Pedestrian Nightmare: No 'Refuge' on Taiwan's Dreadful Crosswalks

Pedestrian Nightmare: No 'Refuge' on Taiwan's Dreadful Crosswalks
Credit: Google Street View
What you need to know

An extended comparison of pedestrian crossings at junctions in Taiwan and the UK shows that Taiwan's design and standards are clearly not good enough.

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

In Part 1, we explored why zebra crossings – which don't actually resemble zebras – are the main contributors to reductions in road accidents.

Part 1 primarily introduces the regulations and categories of crossings in the UK, as well as detailing the logic they provide for the drawing of markings. Markings and facilities associated with crossings in the UK are said to be the most complex and complete in the world.

However, at the end of the previous article, I mentioned I would respond to the question about an American neuroscience professor who was fatally struck by a bus on Ren'ai Road. I will illustrate two methods of easing pedestrian crossings: pedestrian refuge islands and two-staged crossings.

Pedestrian refuge islands

The purposes of pedestrian car-avoidance islands (the most commonly used term is ‘refuge island,’ but Taiwan styles this technical term as ‘pedestrian car-avoidance island’) can be roughly classified as follows:

  • Shortening the distance and time of pedestrian crossings
  • Providing a space for pedestrians to safely pause in the middle of the road
  • Increasing driver alertness
  • Decreasing driver speed

Without further ado, let's consult a visual aide:

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Credit: Google Street View

The picture above shows an uncontrolled crossing, installed on small roads in residential areas in need of pedestrian crossing. For small roads like this, everyone just looks both ways for cars before crossing. After all, traffic volume is generally light. But these can help reduce the chances that cars or scooters will speed. One way to control the speed and flow of traffic, called ‘traffic calming’ in urban planning circles, is to set up a ‘refuge island.’

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Credit: Google Street View

The above pictures shows a crossing at an intersection controlled by a signal. A refuge island sits in the middle of the road. Even if there was no two-staged-crossing control, two sets of pedestrian signals would still be put in place. That is, one signal stands on the left side, with another on the right. Intersections are designed like this across most parts of the UK, as well as other Western European countries. Even on double-lane roads, there must be refuge islands.

Let's check out examples in Taiwan:

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Credit: Google Street View
West side of the intersection of Aiguo West Road & Roosevelt Road

The above is the incredibly long crossing on Aiguo West Road next to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall MRT station. It has no refuge facilities whatsoever.

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Credit: Google Street View
East side of the intersection of Ren'ai Road & Fuxing South Road

The photo above shows Ren'ai Road. Apart from not having a pedestrian refuge, there is an exclusive bus lane going in the opposite direction (red arrow) because, though the Ren'ai Road is a one-way boulevard, buses travel both ways on it.

I don’t think the exclusive bus lane itself should be criticized because, after all, the city center is mainly meant to boost rates of public transport use and increase its convenience. This kind of design, however, inevitably distracts people.

But what’s the use of a refuge island? Put simply, it makes people more reassured and willing to stop and wait on the facility. Surely it has a psychological impact. On an entire crossing with no refuge island, one intuitively would try their best to cross the road to the other end when the green light is illuminated, which reduces their tendency to carefully look left and right for cars. What’s worse, on Ren'ai Road, there’s a dangerous exclusive bus lane going in the opposite direction of traffic.

Staggered pedestrian crossings

However, having pedestrian refuge islands is not enough! The British also came up with something called a ‘staggered pedestrian crossing,’ which is commonly known as a ‘Z-shaped crossing.’

In a Z-shaped two-staged pedestrian crossing, pedestrians cross the first section while the signal on the second section keeps its green light for cars. When pedestrians safely reach the refuge island, the first section allows cars to pass while, with a press of the button, the second section can be crossed by pedestrians.

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Credit: Google Street View

On roads with more than one lane, there are crossings that guide you safely across the entirety of the road. This utilizes another form of refuge island. If you look at the picture, you will find that because of the turn you make, your line of sight happens to face the direction of coming traffic: pedestrians intuitively see the coming cars, which increases their safety.

This crossing is already signal-controlled. (If you’ve forgotten, you can have a look at the previous article. It actually should be touch-responsive; traffic engineers are probably afraid pedestrians would forget to press the button.) But there is careful, meticulous design behind these crossings.

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Credit: Google Maps

However, one doesn’t have to intuitively look in the direction of coming traffic. As seen in the picture above, the blue parts are the routes of pedestrian crossings, while green arrows are the routes of traffic. After pedestrians cross to the refuge islands, they may not intuitively see the coming cars. Why on earth is that?

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Credit: Google Maps

As seen in the picture above, the route for pedestrians has been changed in a way that they can intuitively see the coming traffic (blue part). If crossings were all designed this way, there would be space wasted above.

But why can’t the crossing below be closer to the intersection? The reason for that is simple: This allows cars taking a turn perpendicular to the crossing to be able to see pedestrians pass through.

Think about Taiwan. Usually when you take a turn, the zebra crossing is right there. Whoa! The minute I’m done checking there is no car on the left side, I’m about to bump into pedestrians. Making a turn makes my head turn left and turn right so much that it give me a kink in my neck. If I bumped into someone obviously by accident, I may have to face exorbitant penalties!

Moreover, cars are pressured into making turns that encroach on the zebra crossings because of the pressure of having a stack of traffic backed up behind them.

The downsizing of zebra crossings is thus highly important! Surely in many circumstances it can’t possibly be done (I will talk more about this in the future), but the design needs to follow this principle and concept as closely as possible.

Yet, this is still not enough! Is it still not safe enough? There is always a more elaborate design.

Two-staged pedestrian crossings

The aforementioned two crossings can morph again into ‘two-staged pedestrian crossings,’ which are commonly seen in the UK, some European countries and Hong Kong. Let’s check out the problems that Taiwan and other countries may come across:

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Credit: Google Street View
A situation which any Taipei pedestrian can relate to, seen on the southwest side of the intersection of Heping East Road and Fuxing South Road.

We’re always told to let pedestrians pass through first. The green light for the cars taking a right turn is usually matched with that for pedestrians walking in the same direction. Therefore, both cars taking a right and cars taking a left in the urban area will come across conflict points. Cars and pedestrians must rely on each other to give way out of courtesy for this to be resolved.

Let me clarify first: Even in the UK, it’s hard to have no conflict at every intersection. After all, spaces at urban junctions are limited. Cars still must make turns, and pedestrians still must cross the roads, which are not as wide as those in Taipei. But can major intersections could be designed with no conflict points? Let’s go back to what I mentioned above.

Let’s look at an example of how two-staged crossing is implemented. This is a big junction in the UK:

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Credit: Google Maps

I roughly drew the main part:

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Credit: Songshan Charles

As we see in the picture:

  • There are Z-shaped crossings on the roads on the picture's left and right (the stop line is solid, while the crossing line is dashed)
  • At the top of the picture, the road branches out, so cars making left turns have their own zones while pedestrians have one refuge island on each lane. (This goes to show how much effort engineers have put in. Ensuring there are no grey areas in lanes is also key.)
  • Cars coming from the road below may only go straight, not left or right
  • When cars enter another road, there’s at least the length of one car separating them from the crossings, which enables them to be perpendicular to the pedestrians

According to the group of lanes, along with traffic situations allowed in Google Street View, I ‘guessed’ the timing plan of this junction. What follows is a simulated scenario:

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Credit: Songshan Charles
The green arrows are the movements of cars and scooters; the blue ones are the movements of pedestrians. It can be done in a way that there’s no conflict whatsoever!

Additionally, if Taiwan colonized the UK (haha), how would it design and superimpose Taiwanese junction arrangements and timing plans on UK roads?

Taiwanese junctions
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Credit: Songshan Charles

As seen in the picture:

  • All zebra crossings are long straight lines with no refuge facilities, and they are close to the junction (I didn’t draw the zebra stripes)
  • The dangerous waiting zones for two-staged turning of scooters (the problem with scooters is rather difficult, so I won’t deal with it for now)
  • American-style right-turn (Our left turn; remember to reverse it from the UK junctions as Taiwanese drive on the right side of the road)

In simulated scenarios, situations in which problems would arise can be seen:

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Credit: Songshan Charles
The red dots are conflict points. Aside from this, cars making turns quickly get too close to zebra crossings.

With neither refuge islands nor multi-part pedestrian signals, pedestrians can cross the road only by dashing. It would be surprising if it was not dangerous. Yet we may be so used to it that we’ve become numb.

Let's compare these two different styles!

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Credit: Songshan Charles
British-style junction (left) vs. Taiwan-style junction (right)

At first glance, one can take note of the positions in which crossings are placed.

Another important point that this article has not mentioned is that in the UK there would be railings surrounding the junctions on all sides to form routes that guide pedestrians as well as sidewalks. But there are no railings in Taiwan, and depending on where you are, there is a solid chance there are no sidewalks, either.

Situations one may encounter in Taiwan

If pedestrian refuge islands were to be set up in Taiwan, there may be initial concerns about ‘barriers that are not in line with the national conditions and increase risks of car accidents.’ Z-shaped crossings would turn into ‘It’s so troublesome that one has to make turns when crossing the road. Where did this stupid design come from?’ (Such comments have indeed appeared in some forums.) Two-staged crossings would turn into: ‘It’s so hot and uncomfortable having to wait in the middle of the road in the rain and sun.’ (I don’t disagree with this one.)

However, has one ever thought about, first of all, whether cars and scooters are meant to slow down and be alert at these intersections. Secondly, intuitive design is based on nothing but humans’ intuition. It silently makes it easier for you to notice the cars coming from the opposite direction than it would otherwise.

Third two-staged crossing may indeed increase traffic efficiency, but this kind of measure is usually implemented at major junctions. It is inevitable that drivers driving from all directions would intuitively drive faster at major junctions. If there could be more protection for pedestrians, perhaps a bit of waiting would be a sacrifice worth making. After all, these allow for ‘zero-conflict movements.’

Besides, the cycles of timing plans for crossings in Taiwan are too long. If the cycles could be shortened, the waiting time to cross the road would not be that long. We’ve just gotten used to the long-cycle timing plan in Taiwan, so we would imagine that way.

Crossing the road itself is not a difficult thing, but how many accidents involving injured people and casualties in Taiwan were caused by defective design?

Perhaps we are all not among the 3,000 people who die in road accidents on average every year, but we should think about those at risk in the future.

I would like to see Taiwan give more support to such safe crossing plans. Differences in national conditions and in urban patterns are but an excuse. You can understand what I mean just by looking at neighboring Hong Kong.

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Credit: Google Maps
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Credit: Google Maps

No matter how crowded the city is, room can be set aside for these refuge islands and sidewalks. I have to say Hong Kong has done well in this regard. It’s just there are too many people and the space is too small and crowded. But at least there’s no chance that cars and scooters would drive side by side on the roads. With more intuitive engineering, Taiwan can certainly do better.

Read Part 1: Can Taiwan Learn from the UK's Pedestrian Walkways?

Yet what’s difficult is that people eventually get used to the environment they’re in. It is always said that the reason for the traffic chaos in Taiwan is because people are uncivilized or have not reached a certain level of respect for their urban environments. This kind of remark is actually irresponsible. Drivers in foreign countries are not any better. I conversely would rather believe in the effects of regulations and those of the environment. A good environment would naturally elevate people’s levels of civility.

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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: Lin Ying-jen

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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