Civilising Pedestrian Crossing Facilities

This paper describes how new approaches to accessibility planning are encouraging more inclusive approaches to providing suitable pedestrian crossing facilities. These are illustrated through their application within a case study in West Lothian in Central Scotland.

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. The location and design of pedestrian crossings
  4. Accessibility planning
  5. Case Studies in West Lothian
  6. Lessons for the appraisal of crossings
  7. References

1. Introduction

There has been a growing and intensive debate about how to civilise streets and create attractive neighbourhoods to live, work and play (e.g. Living Streets 2005). Much of this has concentrated on the conflict between growing motorised transport and the need for pedestrians to be able to move around in a pleasant and attractive environment. The need for suitable pedestrian crossings always appears high on this agenda, but there is little guidance on the extent to which different pedestrian crossing designs contribute to the pleasantness and attractiveness of the local environment for walking. This paper describes how new approaches to accessibility planning are encouraging more inclusive approaches and these are illustrated through their application within a case study in West Lothian in Central Scotland.

2. Background

In 2003 in Scotland 16% of all journeys were made on foot (Scottish Executive 2005). However car drivers need to walk from car parks to their destinations, and public transport passengers need to walk to bus stops and rail stations. Walking is therefore the primary or secondary mode of travel in a very high percentage of all trips. Walking also has a high share of short trips with three quarters of trips under 1.5km in length in the UK, being made on foot. Yet traditional approaches to planning for pedestrians has concentrated on fairly narrow road safety issues, rather than the speed, comfort and quality of the walking journey.

Since everyone walks, and desire lines for different short trips vary considerably, local Councils can face pressures to provide pedestrian crossings at many more locations than is practical. Traditional approaches to help manage what can be a sensitive political process within many Councils have been to sift requests for pedestrian crossings using strict criteria on pedestian and vehicle flows. E.g. to justify the provision of either a Puffin, Pelican or Zebra crossing the weighted value of the number of pedestrians factored by the square of the vehicle flow at the site should be 30million or above. (Cambridge County Council 2000). Questions have been raised about whether such criteria can adequately reflect the needs of all walkers.

The policy framework to support walking has seen significant development in recent years (DfT 2000) including for pedestrian crossing provision. Key priorities are:

  • To ensure that local transport planning recognises the importance of walking as a mode of transport.
  • To create places that are pleasant and safe to walk – Giving careful consideration to the walking environment can improve the quality of the public realm and, in turn, help foster a sense of community.
  • Walking more can improve personal health and fitness. Over half the population of the UK is overweight – a particular concern because of the links between obesity and heart disease, the largest single cause of premature death in the country.
  • Accessibility – Nearly a third of households do not have a car, and creating better conditions for walking ensures better access to jobs, schools, health care and other services, tackling social exclusion and bringing economic and personal benefits to the whole community.

Within these policies, local walking strategies have been developed by many Councils to set out how local authorities intend to make it easier, safer and more pleasant to travel locally on foot (Offen 2001). These strategies generally include highway and streetscape design issues taking a co-ordinated approach to reallocating road space to pedestrians through wider footpaths, reducing vehicle speeds, more and better pedestrian crossings of roads, pedestrianisation schemes and vehicle restricted areas such as home zones. These new approaches highlight the importance of clear, convenient and safe networks of walking routes to key trip attractors, including urban centres, schools and major employers. Direct, safe, well-lit and attractive walking routes to rail and bus stations, and to main bus stops, are also essential in delivering good quality public transport opportunities.

The Institution of Highways and Transportation guidance “Guidelines for Providing for Journeys on Foot” makes many suggestions on how these aims can be put into practice and specifically identifies pedestrianisation, road crossing facilities, reducing traffic speeds, and reallocation of road space as priorities.

Other current UK initiatives identifying the need for a more integrated approach to the provision of pedestrian crossing are:

  • Safer routes to school – Key elements in the development of safer routes to schools include: evidence gathering/community engagement/survey, development of proposals, implementation, feedback and monitoring (DHC 1998) The perceived barriers to walking to school usually include concern about crossing roads. The most successful school travel plans are those where the school children, their parents and the teachers are involved in identifying problems and developing proposals including for new road crossings in partnership with road safety and funding agencies.
  • Safer routes to stations – The availability of safe routes for walking and cycling to stations affects the attractiveness of rail travel and safer routes to stations initiatives have been developed in a number of situations using broadly the same principles as for safer routes to school, but involving rail companies, rail travelers and other community groups.
  • Business travel plans – About 7% of businesses in the UK have travel plans where the employer takes greater responsibility for ensuring that staff and customers are able to access places of work safely and efficiently. A number of business travel plans have resulted in new walking and cycling routes, including the provision of crossing facilities.

3. The location and design of pedestrian crossings

Despite this fast changing policy agenda, most current UK appraisal for the need for pedestrian crossings is undertaken using guidance set out a decade ago in Local Transport Note 1/95 (DfT 1995). The guidance recognises a broad range of factors in crossing design and describes and assessment procedure based on:

  • Carriageway and footway width
  • Surroundings – including hospitals, schools, post offices, bus stops and rail stations, shopping areas, sports stadia, entertainment venues, and other land uses likely to affect the generation and distribution of trips.
  • Vehicular and pedestrian flow and composition
  • Average crossing time and difficulty of crossing
  • Road accidents
  • Site assessment – road lighting, visibility, complexity of road junctions and layout.

The option assessment process to tackle identified problems then includes an appraisal of each option (ie. Do nothing, refuge island, zebra, signaled crossing) in terms of:

  • Consideration of difficulty of pedestrian crossing
  • Vehicle delay in peak periods
  • Impacts on road capacity
  • Representations from agencies such as the police and from the public.
  • Cost

The way these design issues relate to current policy is defined in various policy documents. For example, in referring to this LTN 1/95, the national policy on walking DfT (2000) suggests that the general aim should be to provide crossings which are safe convenient, and where people want to cross. Key factors to be considered when designing crossings are the need to:

  • Reduce the actual and perceived threat of traffic for pedestrians – This might include increasing the space between people and vehicles for example with advanced stop lines for cyclists to increase the distance between waiting traffic and pedestrians.
  • Using crossings at street level wherever possible. Where this is not possible as a result of complex traffic management constraints then good design is essential to encourage people to use bridges and subways.
  • Minimise pedestrian waiting times at controlled crossings. If people need to wait to long then they tend to move on and cross a other locations reducing the efficiency of the crossing for both people and vehicles. There is therefore a need to avoid people having to wait too long for the green pedestrian signal and increase the frequency of the pedestrian phases in the traffic signal cycle.
  • Ensure that walking networks were designed to give good access to pedestrian crossings and key destinations.

4. Accessibility planning

Woman on pedestrian crossing

However perhaps more significant for walking than any specific walking policy has been the recent culture change in transport planning being implemented through new accessibility planning policies (DfT 2004). By auditing whether people can get where they want to go problems for walkers become one of the most important issues for transport planners. A car driver does not actually have access to any destination unless all stages in the journey can be completed successfully including the walking element from the car park to the destination. The development of accessibility planning policy in recent years has been driven by the need to take a broader view of the transport needs of people and places such as:

  • Taking an integrated view of transport supply where travel opportunities are measured in term of the ability for people to travel between places rather than the level of supply by any individual mode (DfT 1998).
  • For economic development to ensure efficient distribution of resources and impacts.
  • In regeneration policy to ensure access to employment
  • In social inclusion policy to ensure access to key services (SEU 2003)

Accessibility can be examined primarily from two viewpoints: that of the individual (origin), and that of the service provider (destination). DHC (2000) characterises the understanding of accessibility in terms of three questions: “who”/”where”, “what” and “how”:

  • Who or where is being considered – Accessibility is an attribute of people or places.
  • What are the opportunities being reached – The land uses, activity supply points or resources (including people) that allow people or places to satisfy their needs.
  • How: the factors that separate the people and places from the supply points – These can be distance, time, cost, information and other factors which act as deterrents or barriers to access.

Mobility – the “how” – has been the traditional concern of transport planners and engineers, but in the light of growing social and environmental concerns, this has become increasing contentious, with many questioning the assumption that the aim of transport policy should be to improve mobility (Cervero 1997), and favouring its replacement with the broader concept of accessibility. Although there is little sign in the UK that mobility aims will actually be replaced with accessibility aims in policy, accessibility planning has nevertheless become mainstream policy and linked with the availability of funding for transport (DfT 2004). Accessibility audits ensure that the narrower and more focused mobility based approaches are complemented by the multi-modal approaches to considering the needs of people and places.

The particular importance of this to pedestrian crossings is illustrated by considering in what circumstances car drivers should be able to take priority crossing a walking route and in what circumstances should pedestrians be able to take priority crossing roads. If there are relatively few cars and lots of pedestrians then the accessibility benefits are maximised by giving priority to the pedestrians. In circumstances where there is a major road with more cars than pedestrians, then accessibility will be maximised by giving priority to cars and requiring pedestrians to cross roads at designated times e.g. at a pelican crossing.

However, in order for accessibility planning processes to be able to manage these trade-offs, the evidence base needs to be relevant to each group who have an actual or potential influence over delivery. If everyone who wants to visit a hospital or visit a shop tries to park their cars at the door then everybody ends up in congestion and unable to reach their destination. Successful accessibility planning therefore requires robust analysis to optimise supply and demand of infrastructure for each user. In developed countries with a good supply of infrastructure this often relies more on restraining certain types of modes, at specific times of day and locations than on providing increased capacity in the transport systems. However data sources are weak on how many people are walking and their trip patterns.

To overcome this lessons from new transport planning techniques such as Safer Routes to School show the power of evidence within accessibility planning (DHC 1999). When children map their preferred routes to school, and these are discussed with the police, local authority roads departments and others, the outcome is often to provide infrastructure changes such as pedestrian crossings that would not have been identified using demand analysis alone. It is therefore important to be able to demonstrate the impacts on access to and from work, shops, hospital etc. for different groups and for different geographical areas. This then suggests that consensus on the way forward on travel demand policies can be build around identifiable and measurable accessibility improvements.

The ability of transport planners to provide users with such evidence has increased substantially in recent years with the availability of new data sets and powerful computing tools.

In defining the components needed for any accessibility measures, the starting point is to ask some questions (DHC 2000, DfT 2004):

  • For whom is the accessibility being considered?
  • What is the opportunity being sought?
  • What options are available for the given individual or group of people to reach the opportunities, and are there any constraints on these options?
  • How accurate does the analysis need to be?

Relevant land use opportunities of interest include:

  • Employment, Education and Training – Employment locations, schools, colleges, universities, training centres.
  • Health and Social – Health centres, hospitals, social security offices, job centres, post offices.
  • Shopping and Leisure – Shops/shopping centres, cinemas, theatres, sports centres, outdoor activity opportunities, centres for religious activity, pubs, clubs.

Types of person or traveller take account of:

  • Mobility – Car ownership, disability.
  • Employment status – unemployed, economically active etc.
  • Age – Retired, adult, children, etc.

Pedestrian crossing behaviour is a clear indicator of how well streetscape designs and road crossing facilities are functioning in use (Intelligent Space Partnership 2004). If observations at the site show very frequent road crossing then this helps to calibrate the accessibility appraisal demonstrating that road crossing is not a barrier.

In the mid 1990s the City of Edinburgh Council used video footage to count the number of pedestrians and count the number of cars and determined a fairer allocation of space for each. This involved footpath widening in many parts of the City and a programme of installation of zebra crossings to give pedestrians priority over cars on key shopping streets.

5. Case Studies in West Lothian

In the smaller towns outside Edinburgh, West Lothian Council also started a programme of installing zebra crossings. In these areas it can be harder to optimise crossing facilities than in the city where car and pedestrian flows are much greater.

In 2004 the Council therefore decided that a review was needed on the performance of pedestrian crossings, and in particular the zebra crossings that had been installed to increase pedestrian priority at key locations (DHC 2005). Most of the zebra crossings in the area had been installed recently with only one crossing still operational but installed prior to 1996. In total there were 24 zebra crossings and 45 signalled controlled crossings. There were also many locations where traffic management solutions had been deployed to improve the ease and safety with which pedestrians could cross the road including: refuge islands, traffic calming measures and narrowing the carriageway.

The Council policies noted that zebras are particularly suitable where pedestrian crossing flows are low and traffic flows are light and where speeds are low. In contrast signal controlled crossings are used when other options are unsuitable due to high vehicle speeds and flows, high pedestrian flows creating unacceptable delays to vehicles, or a greater than average proportion of elderly or disabled people. Delay to pedestrians wishing to cross the road was not therefore identified as a core policy aim, whereas delay to vehicles was specifically identified. This meant that delay to pedestrians was only identified as being important if it affected accessibility.

Good access for people and vehicles within the local town centres was identified as being important for improving their viability. The policies also emphasised the need for people to be able to shop locally in a safe and pleasant environment. However there were no existing audits of the levels of accessibility experienced by different groups, although a town centre economic health check had been undertaken in one town and this included some measurements of pedestrian footfall.

The Council had implemented safer routes to school policies at a number of schools but this had not directly affected decisions on pedestrian crossing provision, although decisions about the location of school crossing patrols had been made in response to the school based activities.

There had been concerns expressed by members of the public about the operation of several zebra crossings such as:

  • A community council petition seeking a signal controlled crossing
  • Frequency of instances where vehicles do not stop for pedestrians crossing the road using zebras.
  • Concern about the nuisance caused by the flashing lights of the Belisha Beacon at the zebra
  • Complaints about speeding vehicles, particularly in the evening making the zebra unsafe.
  • Parking problems making visibility poor at some times of day.

Despite the safety concerns there had been very few accidents at or near the pedestrian crossings. Shunts between cars on the approaches to the crossings were the main problem but these were almost exclusively damage only accidents and did not involve injuries to car users or pedestrians. Where pedestrian injury was involved, poor weather and poor visibility were important factors.

The possibility of using town centre CCTV was investigated as a potential survey technique to examine pedestrian and vehicle behaviour and flows but the quality of the images was not suitable. As a result video cameras were placed at seven of the most problematical crossings. Traffic flows at these seven sites are shown in Table 1.

Table 1 – Peak Hour and 10 Hour Vehicle Flows

Site Peak Hour 10 Hour Flow Peak Flow
1 08:00-09:00 12,537 1,526
2 08:00-09:00 10,967 1,303
3 17:00-18:00 2,357 356
4 08:00-09:00 5,367 806
5 08:00-09:00 2,607 355
6 16:30-17:30 2,993 352
7 08:00-09:00 10,882 1,289

The equivalent pedestrian counts are shown in Table 2. This was undertaken as a classified count to identify the age, gender and mobility status of each pedestrian. Children were categorised simply according to whether or not they were accompanied since it was not possible to guess ages from video footage.

Table 2 – Pedestrian Flows by Crossing

Site Peak Hour 10 Hour Total Flow Peak Flow
1 15:00-16:00 330 82
2 15:30-16:30 723 110
3 14:30-15:30 35 10
4 15:00-16:00 314 55
5 14:45-15:45 142 32
6 15:15-16:15 481 125
7 11:15-12:15 776 108

The interaction between pedestrians and vehicles determines the level of delay. At locations without pedestrian crossing facilities, pedestrians need to identify a gap in the traffic to be able to cross the road. To cross two lanes of traffic most pedestrians will accept a 4 to 6 second gap (Dft 1995) but vulnerable users will seek gaps of 10 to 12 seconds. The delay to pedestrians therefore depends on the frequency of suitable gaps.

The provision of pedestrian crossings manages gap acceptance and increases safe crossing opportunities for pedestrians. Gap acceptance is managed by giving pedestrians greater priority. At zebras this priority is exercised in different ways by different pedestrians and depends on the confidence and walking behaviour. Some wait on the footpath until cars stop and others step straight onto the zebra so some pedestrians are therefore delayed and others are not.

At signal controlled crossings pedestrians either wait until the lights give them priority or cross without any priority if a suitable gap is identified.

At the busier zebra crossings, where the pedestrians have priority, nearly all pedestrians cause delays to vehicles, whilst at the quieter sites around half the crossings cause no delay at all. At pelican crossings, even accounting for the large percentage of pedestrians who cross with no delay when a gap in traffic is available, the average delay per pedestrian is considerably higher than at the zebras. In Linlithgow High Street where it was possible to compare the zebra and pelican with the same vehicle flows, since they are spaced about 100 metres apart on a shopping street, it could clearly be seen that:

  • Delays to pedestrians at the pelican site were five times those at the zebra
  • Delays to vehicles at the pelican when there were more than 1000 vehicle per hour on the road were half of the delays to vehicles at the pelican where pedestrians were given priority.
  • People could be observed making frequent crossing of the road near the zebra between shops but there was no evidence of multiple crossings of the road in a short time frame by any individual using the pelican.
  • Elderly people tended to use the pelican site but mobility impaired pedestrians did not appear to have a preference.

At higher flows these surveys provide some insight into how to make trade offs to maximise accessibility overall. Rather than simply adopting pelicans at higher vehicle flows to reduce vehicle delay as suggested by the technical standards, it may be better for the economy and environment of a town centre to reduce delays for pedestrians by giving them greater priority even if this increases vehicle delays.

From the limited data collected at the West Lothian sites Figure 1 shows the relationship between pedestrian and vehicle delay.

Figure 1 – Average Vehicle Delays at Zebras by Pedestrian Flow

Average Vehicle Delays at Zebras by Pedestrian Flow.

Average Vehicle Delays at Zebras by Pedestrian Flow.

6. Lessons for the appraisal of crossings

Current national guidance on pedestrian crossings will tend to result in crossings which ensure safety and minimise delays for vehicles. In line with developing policies on accessibility planning, it is possible to design crossings which also take account of the delays to pedestrians.

In addition to pedestrian delay particular attention needs to be paid to:

  • The land uses adjacent to the crossing affect the relative importance of pedestrian delay to the economy and environment of the local area. In residential and shopping streets, giving pedestrians the highest possible priority can be important for improving the environment and supporting the economy even if this means significantly increasing vehicle delay. In contrast, away from these areas it will usually be acceptable to minimize delays using only accessibility criteria.
  • The type of pedestrians using the crossing needs to be considered. If there are a high proportion of elderly people then a signal controlled crossing may be a more suitable option than a zebra.
  • Routes to schools and stations have particular characteristics and crossing design on these routes needs to be planned in conjunction with the users to build confidence in safe use on key routes.
  • If vehicle speeds are high, then zebras are not suitable but pelicans may not be appropriate either. If pedestrian crossing flows are significant, steps need to be taken to reduce vehicle speeds. Although refuge islands and chicanes are often seen as lower specification pedestrian crossings than zebras or pelicans they may be safer options where traffic speeds are high.

7. References

  • Cambridgeshire County Council 2000. Local Transport Plan.
  • DHC 1999. Review of Safer Routes to School in Scotland. Derek Halden Consultancy for the Scottish Executive Central Research Unit.
  • DHC 2000a. Guidance on Accessibility Measuring Techniques. Derek Halden Consultancy for the Scottish Executive Central Research Unit.
  • DETR 1998. A New Deal for Transport – Better for Everyone.
  • DETR 2000. Encouraging walking: advice to local authorities
  • DfT 2004. Guidance on Local Transport Plans
  • DfT 2004a. Guidance on Accessibility Planning in Local Transport Plans.
  • DfT 2004b. Guidance on Local Transport Plans.
  • House of Commons 2002. House of Commons Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee. 10 year Plan for Transport.
  • IHT 2000. Guidelines for Providing for Journeys on Foot. Institution of Highways & Transportation, 2000.
  • Offen F 2001. Walking as Integrated Transport – A Policy Perspective
  • Scottish Executive 2005. Scottish Household Survey Travel Diary Results.

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