Pedestrian Nightmare: Can Taiwan Draw Inspiration from the UK's Walkways?

Pedestrian Nightmare: Can Taiwan Draw Inspiration from the UK's Walkways?
Credit : Mikael Buck/REX Shutterstock

What you need to know

There's a method to the madness of the United Kingdom's complex hierarchy of pedestrian crossings. Can Taiwan learn from it?

This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Read Part 2 here.

Here are three related news stories, listed in order of occurrence:

In the first story, Taiwan's Department of Transportation (DOT) tested new zig-zag road markings for crossings, intended to be more visible to drivers and cause them to reduce their speeds. In the second, American neuroscience professor Bruce Bridgeman was killed after being struck by a bus in a dedicated bus lane on Ren'ai Road in front of the Howard Hotel.

Ren'ai Road has one-way traffic, except for the central divided highway contraflow for buses; the bus which struck Bridgeman was traveling in the contraflow opposite automobile traffic. The third story was likely a response to the accident that killed Bridgeman, testing whether reminding pedestrians to look both ways for oncoming traffic at crossings would improve safety.

Both zig-zag road markings and Look Left/Right signs are borrowed from the United Kingdom's Highway Code. These traffic measures are common place in both the UK, Hong Kong, and many commonwealth countries, but do they keep pedestrians safe?

According to the 2015 World Health Organization Road Safety Report, the UK saw 2.9 road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants per year, and 5.1 road fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles. In each case, it ranks in the top 10 countries worldwide in preventing road fatalities, alongside other Western European countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland.

In 2013, the number of traffic deaths in the UK was 1,827 (out of a population of 65 million). In Hong Kong it was 130 (population: 7.4 million), while in Taiwan it was around 3,000 (population: 23 million). Those translate to 2.8, 1.8, and 13 traffic deaths for every 100,000 people, respectively.

These numbers may be surprising for many people. Of course, it goes without saying that the use of mass transit systems and other vehicles also influence the mortality rate. However, when reviewing local regulations and using Google Maps to observe different road designs, road markings, and urban planning philosophies in various countries, we found that Taiwan's own approach to road safety lacks significantly in some areas.

Let’s circle back to crosswalks, and take a look at what the different types of British pedestrian crossings are and what they are designed for. The UK officially names their crossings for animals and birds; their official names are:

  • Zebra crossings
  • Pelican crossings
  • Puffin crossings
  • Toucan crossings
  • Pegasus (or equestrian) crossings

These crosswalks all incorporate zig-zag markings. With the exception of zebra crossings, all have buttons for pedestrians to trigger the traffic lights. They can thus be divided into two categories: the zebra crossing without a button, and the others with buttons.

Zebra crossings

Zebra crossings are pedestrian crossings without traffic control signals, so they always have a higher density of “zebra stripes” than the average British crosswalk in order to raise visibility. This also allows both pedestrians and drivers to distinguish between the two different types of crossings. They also have very special yellow globes that light up, called Belisha Beacons, which are usually (but not always) flashing. These are there to warn drivers ahead of time. The road marking specifications clearly mention the exact width for the crossing and the dimensions of the zig-zag markings.

Zebra crossings have five main elements:

  • Black and white zebra pattern
  • Give Way lines
  • Zig-zag lines
  • Yellow globes
  • Road studs (optional, their purpose is to clearly mark out the area of the pedestrian crossing)

Here's a visual reference:

Credit: Google Street View
Credit: Google Street View

Pelican crossings

The reason this is called a Pelican Crossing is very simple. The name is derived from Pelicon, which is a portmanteau of PEdestrian LIght CONtrolled; and then modified to the closest animal name. This crossing has a switch activated traffic signal, and both pedestrians and drivers will have dedicated traffic lights.

Pelican crossings have three main elements:

  • Stop line
  • Zig-zag lines
  • Road studs

Here's a visual reference:

Credit: Google Street View

Puffin crossings

This name follows the same naming convention, and is derived from Pedestrian User Friendly INtelligent. It’s a little like the evolved form of the pelican crossing, because there are sensors above the lights that monitor whether pedestrians have completely crossed the road or not. If you take longer to cross, it will delay the red light until you have made it safely to the other side.

In addition, the "green man" lights controlling the pedestrians will also appear on the same side of the road as the pedestrian user in the control panel, for better visibility. If a pedestrian presses the button but walks away, the system will cancel the request automatically.

Here's a video of the puffin crossing in action:

Toucan crossings

The meaning comes from Two-Can, as the crossings allow both cyclists and pedestrians to cross the road. This doesn’t mean bicycles are not allowed to cross at other crossings, but the width of the Toucan crossing is wider at 3-4 meters rather than the usual 2.4-2.8 meters. In addition, the newest crossings display a bicycle next to the man in the pedestrian control panel.

Here's a visual reference:

Credit: Public domain

Pegasus (or equestrian) crossing

This is the most unique type of crossing, with the main difference being an extra-wide section for horses to cross. The lights and control panels are very similar to the toucan’s, with the exception of a horse instead of a bicycle, but these are not common crossings.

Here's another reference:

Credit: Google Street View
Credit: Public domain

The above pedestrian crossings all use zig-zag road markings and are pedestrian activated (except for zebra crossings). However, there is a section on the topic of zig-zag road markings, mentioning: "They must not be used at crossings at signaled road junctions."

Why do they not appear at intersections? Intersections and roads should be defined with the same road classification, but if all exits at the intersection are given traffic lights, there will be no zig-zag markings. In short, the zig-zag markings only appear in the middle of a road. So why can we also find that some intersections still have crossings? That's because the classifications of the roads intersecting are different and not all exits will have crossings on them. See the following example:

Credit: Google Earth

This may be an intersection, but there is not a crossing on each of the four exits. Instead, the road running horizontal has “Give Way/Yield” lines because the road has a lower classification and the traffic flow is not heavy in this area, meaning there is no need for too many crossings. The introduction of stop lines and give way lines in different areas and situations is actually very logical.

The following example does not have zig-zag lines because it is a signaled intersection:

Credit: Google Earth

As we said before, if the intersection has three or more exits with crossings, the zig-zag markings do not appear. Zig-zag markings are used to indicate that parking and overtaking is not allowed. As cars are not allowed to stop on clearways, there is no need for zig-zag lines at those junctions.

In the UK, there are many roads which feature crossings with zig-zag markings. Main roads in the UK are not often laid out in grids, where main roads always run into other main roads. Instead, main roads often pass many side streets before intersecting with another main road. In addition, British roads are often quite narrow (there are not many six-lane roads in London), so side roads usually have Give Way/Yield lines, and you are expected to judge the traffic and cross safely.\

Let's look at an example:

Credit: Google Earth

This is the A13, a main road near Whitechapel in London. The red arrows point to side street junctions, while the green arrows point to all the pedestrian crossings on the road in this picture. (They just so happen to all be Staggered Pelican Crossings, where the crossings are offset and treated as different crossings.)

As you can see, not all side streets join the main road through traffic lights. Instead, those driving out from a side street have to judge the oncoming traffic and pull out when it is safe, and sometimes they can only turn left (because they drive on the left lane). The logic behind this design is to use pedestrian crossings to break up the road at regular intervals, so that pedestrians don't have to walk too far to cross the road. (However, some people will still jaywalk, of course. Everyone does it.)

So what about Hong Kong?

Why Hong Kong? The Pearl of the Orient was a British colony until 1997, so its system for road safety is almost exactly the same. The only major difference is that British pelican crossings have an empty walkway, whereas those in Hong Kong are yellow and black.

Credit: Google Street View
Credit: Google Street View

Zebra crossings have the same zig-zag markings, as well as the quintessential Britishness of the yellow globes. However, in Hong Kong, these zig-zag markings are rather difficult to find. In Hong Kong, like most Asian cities, most crosswalks appear at intersections, meaning that there is no need for those markings (the density of intersections in Asian cities is relatively higher).

However, that is just the tip of the iceberg, as Hong Kong also incorporates many other British traffic safety measures that are not commonly found in the rest of Asia. These include staggered pelican crossings (Z shaped crossings, with a long traffic median connecting the two crossings), traffic islands and medians, roundabouts, and many others. (Even if they exist in countries like Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan, they are not part of their core infrastructure). This also includes the logic used for when and where they paint stop lines, give way lines (I found that this also has an effect on the design of sidewalks; more on that in Part 2), and central dividers of different lengths (unlike the fixed lengths in Taiwan). Essentially, it is an imported version of the British system.

We can see that the British have very strict specifications and clear descriptions for pedestrian crossings. To Taiwanese people, it may just seem like drawing black and white lines across intersections, but the British regulations include specifications for all aspects, including how and where to paint the markings, the logic behind the markings and how they help both drivers and pedestrians, and their classifications.

Credit: AP / TPG
Read More: Taiwan's Road Safety Reports Mask a Worsening Record

How about Taiwan?

There are only two types of crossings in Taiwan: fixed-time pedestrian crossings (signaled intersection) or zebra crossings (found when road sections are longer than 300 m between intersections). But there are no set specifications detailing how and where to paint the markings, what other markings are required, and what markings work as effective warnings.

There is no city in Taiwan that has a complete infrastructure for pedestrian safety. Even its capital city of Taipei only just meets the most basic standards. Without proper sidewalks and railings, it becomes very difficult to direct the movement of pedestrians. Plus having some very long sidewalks without crossings commonly compels people to jaywalk.

In Taiwan, crossings usually only exist at intersections, but they often rest too close to intersections so cars turning don’t have time to check properly,and end up hitting a pedestrian.

In the long run, the introduction of a proper system would stimulate the users of private transport to switch to public transport, helping to create a virtuous circle. In Taiwan, crossings usually only exist at intersections, but they often rest too close to intersections so cars turning don’t have time to check properly, and end up hitting a pedestrian.

Crossings in Taiwan might be dictated by law, where pedestrians have right of way, but there is a lack of signals and planning. Of course, we want to keep the effect of the law, but there is a need to plan and design a system that is intuitive to both drivers and pedestrians. If we subtract accidents caused by drunk driving and sleep-deprived driving, how many accidents do you think are caused by "carelessness?”

Part 2 will discus the inter-connected details of Taiwan's traffic infrastructure. It will also include a response to the death of Bruce Bridgeman, the American professor killed in a contraflow bus lane. Click here to explore what Taiwan can do to improve its own road safety system for the country's many pedestrians.

Read Next: CONFESSION: How I Became Complicit in Overworking Taiwan's Bus Drivers

This article first appeared on the Chinese-language Taiwan edition of The News Lens and can be found here. The original article was republished with permission from Traffic Insight.

Translator: Zeke Li

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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