Why we need safer junctions and crossings
In 2019, 146 people were killed on London’s roads, according to provisional figures from Transport for London (TfL). Of these, 90 were pedestrians and five were cycling.
The majority of pedestrian deaths happened when people were trying to cross the road. 1 Often this is a result of a lack of provision of crossings or long wait times.
Junctions are particularly dangerous for people riding bicycles, for example when a motor vehicle turns left or right across their path.
Safe junctions and crossings – that are direct, quick and convenient for people walking and that separate cyclists from turning motor traffic – are essential if London is to achieve its aim of eliminating all road deaths and serious injury by 2041.
Mike Grahn from London Living Streets and Simon Munk from London Cycling Campaign describe the changes required not only to make roads safe, but to make walking and cycling less nerve-wracking and therefore easy and appealing.
Crossing design and safety
By Mike Grahn, London Living Streets
All too often the movement along the street is prioritised over the movement across it. Streets therefore become barriers to the life of the communities through which they pass.
Current signal control systems were developed in the 1960s and 1970s when the car was king and were, therefore, tasked to give priority to maintaining motor vehicle flow. Pedestrian and cyclist movements were seen as a necessary, but annoying intrusion.
This means crossings provide little benefit to the majority who use them. Around 70% of users 2 that arrive at a signalised crossing cross before the green man signal appears. This not only frustrates people; it puts people at greater risk of collisions and may deter some from travelling.
The first need is policies that recognise that all road users – whether walking, scooting, cycling or driving – are integral parts of the traffic, with a transport hierarchy that puts active travel before motorised modes.
This is now well established in London 3 and Manchester 4 , with other cities following suit. This means that TfL network managers have an explicit duty (with targets) to facilitate the movement of non-vehicular road users through the adoption of ‘Healthy Streets‘ principles. With this clear policy, officers feel empowered to deliver improvements.
But the task is still huge. There are well over 6,000 sets of signals in London – and capacity is limited. Consequently, there’s an important role for campaigners, local representatives and the public to identify needs and priorities.
The problems associated with crossings can be grouped into three broad categories:
- clarity of operation
- waiting time to start crossing and
- crossing time.
These problems are common to all crossings, whether at a junction or “mid-link”, between junctions. But whereas improvements at junctions can be complex, costly and take years to complete, changes at mid-link crossings are simpler, so rapid progress is possible.
Crossings at junctions
At a junction, many different types of movement (ahead traffic, turning traffic, pedestrians) have to be squeezed into each signal cycle.
Compromises are inevitable and pedestrians often lose out. Right now there are 239 junctions in London with no pedestrian facilities at all. Countless more junctions have no pedestrian lights on one or more arms. This is a real source of danger since drivers expect pedestrians to have separate phases at signalised junctions and will not be prepared to give way.
London Living Streets is campaigning for pedestrian signals to be installed at all arms of junctions where people walk. 5
At more complex junctions, one practice is to divide crossing movements into many stages, greatly increasing the time to cross. Tackling this requires the re-design of the entire road layout.
In London, considerable ongoing effort is being directed at improving junctions by cycling 6 (see below) and walking campaigning groups together with TfL. 7 Whilst improvements have been achieved in some cases, it is clear that significant reductions in the volume of motor traffic and turning movements will be needed to enable progress in many others.
The green man
One problem with all pedestrian crossings is that the meaning of the ‘green man’ walk signal is poorly understood 8 which leads to significant anxiety for crossing users. The ‘green man’ is intended as an ‘invitation to cross’, not an indication of time left to cross. When it is extinguished, no more people should move onto the crossing, but those already on it should have enough time to reach the other side.
One solution are crossings have been fitted with Countdown (PCaT) indicators. Once the green man is extinguished the indicator shows how many seconds are left to cross. These have been very well received by users and it is probably true that the PED-X with Countdown represent the current best combination of safety and user experience.
It is already TfL policy to replace Pelicans with PED-X (see box) when these crossings require significant work. Existing PED-X crossings should be assessed for Countdown installation.
Some boroughs in London have opted to install Puffin crossings rather than PED-X. Here the possibilities for improvement are more limited without replacing the entire crossing, but some improvement may be obtained by the installation of repeater signal boxes so that they can be more easily seen by users, particularly on busy crossings.
Pelican crossings show a flashing green man together with a flashing amber light for drivers during this ‘clearance’ phase. The danger is that drivers and motorcyclists read the amber light as a signal to continue, possibly into the path of a person hidden behind a stationary vehicle.
Puffin crossings addressed this by removing the far-side pedestrian signal. The signal to cross is shown on a nearside box. When this changes to pedestrian red, those crossing are protected by a sensor that holds the vehicle red light until the crossing is clear. However, users find the small nearside signal difficult to see and feel unsafe crossing without the assurance of a far-side indicator.
Toucan and Pegasus crossings use the same design, but allow cyclists and horse riders respectively to cross together with pedestrians.
Ped-X crossing show a green man on the far side during the invitation to cross after which no pedestrian signal is shown during which people complete crossing with vehicles held on a red light. This is followed by a pedestrian red man and the vehicle phase. This design protects pedestrians on the crossing for the entire clearance time, but gives no information on the time left to cross.
PED-X crossings with Countdown (PCaT) indicators show the number of seconds of clearance time remaining.
Time to cross
A related problem is that the overall time to cross is too short for many users, particularly the elderly, disabled and those with young children. The minimum crossing time is calculated using an assumed walking speed of 1.2 metres per second (2.7 mph). Many people cannot walk this fast 9 and report being stranded on a crossing as motor traffic starts moving.
New guidance 10 from the Department for Transport now allows a figure of 1 m/s to be used, giving some additional time, but campaigners are pressing 11 for 0.8 m/s to be the standard. The guidance specifies the minimum clearance time, so campaigners can also ask for more crossing time through reductions in the time allowed for vehicle movement.
Long waits encourage people to take risks by crossing in gaps in traffic. In London, campaigners have succeeded in getting a systematic review of wait times at all crossings. 12 A similar programme is now starting in Greater Manchester. In many cases, wait times have been halved on review.
A study by London Living Streets 13 has shown that reducing wait time improves users’ experience, even if they don’t consciously notice the change.
For crossings at junctions, campaigners should ask whether the signals could be ‘double-cycled’ at certain times of the day. For mid-link crossings with low pedestrian flows and significant wait times the ‘pedestrian advance’ and ‘pre-timed max’ functions found in signal controllers should be activated to allow operation within seconds at most times.
Busier crossings in urban areas can also be isolated from their signal groups at quiet times, again resulting in shorter wait times. TfL was reviewing 1,200 signals a year, but recently reduced wait times at 1,500 crossings during a 4-week period to help Coronavirus-related social distancing.
There is no reason why crossings cannot evolve further. TfL are now trialling ‘Green Man Authority’ 14 crossings, where the ‘green man’ is the default. Unless vehicle traffic is very high, pedestrians are able to just walk across with minimal, if any, wait. It really does appear possible that we are on the way to re-inventing a crossing infrastructure that serves all road users and promotes the well-being of our cities and citizens.
Safety for cyclists at junctions
By Simon Munk, London Cycling Campaign
Junctions are where most serious and fatal collisions involving those cycling (and walking) happen. One of the main risks is a vehicle turning across the path of a cyclist going ahead or turning. This far too common “hook” risk is also one of the reasons why junctions are the points en route which are most stressful for those who do cycle and why most people don’t cycle – so getting junctions right for cycling won’t just save lives of those who already cycle, but represents one of the best ways to get more people cycling.
The way to deal with these issues is to ensure that cyclists are separated from turning motor traffic in time and/or space. That can mean, for instance, banning turns for drivers, so that cars don’t pass through the space where cyclists are going ahead, or giving those cycling a separate phase to those driving.
One of the best junctions in London for this so far is the Lea Bridge Road junction with Argall Way and Orient Way – here, cycle tracks let cyclists line up next to pedestrians at the lights and both get a green signal at the same time on all arms. Other examples include TfL’s “hold the left” design on several of their Cycleway junctions – where those cycling go while left-turning drivers are held at a red light. A lower level intervention is a “cycle gate” where cyclists get a green light to go ahead into the advanced box ahead of motor traffic held at a red – and these can be implemented using temporary measures during this crisis.
As with pedestrians, there are many changes needed to rebalance the priority of our junctions away from cars, for safety and also to enable people to use other modes of transport. Without such changes, most people simply won’t cycle along a route.
- Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, TfL
- The effect of traffic signal strategies on the safety of pedestrians.
By J Kennedy, M Crabtree, J Castle, J Martin and M Elliott. TRL Limited, July 2009
- Mayor’s Transport Strategy, GLA, 2018
- Publications, Made to Move, Transport for Greater Manchester
- What London Living Streets is doing to improve London’s pedestrian crossings, London Living Streets
- TfL’s Better Junctions scheme, London Cycling Campaign
- Improving London’s roads, TfL
- The effect of traffic signal strategies on the safety of pedestrians.
By J Kennedy, M Crabtree, J Castle, J Martin and M Elliott. TRL Limited, July 2009.
- Most older pedestrians are unable to cross the road in time: a cross-sectional study
By Laura Asher, Maria Aresu, Emanuela Falaschetti, Jennifer Mindell. Age and Ageing, 13 June 2012
- Traffic Signs Manual, Chapter 6. Traffic Control, 2019
- Safer crossings, Living Streets
- Walking action plan, TfL
- The impact of wait time reduction on the pedestrian user experience at signalised crossings in London, London Living Streets. Briefing Note.
By M.F. Grahn, 7 December 2018
- Green Man Authority – An innovative solution to contribute to Healthy Streets in London.
By Andrew Rogers and Jennifer Treen. TfL, August 2019