Signals and traffic control devices have a significant influence on people’s journeys. And combined with road rules, local customs, and professional practices they can shape not only travel choices but also the physical environment (see above).
The recently launched “Turning the Corner” campaign lead by Phil Jones Associates for British Cycling seeks to illustrate the unique road rules in the UK and the challenges they present to enabling improved conditions for walking and cycling.
In most other countries, including across the rest of Europe, traffic turning into a street has to yield to pedestrians who receive a green light to cross at the same time. Most crossroads junctions can then operate on two simple stages, with pedestrians being given green man invitations to cross in one of the directions at all times.
While the informational campaign highlights the unique challenges in the UK, it is also a useful reference point for New Zealand road rules and professional practices. Unlike most places in the world, the UK and (many places in New Zealand) provide separate signal phases for pedestrians and cyclists. This has the main advantage of eliminating “conflicting” vehicle turning movements from pedestrian crossing movements making it safer (at least in theory).
The road rules lead longer signal cycles and to several perverse outcomes including slip lanes and multi-staged crossings for pedestrians. For cycling infrastructure, the design response tends to favour less desirable 2-way facilities so that all the crossing movements can be ‘bundled’ together and use only one signal phase. (See: Going Bi-directional).
Many countries have unambiguous road rules (or at least driving customs) requiring all turning traffic to give way to through-moving road users (pedestrians and cyclists). This allows intersection signals to be very simple and efficient, and allows for high quality facilities. (Protection by traffic signals can still be provided to match the particular conditions).
This is the crux of the Turning the Corner information campaign. Here is the Summary Report (PDF). Below are the key points from the campaign.
Creating a stronger legal requirement for drivers to yield on turning would make it much easier for highway authorities to introduce state of the art facilities which provide greater safety, and feelings of safety, for both pedestrians and cyclists, and would therefore be welcomed by local government. (TtC)
Creating a stronger legal requirement for drivers to yield on turning would make it much easier for highway authorities to introduce state of the art facilities which provide greater safety, and feelings of safety, for both pedestrians and cyclists
- Changing to the give way on turning system used in most other countries could offer a number of advantages to pedestrians. Firstly, crossings could be provided at many more junctions in the UK, since the impact on traffic capacity is much less than under the present system.
- Secondly, pedestrians would not be delayed as long as at present, since overall cycle time of the signals would be reduced, and the red man signal would show for a much shorter proportion of the time.
- Finally, crossings would be more direct, without the need for complex staggered arrangements, since people would be able to walk in a straight line from one side of the junction to the other with consistent priority over traffic.
It is important to note that not all crossings would need to operate in this way. Fully separated crossings could still be used.
It is recognised that moving away from a fully-separated pedestrian crossing system would raise concerns amongst some groups. Extensive research would need to be carried to establish the feasibility of moving to a give-way on turning system for signalised crossings, including off-road trials. However, the considerable potential advantages to all types of user mean that, in our view, the option is worthy of further investigation to properly weigh up the potential benefits and costs.
In other European countries, the general requirement that turning traffic must give way to cyclists going ahead means that such complex designs are not necessary. In Denmark a simple ‘two stage turn’ is used at most junctions, which is consistent and understandable. The relatively short signal cycle time minimises the delay to cyclists.
Similarly, in the Netherlands (and also in Sweden) adopting a give-way on turning law means that protected cycle facilities can be incorporated into signal junctions without requiring complex layouts or staging.
We now believe that the time is right to reassess the potential advantages of moving to the give way on turning system at traffic signals, as used in most other countries.
This report raises the question about the state of our own road rules in supporting more walking and cycling. Do the New Zealand road rules provide sufficient right-of-way at intersections? Can we design protected intersections that also allow pedestrians and cyclists safe AND fast trips?