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