October 21, 2002

Crossing the Street

Category: Urban Planning

LONDON: I'm gonna get flamed here, but I can't help myself: The system of rights of way in London is beyond stupidity. Let's say you're strolling along the sidewalk and come to a minor intersection with no traffic light. (see diagram) There's no one coming on the road perpendicular to you, so you step off the curb. A car speeding up from behind you decides to take a left turn and kills you while you're crossing the street. In a civilized system, a pedestrian crossing the street in such a manner obviously has the right of way... right? The car is supposed to slow down before its turn and check to see if anyone is walking across the street, right? Not here. The car has the right of way, even if there is no traffic signal. That's just plain wrong.

Also, if there is a traffic light, you need to wait until a 4-way walk signal appears, halting all traffic. Having a green light does not give you the right to proceed. Cars making turns always have the right of way. To make matters even worse, there is no "flashing don't walk" signal. You could be in the middle of the street and the "walk" signal may suddenly turn to "don't walk" sending you into a panicked scramble to get across while cars rev their engines, or worse, drive off anyway, stranding you on a precariously small island in the middle of the street, or in front of some irate driver cursing you.

To London' s credit, there is one pedestrian amenity worth mentioning: The so called "Zebra Crossing". These black and white lined crosswalks are scattered around London and provide people with a guaranteed place to cross the street while cars are obligated to stop at all times. Still, they are few and far between.

I think a simple improvement would be to let people cross the street with green lights, and in return, allow cars to turn left on red (after yielding to whatever was in the way). And for god's sake put some "flashing don't walk" signals in place! You'd think this was Bolivia.

Posted by Nick at October 21, 2002 6:48 PM