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A full guide to road crossings

Written By Andrew Brady

pedestrian crossing
  • All the various pedestrian crossings explained
  • Ever heard of a Pegasus crossing...
  • Know your puffin from your toucan and pelican 

Along with street lights, crossings are a vital road safety feature that many of us take for granted.

The zebra crossing was introduced in the early 1950s. The thinking behind it was to cut the number of pedestrians killed just getting from one side of the road to the other.

Over time, crossings have developed and there are now four types of traffic light-controlled crossings.

What is a zebra crossing?

The zebra crossing has been in use across the UK since 1951. It is the simplest of all the crossings, just using black and white stripes painted on the road plus orange Belisha beacons.

There’s no official zebra crossing sign. They’re simply indicated by the stripes on the road and the beacons. Sometimes the crossing might be on a raised-up section of road to give it added prominence. And the traditional orange Belisha beacons are being replaced by much brighter rings of orange LEDs.

The rule for drivers around zebra crossings is simple. Zig-zag lines approaching them mean you can’t park near them in case you obscure pedestrians from vehicles. And if there’s a pedestrian waiting to cross, the car must give way.

Failing to let a pedestrian cross can land a driver with a £100 fine plus three penalty points. Not giving way at a zebra crossing with a school crossing patrol – lollipop man or lady to most of us – may lead to a £1000 fine and at least three penalty points.

What is a pelican crossing?

The traffic lights at the pelican crossing are controlled by the pedestrian. They press a button on a small box and above it the word WAIT lights up. After a short period, the traffic lights turn orange, then red. Facing the pedestrian, an illuminated outline of a man goes from red to green indicating that it’s safe to cross.

After a set amount of time, the green man turns red and the traffic lights start to flash orange before turning green. This returns priority to car drivers. But pelican crossing rules state that cars can only move off once the lights are flashing orange or green and pedestrians have finished crossing.

Like every other crossing, these feature zig-zag lines on the approach to prevent parking near them.

When the pelican crossing was first launched in the UK during 1969, it was actually called a ‘pelicon’ crossing. The name stood for PEdestrian LIght CONtrolled crossing. Over the years it was adapted to become more child-friendly. With the advent of the puffin crossing, no more pelican crossings will be installed.

What is a puffin crossing?

The puffin crossing is a more intelligent version of the pelican crossing. Like the pelican crossing, the puffin has a button to press that starts the light sequence to stop the traffic.

Unlike the pelican, puffin crossings have sensors that can tell if there are people waiting to cross or on the crossing itself.

These sensors have a double benefit; they help traffic flow and keep pedestrians safer. If someone presses the button then decides not to cross, the puffin crossing can tell and stops the traffic lights changing to keep the traffic moving. They also know if someone is crossing the road very slowly and will delay the lights changing to favour the pedestrian.

From a car, the puffin crossing looks identical to a pelican. But the lights that pedestrians should watch for are on their side of the road rather than the opposite side as with a pelican. This is so pedestrians look in the direction of the approaching traffic on their side of the road, rather than staring across the road.

The puffin name is short for Pedestrian User Friendly INtelligent crossing.

What is a toucan crossing?

In case you ever wondered, pelican and puffin crossings are 2.8 metres wide. A toucan crossing is 4m wide. These are designed for bicycles and pedestrians at the same time (two can cross together, hence the name). And while cyclists must dismount to use other crossings, at toucan crossings, they can ride.

In addition to the red/green man symbol, a toucan crossing has a red/green bicycle too. And that isn’t the only difference to pelican and puffin crossings. When the lights change back to green for traffic, the toucan’s traffic lights show red and amber together rather than a flashing amber.

Like their relative the puffin, the toucan has buttons for users to stop the traffic. It also employs sensors to improve traffic flow by preventing vehicles being stopped if there’s no one waiting at the crossing.

What is a Pegasus crossing?

Think of a toucan crossing but rather than for cyclists, the Pegasus crossing is for horses. Like the pelican and toucan, this has sensors to help keep traffic flowing. And, like the toucan, it’s wider than a pelican, in order to keep horses further away from cars.

Unlike the other crossings, a Pegasus features a horse outline alongside a man and they have a second control panel on either side of the road. This is mounted 2m up so that horse riders can stop the traffic without dismounting.

Signs in advance warn of a Pegasus crossing. This is to discourage drivers from revving their engines or driving aggressively and scaring horses.

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