Pedestrian crossings and traffic-calmed zones
To make it safer for pedestrians to cross our increasingly busy roads, the first three to four decades of the past century saw the construction of special “crossings” of different kinds. The first pedestrian light in Europe was installed in Copenhagen in 1933. In Germany, the first pedestrian light entered service in Berlin in 1937. At pedestrian lights, broken white lines in the direction of walking to the left and right delimit the pedestrian crossing. Where pedestrians walk directly across wide white stripes painted laterally across the road, this is known as a “pedestrian crossing.” In Germany, these “zebra crossings” are not light-controlled and, in built-up areas, are clearly signposted.
Since many road users in built-up areas are “unprotected” road users like pedestrians and cyclists, special safety measures are essential. Given the fact that speed is a primary risk factor, different strategies have been implemented all over the world to manage this. In addition to pedestrian zones that are off limits to motor vehicles and a range of different concepts for bicycle b boulevards and cycle paths, traffic-calmed zones have also been introduced in Germany. In these zones, the maximum speed for motor vehicles is around 7 km/h, and cyclists, too, are forbidden from significantly exceeding this limit. All road users enjoy equal rights and must not unnecessarily obstruct each other.
A maximum speed of 20 km/h applies in many residential areas in, for example, Russia, Latvia, the Ukraine and Belarus. In 2014, Portugal also followed their example and imposed a 20 km/h limit in selected residential areas; in Switzerland, these areas are known as “encounter zones.” 30 km/h speed limits have become widespread in many European countries and have proved effective. In fact, some countries are even considering introducing a maximum speed of 30 km/h in built-up areas, although a 50 km/h limit would continue to apply on through roads and roads that are vital for ensuring the continued flow of traffic. However, this is a highly controversial concept.
30 km/h zones were first introduced in Germany in 1983 in a series of model trials and then quickly rolled out in a number of towns and villages. In 20 km/h zones, speed is reduced even further. Specially signposted sections of road to this effect have been introduced in many residential and commercial areas. In these zones, pedestrians enjoy full right of way on all public thoroughfares, but are not allowed to unnecessarily obstruct the flow of motor traffic. In traffic-calmed zones, motor vehicles can drive at “walking pace” only and drivers are not allowed to endanger or obstruct pedestrians. If necessary, they have to wait for pedestrians. Likewise, however, pedestrians are not allowed to unnecessarily obstruct motor v vehicles in traffic-calmed zones. The first traffic calming models were trialled in Germany back in 1977. In 1980, the concept of traffic-calmed zones was legally incorporated in the German road traffic regulations.
Since 1995, the German statistics on traffic accidents have listed the number of accidents and casualties on pedestrian crossings (zebra crossings) and in traffic-calmed zones. Until the start of the 21st century, these figures showed a clear and longterm decline in the number of casualties as a result of such measures. The figure shows an example of the absolute frequencies of the numbers of seriously injured people and fatalities.
The huge importance of speed limits in built-up areas and the accompanying road design and signage measures is especially evident in traffic-calmed zones. Here, the number of people seriously injured in accidents Germany-wide since the beginning of the 21st century is between 200 and 250, while the number of fatalities since 1996 remains in the low single figures. In 2012, just one fatality in a traffic-calmed zone was recorded, which means that we are already very close to achieving the aim of “Vision Zero.”
While the priority once used to be on simply enabling pedestrians to cross roads safely, the focus today is on facilitating the considerate, safe coexistence of different road user groups in what have become known internationally as “shared spaces.”
Pedestrian lights come in a variety of forms
Conventional pedestrian lights (Figure 1) are increasingly being complemented with additional information, including static information such as “Please wait”/”Signal coming” (Figure 2), with more advanced designs even showing how much time is left before the signal changes (Figures 3 and 4). The solution shown in Figure 4 shows how much time is left before the signal turns back to red or green (depending on the current phase). This light does not require an additional display field because the remaining time is displayed using the LED field that is not currently in use during the current red or green phase. A rather more unusual idea is to upgrade the standard request button to include a touchscreen. When the button is pressed, a video game (here: StreetPong) starts up, allowing pedestrians to occupy themselves while waiting for the lights to change. Initial observations show a decrease in the number of pedestrians who cross the road when the light is red. Some traffic planners provide information for pedestrians explaining the purpose of the traffic lights and how to use them (Figure 5). A fundamentally different solution can be found in, for example, Japan and Australia, whereby all pedestrians are given the green light to cross simultaneously. When pedestrians are in the middle of crossing the road, what measures can be taken to ensure that they are not suddenly caught out when the lights turn red again? One solution is to provide additional information for a “clearance” phase (Figure 6).