I have already mentioned the number of traffic lights near my house (see “Traffic Chaos Gets A Green Light!”) and highlighted the number of those which are there to make the crossing of the roads easier for the pedestrian.
What I failed to mention was that by easier I meant less annoying to the driver!
What do I mean by that?
Well, it has always been my understanding that these crossings are controlled by traffic lights which are triggered when a pedestrian presses the button. And for the most part that is true. However the crossings in my area seem to have a different agenda. I assumed, rightly or wrongly, that when a pedestrian arrived at a crossing, because they wanted to cross the road, and pressed the button, the lights changed to red for the traffic allowing the pedestrian to cross in relative safety.
Whilst the basics of the previous paragraph are true, in that a pedestrian arrives at the crossing; presses the button; lights change; pedestrian crosses, what is not clear is the time lag between the pressing of the button and the changing of the lights. As a road user myself; both driving along them and trying to walk across them (obviously not at the same time!), I don’t expect the lights to change instantly the button is pressed. No, that would cause countless accidents!
What I do expect is for the traffic to be stopped in a short time after the button has been pressed. Again, both as a driver and pedestrian, it would be good to know that a few seconds after the button has been pressed the lights are going to change. All could be prepared.
What actually seems to happen in my little town is that the lights wait until there is a sizeable break in the traffic before changing. By which time there is no traffic to stop!
I am quite capable of just standing there and waiting for a gap before crossing. Why do I need a green light to tell me what my eyes can see for themselves?
In the old days (signs of my recent age increase coming out there!) we used to have zebra crossings where as a pedestrian approached, drivers would slow down and stop to allow the pedestrian to cross.
All very simple – nothing electronic just common sense.
A pedestrian could cross in the knowledge that the cars would wait for them to get to the other side before moving off (OK, most drivers would). There was no perceived hurry. Now, crossings have beeps alerting the pedestrian when it is safe to cross – a nice feature for those who are visually challenged in some way and can’t see the green man – but they stop beeping before most pedestrians have reached the other side, thus instilling a mild panic to get across before the cars move off again.
And if, when I approach a crossing (on foot), there is a young child being taught by an adult how to use the crossing, I tend to observe the lights so that the child can see others doing it. Even though I could have crossed the road safely three times in the time I stood there being good!
Today, whilst doing just that, a mother and young child were standing at one of our crossings; a crossing which breaks the mould mentioned above. It doesn’t have a red and green man light system high above the pedestrian’s heads which can be seen from the other side of the road and it doesn’t beep. Pedestrians have to watch the light next to the button to see it change, and this is usually blocked by the person who actually pressed it, making the crossing a bit of a challenge for visually impaired people to use!
The mother was explaining to the child about what to look for when crossing and the child had her hands all over the button panel touching the small red light. The lights changed; the traffic stopped and our little green light came on. By the time the mother had uttered the question “what colour is light now”, the green had turned back to red. Their crossing opportunity had passed.
I was already on the other side, but did the mother and child wait for the next change in lights?
Of course not! The mother grabbed the little girl’s hand and stepped out into the road. Fortunately, none of the waiting drivers were of Formula One standard, and had not therefore had their foot hard down on the accelerator!
No physical harm done this time, just another young road user who will be confused about how and when to cross!