A new day, a new thing

My goal to learn something new every day

Day 28: Crossing the road in the UK

Crossing the road is a pretty simple affair. You look right, look left, look right and cross (or left, right, left in countries who drive on the right side of the road). If you’re lucky, there’s a crossing or set of traffic lights to help you get across. Up until today, I thought that there were just two types of crossings in the UK: Zebra and Pelican. There are actually five*.

Zebra crossing

Image courtesy of Grammaticus Bramlington on Flickr

Image courtesy of Grammaticus Bramlington on Flickr

The Zebra crossing, like the one pictured above, has alternating black and white stripes, hence the name zebra. At either end of the crossing are two flashing globes. These globes are called Belisha beacons. Pedestrians have right of way at Zebra crossings and it is up to cars to stop and wait for passengers to cross. Recognise  the picture from above? It’s actually the Zebra crossing opposite the Abbey Road studios where the Beatles famously walked across one by one. If you find yourself with a spare 15 minutes, why not head over to AbbeyRoad.com, for a real-time live feed of the crossing. Watch pedestrians piss off the drivers by trying to imitate the famous photo.

Pelican crossing

Image courtesy of  Ben Sutherland on Flickr

Image courtesy of Ben Sutherland on Flickr

Pelican crossings have traffic signals that change from green to amber to red and stop all traffic to allow pedestrians to cross. At either side of the road there is a button for pedestrians to press when they want to cross. Once the button is pressed, a WAIT light appears next to the button as the signals prepare to turn to red for traffic. Once the signals facing the traffic turn red, an image of a green man appears on the other side of the road letting the pedestrian know that she can cross. The term Pelican crossing is used today, but it was originally PELICON crossing, which comes from pedestrian light controlled.


And now, we’re heading in to new territory. The three crossings below were all unknown to me until today.

Puffin crossing

Image courtesy of comedy_nose on Flickr

Image courtesy of comedy_nose on Flickr

Puffin crossings are similar to pelican crossings, but with a number of key differences. Puffin stands for pedestrian user-friendly intelligent crossing (don’t ask me where that extra ‘f’ comes from). The pedestrian still has to press a button to wait to cross, but now the lit-up man is on the same side as the pedestrian rather than the opposite side of the road. This allows pedestrians to see oncoming cars more easily as they are already looking in the direction, and it also helps visually impaired people to see the light change. But why are they called intelligent? Turns out they have some ‘intelligent’ detectors. First of all, the detectors monitor people crossing the road to make sure that everyone has gotten across safely before allowing traffic to resume. Secondly, a detector monitors pedestrians waiting by the light. After the button is pressed the system makes sure that the person remains waiting. If someone crosses the road early, or decides to walk off, the signal is cancelled, which means that traffic is not held up unnecessarily. Many councils in the UK are now trying to use Puffin crossings instead of the traditional Pelican crossing.

Toucan crossing

Image courtesy of James Bowe on Flickr

Image courtesy of James Bowe on Flickr

Next up is the Toucan crossing (are you beginning to sense the animal, or more specifically flying animal theme yet?) Similar to the Puffin crossing, the Toucan is ‘intelligent’. The main difference is that it allows cyclists to ride across. Cyclists can still use Pelican and Puffin crossings, but they must dismount before crossing. The Toucan features an image of a bike and a man to let cyclists/pedestrians know when to cross. The signals are sometimes on the same side as the user (as they are with Puffin crossings) and sometimes on the opposite side of the road (like Pelican crossings). Rather than some clever backronym, Toucan gets it’s name from “two-can” as in two can cross.

Pegasus crossing

Image courtesy of tercerojista on Flickr

Image courtesy of tercerojista on Flickr

The final crossing surely must win for just having the best name. It is similar to the Toucan crossings, with one big difference. Instead of it being a crossing for bikes, it’s a crossing for horse riders. Pegasus crossings typically have two buttons—One at the regular height and another higher up than usual to allow riders to press it without having to lean down too far or get off their horse.

Sources: This leaflet from Trafford Council (pdf) and this one from Lincolnshire council (pdf) as well as the relevant Wikipedia entries (Zebra, Pelican, Puffin, Toucan, Pegasus).

*In this post, I’ve only focused on the five types of crossings in the UK that are in use today. Two types of crossings that used to exist in the UK, but are no longer in use, are the Tiger and Panda crossings.

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This entry was posted on January 28, 2015 by in UK and tagged , , , , , , .


January 2015

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