Monday, June 30, 2008

Danger in the name of safety

I was sat facing the bridge at the pedestrian crossing lights in Bridge Street, just a couple of cars back. The lights had just changed to red and we had all, of course, dutifully stopped. The beeps started and the pedestrians crossed, the beeps stopped; the lights remained on red.

Another group of pedestrians approached the lights to cross and stood waiting. The lights were still red, the cars still stationary*. The pedestrians stood, the cars still waited at which point the group gave a visible "Sod this" and started to cross - at which points the lights changed.

For any foreign readers the sequence is as follows - red with beeps (safe to cross), beeps stop and flashing amber (continue to cross, but don't start), green.

To put it bluntly it appears they've increased the red time to allow the slower members to cross safely under red and decreased the amber without altering the beep timings. The result is the pedestrians who are cued more by the beeps then the lights stand around waiting (when it's perfectly safe for them to cross) watching the non-moving cars (who in turn are wondering why the pedestrians aren't crossing) until frustration hits either of them and they make a move.

In other words in my opinion they've made this crossing more dangerous.

On a vaguely related topic I note that the main road outside the newly narrowed lane to the Thomas Vale site is beginning to look like it was paved with rubber.

*I also like to point out that after the first group had crossed and the beeps stopped the car facing me at the head of the queue drove though the red light, likewise did the car behind him. Normally I'd be highly disapproving, but in this instance the light heads have been twisted and it's now difficult to see the lights from the head of the queue. So the driver was taking his cue from the beeps just like the pedestrians.


Dan H said...

Yeah, that's really silly. I'm sure we all know a few junctions where the timings have been set like that, and it just encourages peds to push their luck. One near me is so congested that even the motorists keep going long after their light has gone red, which then means they don't have time to clear the junction before they are in the way of the people coming in the other direction.

There's a toucan crossing elsewhere in Cambridge that has some interesting timings. The ped-and-cycle half of the crossing always goes red after six seconds, but it has an infra-red detector, and the lights for the road it crosses won't change to green until two seconds have passed with no cyclists on the crossing. This is a very busy crossing, and don't forget that toucan crossings aren't binding on cyclists or peds, so it's quite common for all the lights to be red for 30 or 40 seconds at rush hour while the cyclists take advantage, until someone who doesn't know the trick hesitates, or a ped disrupts the flow of bikes, for long enough to trigger the change. But when this happens, cyclists (who can't see the traffic lights on the road) can't tell whether it is safe to cross or not.

Invisible said...

In Milton Keynes, you'd be fairly hard-pressed to find a pedestrian crossing. There are a few, but not many. Mostly we have bridges or underpasses.

Which, obviously, nobody uses.

(I mean, that would entail not just wandering in a Euclidian straight line from wherever you happen to be standing to wherever you want to end up, wouldn't it?)

BTW, do other cities have that thing whever each time a person is killed in an RTA, a shrine is erected at the exact spot where they died, and maintained for the next 20 years? Or is that only MK?

FlipC said...

@Dan - to refresh my own memory I've just checked and this particular crossing has sensors, but they're pointed at the traffic. The one leading up to/from it, the settings of which they're also having a fiddle with, has ones that watch the crossing pedestrians and perceptually that has a shorter red + non-beep time.

As with your Toucan it's a fine line between the needs of the pedestrian/cyclist and the motorist, but as such when someone does jump around it they should be paying close attention.

@Invisible - I'm trying to think of a road crossing bridge around here and coming up blank - rivers; canals; railway tracks; but not roads. Kidderminster has some underpasses on the edge of the town, but everyone complains about them. They're not well-lit and are isolated so are perfect mugging grounds.

Apparently one set in particular you do not want to use during heavy rainfall unless you've brought waders and/or water wings; it just acts like a drain.

With the RTA (shouldn't that be RTI?) we get flowers etc, but nothing permanent. If other places do similar I've not noticed.