60: The Humble Zebra


What if we had more and safer zebra crossings? And what if it wasn’t so hard to put one in?

For a while there, it was seeming that the humble zebra was something of an endangered species on the streets of Auckland. Deeply out of fashion, its distribution and abundance across Auckland and New Zealand has steadily dwindled over the last few decades, being replaced by traffic signals on the busiest arterials and the now ubiquitous pedestrian refuge island everywhere else.

In spite of this, the humble zebra retains a number of advantages over signals and refuge islands, treating people walking with respect and responsibility and giving them the freedom to step out with confidence to cross when they please. Yet amongst the traffic engineering fraternity, zebra crossings, especially of the plain, old-fashioned variety – you know without the raised tables, planter islands, flashing signs and rumble strip approaches as if a crossing pedestrian was akin to a passing train – are deemed unsafe.

There is possibly a chicken-and-egg situation here; because of this disappearance, it seems many Auckland drivers don’t know the rules when they do come across them, worsening any safety issues. More widespread use can help drivers to learn to respect them.

Fortunately, it seems that in a few corners of Auckland at least, zebra crossings are making a bit of a comeback. The recently upgraded Halsey and Daldy Streets are two examples where these have been achieved in a simple way that seems to be functioning well.

There are many more situations that would benefit from zebras where we are told that they don’t meet the requirements to put one in. This shouldn’t be so hard.

More civilised streets where pedestrians are treated with respect and a right of way to cross the road; that should be a basic right in any city.


New zebra crossing on Halsey Street, Wynyard Quarter installed earlier this year.

Stuart Houghton 2014

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  1. Many more zebra crossings are required. Also links from cycle paths to zebra crossings. And remove the silly law that says you have to dismount to cross. More people using crossings, be it bikes or pedestrians, increases safety.

  2. I still can’t believe how long it took for the two zebra crossings to be added in Wynyard Quarter between Silo Park and the North Wharf restaurants. This is a busy pedestrian-only corridor with two street crossings over nothing streets, yet zebra crossings that should have been there from the start still took forever to become a reality. Pathetic.

  3. That Halsey example looks about twice as wide as the old crossings that drivers ignored at times. I’m guessing that helps.

  4. If they want to make it known to foreigners that orange is a pedestrian crossing they should have signs like those in overseas countries where its people on the road or even the feet like in Oz

    1. Drivers tend to focus on what is ‘on the road’ anyway so the stripes are pretty much the definition. Personally, I think signs are useless.

        1. Meh. Not even going to consider comparing what we have to poor examples. We need to reach for the best.

  5. Great idea!!!! The only place we seem to see them is outside schools. Would be good to roll them out in more public, heavy pedestrian areas.

    I agree that drivers need to “re-learn” the rules. Zebra crossings can be an unfamiliar sight.

    Pedestrians also need to be aware, that just because a zebra crossing is there, it doesn’t mean they can walkout in front of vehicles. The diamonds on the road are there for a reason, for health and safety. They need to ensure vehicles are outside these areas, and make sure the vehicle drivers slow down and stop. There is still a risk of unaware drivers etc.

    1. Nah. The diamonds are there to give the drivers an ‘out’. Pure and simple. As you’re driving, as taught in the road code, movement on the side of the road is as important as on the road. You’re the one driving the lethal weapon. Disclaimer: I drive 20,000km’s + per year at varying times and conditions.

    2. Sorry but the diamonds are only there to warn drivers they are approaching a pedestrian crossing. They are only on some crossings where visibility is limited.

    3. Drivers are required by the Road Code to be aware of all potential crossers when approaching pedestrian crossings. That means that, yes, pedestrians do have a right to walk out. The driver should be scanning the roadside, and if there are any pedestrians near the crossing, slowing. If they don’t actually cross, fine, it’s a few seconds of time.

      We need a LOT more zebras.

  6. I’ve recently moved down to Wellington, and use a number of pedestrian crossings on my walk to work, some work well, whereas others I can be waiting for a few cars to pass before one actually stops to let me cross. Sometimes it’s impossible to know if a car (or bus) is slowing down enough with the intention of stopping for me. Even on the wide crossings, one lane of traffic may have stopped but the other side will still be hurtling towards the crossing with not a care in the world. It’s clear that a lot of people just don’t know how to be aware of them and/or use them. But on streets where there isn’t a constant stream of pedestrian traffic, I’ve always thought that they’re a much less waste of both pedestrians’ and car drivers’ time…

    In relation to crossing the zebra on a bike for whatever reason (such as crossing Carrington Road to get to the NW cycle path in Auckland), I know we’re supposed to dismount, but I usually never do so. I make sure to stop and wait to ensure the cars are actually stopping, but I feel I’m out of their way much quicker if I cycle over. And I just don’t cycle into any pedestrians…

    1. Cars not stopping is not a new problem, when I lived in Wellington and walked to school in the early 90’s, there was a crossing on Wallace Street near the old winter showgrounds which I found notorious for motorists failing to stop.

  7. The problem with a zebra crossing on its own is the abysmal crash record. Compared to having nothing, on average crashes go UP by ~25% after installation. Probably because peds (or at least some, like kids) now view them as a “magic carpet’ that they can just step out on at any time. Also our more vulnerable users like the elderly and mobility/vision/cognitive impaired are more likely to go to a zebra crossing than your average able-bodied person, and they have less ability to avoid a crash. Unfortunately our drivers still aren’t very good at noticing the crossings, let alone stopping (and no doubt in some cases the peds stepped out when there was limited time to react). Not saying that’s a good thing on the part of drivers, just that’s how it is. The Police could do some enforcement of this, but then you’re requiring an ongoing enforcement resource to keep up the compliance levels. Hence the reluctance to install a plain vanilla crossing.

    However by adding additional features with a crossing, such as kerb extensions and/or islands, the average crash rate will go down (~20-40%). And if the crossing is put on a raised platform, thus requiring motorists to slow down anyway, the savings are more like 80% (may be a challenge to get a raised platform across an arterial road though). Of course, these features add to the cost and installation time of the crossing, so it becomes more than just an exercise of whipping out some paint and a couple of poles.

    As with all ped’n crossing treatments, the first thing to do is get the street environment right, then think about whether you also need some crossing facilities. Zebras will work far better if the street environment encourages better speed management and compliance from motorists.

  8. Please replace all the traffic lights only for pedestrians crossing with zebra crossings. Means I won’t have to stop because someone pushed the button and then decides to keep walking or to cross early.

  9. The real problem with zebras was where they were marked on four lane roads. One car would stop and obscure the view between the pedestrian and a car in the other lane. They were deadly. We removed all of them. In some cases we narrowed the road to two lanes and left the zebra, in some we replaced the zebra with lights but in some we just took out the zebra and did nothing else which I think was just a mistake. Sure the last option reduced the crash rate at zebras but probably increased it by the same number ‘not at zebras’. The unfortunate result of TR11 was that zebras became a school treatment only.

    1. Edsel Street, Henderson still has 4 lane with Zebra ( admittedly with refuge in middle but that doesn’t negate the issue you raise of one car stopping and obscuring view) I’m sure there are more.

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