Extra traffic light pole added to corner of Tuam and High Streets in Chch (Stuff)

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?

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  1. Is New Zealand unique in that pedestrians always have right of Way over turning traffic at lights, but do not at any other intersections?

    1. The NZ road rules for pedestrians at unsignalised intersections is unique. Signalised intersections are also tricky when you consider the signals being used to direct pedestrians. (and whether or not the ped lights have been triggered).

      1. +1 regarding pedestrian signals, I often deliberately do not press the button when facing a green traffic light precisely to retain right of way over motorists as, from what I understand, if the pdestrian light isn’t triggered a pedestrian may cross with traffic.

        1. Yeah, except in practice that gives vehicle users the idea that because they have the green light they have right of way. It might help you in court… after you’re out of the hospital.

        2. Agreed, vigilance is required and this is only for the able bodied, but it is a really good way to get around both of the three minute long cycle times that I experience on the way to work.

          Of course, if the council actually left the green pedestrian light on instead of allowing free right turns that would really help.

        3. It’s illegal ($10 fine!) to cross against a red person. If no person is illuminated you have no greater or lesser rights/restrictions than if you’re crossing at an unsignalised intersection.

        4. “If no person is illuminated you have no greater or lesser rights/restrictions than if you’re crossing at an unsignalised intersection.”

          That is not my understanding. My understanding is that you have the same rights that you would have at any signalised intersection without pedestrian signals, ie you can cross with the green light and all turning motorists are required to yield priority. my understanding is that this also applies at T-intersections where the leg across traffic turning right onto the top of the T is often missing and that unless there is a directional arrow traffic light then pedestrians have right of way over vehicles turning right too.

        5. Sailor boy, that is how I interpreted the law too.

          3.2(2) While a green signal in the form of a disc is the only signal displayed, pedestrians, riders of mobility devices, and riders of wheeled recreational devices facing the signal may enter the roadway unless a special signal for pedestrians indicates a flashing or steady red standing human figure symbol.
          4.2(1) a driver facing the signal, including a driver turning left or right, must
          give way to pedestrians, riders of mobility devices, and riders of wheeled recreational devices lawfully crossing or about to cross the roadway

        6. Don’t think they have this now, but in the more older days there used to be a small sign at a lot of traffic lights saying “Turning traffic give way to pedestrians”. Probably at all the lights that didn’t have turning arrows perhaps.

        7. SamsonT/Sailor Boy: I can’t see that wording in clause 4.2(1) of the Road User Rule 2004 http://www.legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/2004/0427/latest/whole.html#DLM303080, presumably the document being quoted – there’s no mention that I can see of any requirement to give way to pedestrians at intersections not controlled by lights (would that there were!).

          Para 3.2(2) says pedestrians may enter the roadway at traffic lights if there’s no red person displayed or flashing, just as they can enter the roadway anywhere else where they’re not prohibited from doing so, so my original comment, that if no person is illuminated you have no greater or lesser rights/restrictions than if you’re crossing at an unsignalised intersection, applies – in those cases there is no pedestrian priority.

      2. Yeah to me that’s the most baffling part of traffic law over here. I’m glad NZTA is at least thinking about some change.

        And even if NZTA doesn’t go with it, there’s still things we can do. Paint zebra crossings — that’s what they do in Europe. For cycle lanes or shared paths (eg. the one on Onewa Road), does traffic law allow removing all those BEGINS / ENDS signs and painting those paths across side streets? That’s also pretty standard in Europe.

        1. totally agree roeland (and with the post). It was so relaxing walking around places like new york and washington, with drivers being a bit baffled when i swiveled to check for cars and hesitate. in addition to advantages at lighted intersections, zebra crossings on side streets would be great (or raised platforms even better, like i think are going into some parts of ponsonby road?) – i wouldn’t have to spend half my run checking over my shoulder for cars steaming round the lovely rounded bends into every cul de sac off the main road….or worrying on my bike that i’m about to be clocked by some idiot who thinks he can turn left before i get there….or worrying about my daughter having to cross 3 roads instead of one because of the two slip lanes installed to keep the bloody traffic flow going. bring it on.

    2. At traffic lights pedestrians have no more right of way than any other user of the intersection – when there’s a green man (or woman) you have right of way, exactly the same as traffic does when there’s a green light. Flashing persons complicates it a bit, though.

  2. Slightly off topic but what I would like to see is the orange light replaced with a orange led countdown timer like the ones used on pedestrian crossing lights,
    So people can make a more accurate judgement of when a light will be turning red and more importantly drivers can see exactly when the light will turn green. Should help eliminate those sleeping at the green light. And for manual drivers you know it’s time to put your foot on the clutch and pop it into gear.

    1. I think it wouldn’t work because our lights are all based on sensors. As soon as there are no more cars coming the light goes orange. A lot of other countries just have fixed times for lights which means they can have counters, but there are obviously other shortcomings to that.

      1. Hmm I always had that impression. The light would turn green but if someone in the queue is a bit slow to start, the light will turn red again after a few seconds.

        If so, it still allows you to have a few seconds of countdown. That’s enough to put your car in gear.

        1. As far as when the light is turning red, the answer is you should stop on the orange if you can. Most people don’t, so if they drive to the road rules then this wouldn’t be a problem. The length of the orange light should be adequate to be able to stop if you’re driving at the speed limit.

          You’re driving a car, that is the only thing you should be doing. That means when you’re at the traffic lights and they’re red, you should be looking at the lights waiting for them to change. Putting a car in gear takes about half a second to a second depending on how quick you are. So if people were paying attention there would be no benefit for this countdown either. In addition, you sometimes get to wait while people drive through the red light for their direction…

          The reality is many people do not pay attention when they’re driving, as a result these things won’t make much difference.

        2. In Germany the traffic signals have a very short phase where they show both red and orange to signalise that they’re about to turn green. It’s only half a second long or so, but it gives drivers time to switch into gear. Mind you, a much larger proportion of the cars there are manuals (I would say the majority); here it would probably just lead to drivers taking off early.

        3. German drivers follow the road rules a lot more closely than New Zealand drivers. NZ has a “she’ll be right” attitude, Germans have a this is the law and I will follow it attitude. This is very apparent when driving in each country. This is the same reason why we don’t have left turn on red (right for Germans), because it has been determined there are too many idiot drivers on NZ roads that would cause accidents as a result.

    2. Countdown to red would be a dangerous idea I think as people would cut it even finer to not stop to just make it through an intersection. Countdown to Green would be great I think as you can get ready as others have said but also could remove impatience/agro slightly as you know your turn is about to come up to go.

  3. NZTA is on the ball


    The research, which will be used to inform policy advice regarding potential rule changes, will investigate the likely impacts of:
    •giving pedestrians right-of-way over turning traffic when crossing side roads
    •giving cyclists right-of-way over turning traffic where separated cycling facilities cross side roads.
    •allowing cyclists to use a left turning lane while riding straight ahead
    •allowing cyclists to undertake slow moving traffic
    The research report is due in September 2016.

    September 2016. Still, no sign of it…

    1. As the one who prepared this report, I can tell you that it was delivered to NZTA in Sep 2016. And now some follow-up work is looking at what are the specific legislative changes (e.g. amendments to the Road User Rule and Traffic Control Devices Rule) that would be needed to introduce some of these rules. So fingers crossed…

      1. That is great to here Glen, I’ve been reading a lot of the stuff you were involved in through the Cycling Safety panel recently and it’s been great to finally see this in something the NZTA are required to acknowledge.

    1. That was my first thought as well. In Germany you don’t even have a repeat set of lights on the other side of the intersection. The stop line marking is just far enough back that you can see the one set of lights. One thing that I find great here is the yellow broken line, in Germany there are signs for every little no-stopping area. Curiously, road rules is one of the few areas where I still regularly compare…

    2. You can’t even see the additional signal poles BEHIND the camera… Effectively it has been designed as two very close intersections, hence two pairs of signals (for context, there are side roads, two tram lines, pedestrians and a major cycleway crossing here). On reflection I think they may have been wiser to operate the whole thing as a single intersection from the perspective of the main road traffic.

  4. It is absolutely absurd to put pedestrians in conflict with turning vehicles at traffic signals even if they legally have right of way. The UK system should not be removed. The same system applies here in Abu Dhabi and is much safer for pedestrians. As a pedestrian in downtown Christchurch I was always concerned about being run down by a car even with a green man to walk. Having a law giving pedestrians legal priority (at traffic signals) doesn’t change the inherent design fault – achieving a zero road toll will not happen.

    NZ should adopt the UK system and have fully protected crossings for pedestrians at traffic signals. This would provide fully protected crossings for cyclists as well. As for the reduction in capacity, the argument is illogical as NZ doesnt have congestion tolling to limit peak demand.

    That said, for unsignalised intersections there is little that can be done except possibly change the law to give the pedestrian right of way. However personally as a pedestrian I would much rather confirm the way is clear myself & have a median island to stop on, rather than depend on the other drivers behaviour, irrespective of what the legislation says.

    1. You should try driving in Canada, people yield for pedestrians. This is purely an attitude approach. Add in the ability to sue the driver (I believe in NZ all you get is ACC) and this becomes something that would have a very real impact on the driver as well.

  5. Having a separate pedestrian phase (if that’s what being described) *as a general rule* seems excessively risk averse and has the cost of increasing the cycle time for everyone.
    In Australia, at intersections where the traffic only needs a two-part cycle, it’s usual for the green man for pedestrians to be simultaneous with the green light for the parallel traffic. Turning traffic yields to pedestrians walking on the green man.
    If you’re concerned about the safety issue where the first left-turning vehicles tries to cut off the pedestrians who are starting on the green man, you can have a a short period of left red arrow to give the pedestrians a head start.
    In central Melbourne (Hoddle grid) at most intersections the lights have a 90-second two part cycle in which pedestrians in each direction get 20 seconds of green man. Much more civilised that getting 5 seconds of green man in a 2-minute cycle, which is more common in places like Sydney where theauthorities are still focussed on moving traffic.

  6. 100% YES. Move to a system where turning traffic always gives way to pedestrians and cyclists, unless they have a green arrow. On intersections without signals this would also become the law to give way to pedestrians and cyclists going straight ahead. Some drivers here already do this when turning into side streets, but it’s rare.
    When I first arrived in New Zealand I was bewildered that as a pedestrian I had to look in three directions to cross a side street rather than just one. With drivers often not even indicating their turn this causes so much uncertainty for pedestrians on when it is safe to cross.
    I also agree with this making cycleway design much easier, as you can just have an onroad cycleway that carries on straight ahead and traffic turning into a left-turning lane has to give way to cyclists, just as with changing any other lane.

    Of course the big concern would be the attitude (and in some cases lack of skill) of New Zealand drivers. There would have to be a huge education campaign and it would take a while until pedestrians would feel safe.
    In Germany (where the rule is to give way when turning unless on a green arrow) pedestrians and cyclists getting run over by turning vehicles is unfortunately a fairly common occurrence, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable, kids.

    1. When I cross (unsignalised) side streets as a pedestrian I have to trust that drivers not indicating are not turning, otherwise I could wait for hours for the road to be clear to be safe to cross. Essentially I am assuming I have right of way unless someone is actively waiting to turn as very few people indicate. So far it has worked…

      1. That is generally my attitude as well. If a car doesn’t indicate their turn there is no way I can know that they are turning, I also insist on my right of way when I walk on a footpath and a car is coming out of a driveway (or carparking building or the likes). Still it can be dangerous.

        1. +1 to driveways, I think it is only a matter of time until a child dies because someone refuses to give them right of way at a driveway.

  7. Use a 10 sec ped before vehicle phase; you are generally past or at least halfway across the turning vehicle lane(s) by the time they have a green to turn. You are visible and as you have already started to cross have right of way – easy for the driver too.
    2 wheeled vehicles should not be able to turn across traffic and use a ‘hook / right angle turn’ / box.

      1. Half a minute? I thought 10 seconds sounded too long. After 2 seconds a pedestrian would have already crossed half a lane. Takes less than 20 seconds to cross diagonally on Queen St – that’s equivalent to crossing almost 6 lanes according to Pythagoras.

        1. True, I can cross those streets in way less than half a minute too.

          But then you have to take into account that not everybody starts crossing exactly when the light turns green (especially with a lot of people waiting), and most people tend to walk a bit slower than me. And most streets are 5 or 6 lanes wide.

          So yes it takes a while, definitely more than 10 seconds. I know for cars turning left from Wellesley Street into Hobson Street, it’s not unusual to get red light before the pedestrian crossing is clear.

        2. An elderly or disabled person is lucky to walk at 1m per second and might have a 3s reaction time, a six lane road might be 20m wide, that’s already 23s to clear the intersection, more if they are slower.

        3. But we’re not talking about the time it takes pedestrians to clear the crossing, we’re talking about how long the cars should still have a red light before they are allowed to cross, just to give the pedestrians a head start and help drivers get used to giving way when turning. Of course there are always those that will take longer to cross, but just because their might be an old person crossing, do you really need to keep the red arrow on until any pedestrian could have already crossed? I think drivers can be educated.

  8. Drivers turning left at lights must give way to pedestrians crossing unless they are given a green arrow. In that case you can run down the pedestrian with relative impunity because they would be crossing heedless of traffic. Pedestrians also have an obligation to check that it is safe to cross even if they might have right of way.

    The road code suggests that pedestrians must use the facility if provided to cross the road otherwise there is no guarantee that you have right of way. If you don’t push the button and simply cross at your own risk and get hit you will be at fault for crossing heedless of traffic and failing to use the facilities provided. If you are at a set of lights with no pedestrian crossing, then the left turner must give way to you, but you also have an obligation to check that it is safe to cross.

    From the picture, having that many poles is required for all the push buttons and pedestrian lanterns and the geometry of the road results in weird angled pedestrian crossings that require more poles and lanterns. Still looks like overkill but it isnt a standard 4 way intersection with 8 poles.

    1. “In that case you can run down the pedestrian with relative impunity because they would be crossing heedless of traffic.” – except that you can’t run someone over just because they are breaking a rule; you still have a duty of care to other road users (Section 8 Land Trpt Act). You probably have a reasonable defence if they step out suddenly without warning (or expectation that they will) but if they’re already on the road well in front of you, you can’t just carry on into them regardless.

    2. Ari maybe if you are unsure just let your conscience be your guide. Running someone down regardless of what rules might say probably isn’t going to be something you will be proud of. I remember listening to David Lange speak to a bill that corrected the law for one of the island groups that are part of the Realm of New Zealand. Due to a mistake they didn’t have a law against murder. Lange pointed out that despite it being legal nobody had killed anybody because they just were not that type of people.

    3. Bonus Points: If you run down a cyclist under any circumstances you get away scot free. Easiest way to murder someone and get away with it.

      Apologies. I am being facetious. The road rules heavily favour careless drivers who have no conscience the moment they get behind the wheel.

  9. “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.”

    Yes, let’s spend years and millions extensively studying the feasibility of doing something that works fine around the world.

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