pelican crossings I have known all my life. Instead of the flashing green man showing to allow pedestrians to finish crossing, and possibly flashing amber to vehicles on the road, the new behaviour is to show red to both parties during the final crossing phase when pedestrians are not supposed to start crossing.

The idea with the new system is that by detecting people crossing the traffic is stopped for a minimal period, while the red light makes it less likely that pedestrians will decide to nip across too late and the lack of a flashing amber light reduces aggressive driving.

Personally I am not a fan of the new crossing as I understood the old one perfectly well and having two sets of semantics for ostensibly equivalent systems is confusing. I also dislike the absence of pedestrian signals on the opposite side of the road mounted high, since these are easier for people to see when lots of people are gathered at a crossing, can be observed more easily while watching the road as a whole (i.e. not just traffic from the right) and can be seen by other road users who for whatever reason find themselves beyond their own traffic signals but held up before reaching the crossing.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I agree with you with respect to the signals on the opposite side of the road. I find the lack of these particularly infuriating at the crossing at the end of Downing Street because the low level indicator cannot be seen when walking down Regent Street towards town.

It seems that this type of crossing is geared towards forcing pedestrians to wait by providing them with less information. Contrast this with some crossings in other countries which even have a count down timer on them so you know exactly how long you have to cross.

If such low level indicators are required for people who cannot adequately see the ones on the opposite side then we just need two sets of indicators.

Andrew Bower said...

Hi Anonymous,

As it happens, the Downing Street crossing is precisely the one that I find most frustrating, although for a slightly different reason.

When cycling North up St Andrews Street and turning left into Downing Street I find that as soon as the traffic lights go green the pedestrians who have amassed while traffic was turning out of Downing Street cross immediately, leaving me past my light but stuck waiting at the corner.

The pedestrian light tends to go green just as they've finished crossing - but I wish I could see it (their light). That said, I'm not sure how I would behave any differently from now, i.e. waiting for them to finish before proceeding.

RichardJ said...

I think the time allowed for a standard pelican crossing is four seconds, so not much change but a puffin allows you more time if you are slow crossing. I also think it's better that the lights stay red and do NOT have a flashing amber stage, when vehicles will move (illegally) even if you are on the crossing.

Certainly the visibility of the signals by pedestrians is poor, and the countdown timers seen in several European countries are a bonus.

Anonymous said...

The BBC has an interesting article on this topic: How did the Briton cross the road?