One of the major concerns for older pedestrians in urban areas is the time allowed for crossing roads at traffic lights. I suffer from this myself. Unless I am standing waiting at the kerb for the “green man” to appear, I rarely have enough time to get across before he turns into a flashing “red man”. Even being a few paces away from the crossing does not give me time to reach the other side in the green phase. And I consider myself reasonably sprightly.
Not being able to cross easily in the time given will surely cause anxiety for pedestrians who are slow walkers – because of mobility problems, because they are using walkers, wheelchairs or prams or escorting others. And anxiety could lead to falls and accidents. Injuries and deaths from road accidents are high among older pedestrians.
How can longer and safer crossing times be balanced against maintaining rapid traffic flows? This issue came up when I was reviewing global literature on age-friendly cities.
One suggestion I came across was the idea that people who needed more time could swipe a card at the crossing to give themselves more time. And all over 65s have a Super Gold Card. “Swiping” cards has become part of everyday life.
I raised this issue at a recent awards ceremony for Living Streets, a pedestrian advocacy group and was informed by its president that a relevant innovation was already in operation in New Zealand – the Puffin crossing – although this is intended to be mid-block, not at intersections.
The first point is that the pedestrian control panel is on the same side as the user, not across the road on the opposite traffic light.
This means that the pedestrian can see the oncoming traffic while waiting for the signal to cross. And having the lights closer to the user assists visually impaired people who could have difficulty seeing the signal from across the carriageway
After a request to cross (by pressing the button), a kerb side detector monitors the pedestrian’s presence at the crossing. The “green man” pedestrian phase is then started (after allowing the prescribed phase for vehicles to pass – the “pre-timed Maximum Facility).
An on-crossing detector ensures that the signal for vehicles remains red until pedestrians have finished crossing (within practical limits). This is intending to ensure that users of all abilities can safely complete crossing without the signal changing.
On-road crossing Detectors
These crossings are now used around the world. In Britain their use is endorsed by the UK Department for Transport. They have been shown to improve compliance by pedestrians and vehicles and to reduce accidents. In New Zealand they can be found in Hutt City, Dunedin and Queenstown. The crossings are fairly low cost – $9,000 per crossing to upgrade including kerb‐side and on‐road detectors and have low maintenance requirements.
How about it?
[*] PUFFIN stands for Pedestrian User Friendly Intelligent signalised pedestrian crossing
 Illustrations are from a presentation by Holly Attwell of the Road Engineering Association of Asia and Australasia (REAAA). Videos of Puffin Crossings can be seen at – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8rDH7ms18U