Making side streets safe for those at the top of the ‘hierarchy’

How effective are continuous crossings at improving safety for people walking, wheeling and cycling? Is it time to change UK law to allow ‘simple’ zebra crossings to be installed on side roads? What needs to be done to meet the needs of disabled road users? These are among the questions being explored at a new series of events which began with a webinar earlier this month. Deniz Huseyin reports

24 January 2024
This side road in Edinburgh is an example of a cost effective way of addressing the ‘bellmouth factor’ using hatching and wands. Image: John Dales
This side road in Edinburgh is an example of a cost effective way of addressing the ‘bellmouth factor’ using hatching and wands. Image: John Dales
More than 200 continuous crossings have been installed in Waltham Forest over the past 10 years
More than 200 continuous crossings have been installed in Waltham Forest over the past 10 years

 

The vast majority of side street junctions in the UK do not prioritise the movement of people walking, wheeling and cycling, with drivers still largely unaware of changes to the Highway Code in 2022 that placed road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of a hierarchy. 

This was the opening gambit at the inaugural Side Street Crossings webinar, hosted by Landor LINKS and LTT in partnership with Urban Movement.

“The problems are so common they are hidden in plain sight,” said chair of the event John Dales, Urban Movement’s Director. 

Level access – whether through raised tables or properly formed dropped kerbs – is routinely absent as are tactile signals, Dales told the webinar’s 700-plus attendees. “Despite recent, and slightly confusing, changes to the Highway Code, the fact is that most drivers do not expect to yield to people crossing side streets, whether walking, wheeling or cycling.”

He pointed to the ‘bellmouth factor’ where, even with a relatively narrow side street, the road splays to twice and sometimes three times the width of the road at the crossing point. “This means the desire crossing distances are unnecessarily large and it also means generous turn radii so drivers can turn in and out much faster than they otherwise could or should. The consequences of both those factors is that people who are crossing, whether walking wheeling or cycling are exposed to a greater than necessary danger for longer than necessary – it is a real classic double whammy.”

Brian Deegan, Director of Inspections, Active Travel England (ATE), questioned why Rule 170 in the Highway Code, which requires drivers to give way to pedestrians, is “not being established in the minds of drivers even though the Government has made it fairly clear in the guidance”. 

During his time with Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Deegan pioneered a trial of ‘simple side road zebras’. However, under UK law zebra crossings must be wired to the electric mains and have Belisha beacons and zigzag markings. The ‘simple’ alternative, which merely involves a painted zebra crossing on a side road, would cost a fraction of price to install. 

Deegan said side road zebras could be the “best solution in a lot of places” and was currently being considered by the Government. “The side road zebra, already being used in the rest of World, is quite applicable here and is also one of the cheapest options, which is always good in a strained economy where we want to roll out changes quickly to get more people walking wheeling and cycling.”

But he accepted the same solution would not be right for every road junction. “There is no one solution, there will be many different solutions that work in different contexts,” said Deegan. “Something you do on an arterial road should be different to something you do in a city place, where there aren’t as many cars and you have people moving everywhere.”

Bharti Gupta, Behavioural Researcher, TRL, worked on a trial of simple zebra crossings on three side roads in Cardiff for the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales. The trial used object-detecting technology to monitor movements, along with user surveys.

“The trial resulted in a statistically significant reduction in the proportion of pedestrians that went second at all three sites; implying that more drivers are giving way,” she said.

“There were statistically significant increases in the distance between a vehicle and pedestrian at the crossing.”

The trial showed a rise in the number of pedestrians crossing at the ‘desire line’ after the implementation of the crossings.

Gupta said: “There was a significant reduction in the number of pedestrians who gave way to vehicles, with the biggest reduction at the busiest of the three sites being trialled. So, there could be value in adding simple zebra crossings at busy junctions.”

Also, more drivers reduced their speed as they approached the crossing and there was a larger time gap between each road user using the crossing space.

However, feedback from a disability focus group revealed that, while they understood the priority on a pedestrian crossing, they did not feel confident that drivers could be relied on to give way to pedestrians, especially at the junction.

It also emerged that blind or partially sighted road users’ preferred to cross at a point away from the junction due to safety concerns.

Jonathan Flower, Senior Research Fellow and Transport Planner at the University of the West of England, warned about the “unintended consequences” of installing simple zebras on side roads. 

He cited research into the implementation of simple zebras at locations in Melbourne, Australia, to encourage walking and cycling by improving safety. “Unlike in the UK, simple zebras are permitted in Melbourne under Victoria state regulation,” he said.  

“However, there is a risk that they can lead people to believe that at sites where simple zebras are not installed drivers don't have to give way to pedestrians,” Flower said.  “Research we undertook with the University of Melbourne found the risk of this unintended consequence is actually very real. This is something that demands more research, and has implications for our findings and the work carried out by TRL in Manchester and Cardiff.” 

Chris Proctor, Waltham Forest’s Director and Lead Technical Consultant, looked back on the roll-out of more than 200 continuous crossings in the London borough over the past 10 years. 

In almost all cases the crossings have been deployed as part of wider measures, he said. “We have tried tweaks of different layout and formats and every junction is different, so there has to be flexibility in the approach.”

He said: “But we do try to stick to some key principles; removing features relating to side road junctions such as kerbs, tactile paving and street furniture.”

The council has also tried to reduce effective width to between 5 and 5.5m metres on two-way roads, complemented by green infrastructure. 

Proctor recognises there have been concerns over the crossings, including among blind and visually impaired people. Parents have also expressed concern about the impact on their children, who have historically been taught to navigate using traditional road infrastructure and to  “Stop, Look, Listen”.

There have also been concern that the crossings cause congestion and delays where two vehicles are unable to pass in/out of a side road.

“The number of concerns have reduced substantially over time, which is not to say that they don’t still exist!” said Proctor. 

‘Before’ and ‘after’ monitoring at the junctions has revealed a “significant reduction in collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists”, though more research is needed, he said.

Daisy Narayanan, Head of Placemaking and Mobility, City of Edinburgh Council, believes that “culture change and behaviour change” are key to implementing continuous footways in the city.

The council is installing continuous footways as part of the City Centre West to East (CCWEL) active travel scheme and has agreed to investigate “low cost” zebra crossings.

She said the newly formed Accessibility Commission will provide independent advice to the council on the challenges, opportunities and actions required to make sure the city’s public streets and spaces are accessible for disabled people.

Alongside this, the council is producing videos explaining how to use the new junctions, she said.

There is strong support among residents in the Scottish capital for safer crossings, Narayanan said. “Surveys have showed that limited crossing opportunities had a negative impact on how families feel about moving around when walking and cycling,” she said. “Even now we have an unmet demand for crossings – we have had 114 requests over the past 18 months.” 

In recent years Edinburgh City Council has published three inter-related strategies – the City Mobility Plan, Climate Strategy and 20 Minute Neighbourhood Strategy, Narayanan pointed out. 

“In each of these we have reiterated our ambition and commitment for a transformational change in our streets where we reinforce a sustainable transport hierarchy with walking, wheeling and cycling at the very top.”

Last summer the council carried out a city-wide consultation, which “through a holistic lens looked at active travel, equality, public transport, parking, biodiversity”. This encompassed  capital projects to re-design junctions and install safe cycle networks, but “alongside this we looked at smaller interventions such as dropped kerbs and accompanying tactile paving, which I think are equally transformational”, she said.

The council has identified the need for 17,000 dropped kerbs and accompanying tactile paving across the city. “We will also start enforcing a pavement parking ban in the next couple of weeks, alongside better crossings and a decluttering of our pavements.”

The Side Street Crossings webinar can be viewed on the Landor LINKS Live You Tube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTI-dH-plFI

Continuous footways are not ‘magic piece of infrastructure’

A two-year study by charity Living Streets has concluded that continuous crossings represents a “a complex and nuanced situation”. 

Robert Weetman, Living Streets’ Technical Coordinator, Scotland, led the ‘Inclusive Design at Bus Stops and Continuous Footways’ project, which was funded by the Scottish Road Research Board, Transport Scotland and the DfT.

He said: “There is no consistent widespread agreement around what a continuous footway is and is not, there are contrasting and contradictory ideas and guidance documents, and a very wide range of different designs on the streets.”  

Continuous footways should not be viewed in isolation to the surrounding conditions, Weetman argued. It was vital to consider the vehicle speeds and volume of traffic entering or leaving the side road. “There could be queues of vehicles that pedestrians need to squeeze between or drivers, who are turning into a side road who are worried about getting across a stream of oncoming traffic so feel unable to stop.”

Weetman told webinar attendees: “If we are going to make our streets inclusive and our side road junctions safe there will be no magic piece of infrastructure which will make a difference on its own. For any changes to work we will have to make big changes to how the whole system is working. If we are going to have a situation where a driver turning into a side road is going to feel comfortable giving way to a pedestrian crossing the side road, or waiting to cross, then that requires a particular set of conditions on the main road. 

“The whole main road has to be designed with that in mind – we can’t have pedestrians faced with vehicles approaching at high speed along the side road or queuing to exit the side road.”

Inclusive Design and Continuous Footways

https://livingstreets.org.uk/inclusivedesign

Join the Crossings & Junctions debate

LTT and partners Urban Movement will be running a Building Better Crossings & Junctions event in London on 13 March.

This conference and exhibition will bring together experienced practitioners who will clarify the key issues and obstacles at stake but also show, through reference to real-life examples, how innovative measures can make crossings and junctions safer and more convenient for active travel by taming motor traffic without affecting highway capacity. 

More details here:

https://www.landorlinks.uk/building-better-crossings-and-junctions

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