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Crossing the Pond: Pedestrian Crossings in the U.K.


Your first reaction to the title of this article is probably bewilderment. You might be wondering if there is any topic that could possibly be more boring. Don't all pedestrian crossings look the same? No, actually, and not surprisingly, our friends across the pond have the best categories set out for these humble, hard working marks.

Pedestrian Crossings (Crosswalks) in the States

Under the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or "MUTCD", there are two main methods to mark pedestrian crossings: (1) two parallel, white lines from one side of the road to the other, and a stop line, which only goes across the lanes approaching an intersection; and (2) multiple short lines (or bars) that are perpendicular to the direction of the crossing–these are called "continental stripes". Some crosswalks use both methods together, resulting in what looks like a ladder across the road.

Appearances of these markings, and types of lights and/or signs that may accompany them, differ from state to state, municipality to municipality, just as pedestrian crossing laws vary.

Pedestrian Crossings in the United Kingdom

When it comes to categorizing pedestrian crossings, the Brits are very entertaining.

The Zebra

What we know as "continental stripes" are known as "Zebra crossings" in the U.K. On both sides of the crossing, there is a pole with horizontal black and white stripes and a flashing yellow beacon. The lane lines zig-zag. There are no traffic lights associated with this type of crossing.

Zebra crossings were introduced in 1951 and effectively started the practice of naming pedestrian crossings after animals.

The Pelican

The name of this type of crossing arises from a pseudo-acronym of the phrase "Pedestrian Light Controlled", as opposed to a similarity in appearance. Pelican crossings are controlled by signals operated by the pedestrian, i.e. what we know as pedestrian lights.

When it's time to cross, there is a steady green humanoid figure, which starts to flash when pedestrians should not start to cross. Instead of a red hand, there is a red humanoid figure.

There are zig-zag road markings around Pelican crossings as well, but no yellow-beaconed black-and-white poles. As with their North American equivalents, some Pelican crossings utilize beeping sounds for the benefit of visually impaired pedestrians.

The Puffin

Puffin crossings are Pelican crossings where the green figure doesn't flash. Another example of a questionable pseudo-acronym; "puffin" comes from "Pedestrian User-Friendly Intelligent crossings". In addition, puffin crossings have infrared cameras attached to the traffic lights. These cameras use heat sensors to determine whether there are pedestrians waiting on the pavement and can extend the red light for drivers. This innovative "smart" system was developed to make it safer for disabled or elderly people to cross the road.

There are often railings at the crossing to prevent pedestrians from veering from the crossing and entering the road.

The Toucan

With Toucan crossings, we have moved from pseudo-acronyms to puns. Pedestrians may cross, of course, but since cyclists are permitted to ride their bikes across the road, "Two-Can Cross" at this crossing. Get it? Insert facepalm here, if desired.

Interestingly, zig-zag lines appear not to be mandatory, although they are usually present.

The Pegasus

The Pegasus crossings are allegedly very popular in Scotland. They are like the Puffin and Toucan crossings in that they are light-controlled and make a special provision for a particular class of pedestrian–in this case, horses. Additionally, Pegasus crossings have buttons at rider height on the traffic light support so that you can activate the crossing signal whilst atop your steed. Unshockingly, Pegasus crossings are often found around horse racing or horse training facilities.

Pegasus crossings have zig-zag road markings and often have railings to prevent pedestrians and horses from meandering onto the road.

Back Across the Pond to the U.S.A.

We may not have zig-zagging road lines and such, but if you want to delineate a pedestrian crossing, you can opt for a highly visible pedestrian crossing sign. Contact us today to find out how we can make crosswalks more visible and safer for pedestrians.

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