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Crossing the Road in Britain

In this somewhat interesting BBC piece, ostensibly about plans to bring pedestrian countdown lights to London but about pedestrian behavior more generally, this passage rankled me:

For drivers, there are warning signs, lights, zigzagged lines and colour codes, all telling drivers to be careful, that people may be crossing ahead.

But sometimes drivers become so inured to this street “furniture” they forget to look for people crossing — they forget what it’s there for. And a 1970 study by the Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal looking at San Diego accidents found incidents were twice as likely at “marked crossings” as unmarked crossings.

Why? Pedestrians lose a sense of personal responsibility – they think that because they are at an official crossing, they don’t need to look where they are going. And then they step out into oncoming traffic.

First of all, is a 1970 study really the best reference? That study, by Bruce Herms, crops up a lot in the literature — but so do charges that its findings were not valid, or have not always been reported properly. And the idea of pedestrians losing their sense of “personal responsibility,” while having certain grains of truth, is overshadowed by the larger safety issue, as actually measured, of cars not stopping at marked crosswalks, as required by law. Haven’t they lost their sense of personal responsibility? There are other issues; what I call the “Frogger effect”: On marked crosswalks that stretch across more than two lanes, one driver may stop, encouraging the pedestrian to cross, but the driver in the next lane does not stop, and does not see the pedestrian, who may be in a blind spot caused by the stopped vehicle.

As an aside, if you can get your hands on it, Joe Moran’s piece, “Crossing the Road in Britain,” in The Historical Journal, is a fascinating piece of cultural history.

As a further aside I’ve always enjoyed this bit of marked crosswalk behavior.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 10:22 am and is filed under Pedestrians. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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