This is a guest post by Vivian Naylor, who is the Barrier Free Advisor and Educator at CCS Disability Action, Northern Region, the largest disability support and advocacy organisation in Aotearoa New Zealand. She also advises on AT’s Public Transport and Capital Projects Accessibility Groups.

Vivian has been advocating and working to improve accessibility for people living with disabilities for over four decades, and recently received a King’s Birthday Honour (MNZM) for her work. Below, she writes about how – and why – raised crossings are a vital accessibility device.

Advocating to improve the needs of the disabled community in the built environment requires tenacity and belief that change is possible but, as the well-used statement goes, ‘good things take time’! Progress can be glacially slow, and it is hard to understand why. Our advocacy benefits everyone; design features that enhance access and, by default, safety, for disabled people advantages everyone.

This is especially true in the design of our streetscapes. The more they are safe and welcoming for disabled people, the better they are for children, older people, and everyone in between.

The same applies to cycleways. Few of us would have appreciated the amazing array of cycling equipment used by disabled people until Waka Kotahi NZTA funded the 2023 Inclusive Cycling Programme, delivered by Bike Auckland and Grab Your Wheels, which resulted in a network audit, and complemented a draft design guide already in progress A great initiative.

Vivian Naylor and her husband enjoying enhanced mobility in Cornwall Park: segway (his) and electrified hand-cycle (hers). Photo by Lesley Whyte.

Raised crossings offer vital accessibility and safety

I particularly want to focus on raised crossings because of the way they’ve recently become a target of controversy, both in the media and in policymaking. The voices of many motorists have been loud and clear – but those of pedestrians, and particularly disabled pedestrians, have not.

Raised pedestrian crossings are a fine example of an accessibility feature that delivers universal benefits. In response to a critical safety review in 2018, Auckland Transport has over the last five years installed over a hundred examples, many near schools and shops and public transport.

The local data is clear, and backs research from elsewhere: raised crossings improve safety, especially for people on feet and wheels.

Children using a raised crossing on Carrington Road. Bizarrely, AT is proposing to remove the raised table from this well-used crossing, as part of future “improvements”. Photo: Jolisa Gracewood

What’s less discussed is how raised crossings also improve accessibility. This applies for anyone who may be slow or unsteady on their feet, or less able to judge traffic speeds and distances – including children and older people – as well as anyone who requires wheeled mobility assistance.

Most obviously, on a raised crossing, you’re sitting or standing up higher and thus more visible to drivers. A raised crossing also makes it easier and faster to successfully cross the road, without having to navigate a gutter and curb at each side.

By contrast, on a surface-level crossing accessed by ramps from the footpath, people crossing the road are less visible to drivers. And in a wheelchair or power chair, you may need to navigate ramps backwards to avoid tipping out (a manoeuvre that may be familiar to those pushing a pram or pushchair). This not only impacts visibility, it also slows everyone’s journey and exposes vulnerable travellers to more risk for longer.

A recent story about a new raised (courtesy) crossing in Karori near a retirement community and rest home highlights the broad community benefits. In the words of community advocate Valerie Smith:

“We want to be part of our community as much as possible, and the steep kerb on Campbell Street was limiting our access. When I came here, I could never get to the shops in my wheelchair. It’s now much easier to go to and from the shops and public library and finally be part of the community. It’s taken a lot of meetings and emails but we are really appreciative of this,” she says.

“And it’s not just for us. It’s also for the mums with pushchairs, and the young school children who cross this road every morning and afternoon.”

Residents and neighbours of the Huntleigh Home and Apartments community in Karori, at the opening of a raised courtesy-crossing that provides safer and easier access to local amenities. Photo via Wellington City Council story, “Karori welcomes new raised crossing”.

So why the dangerous recent U-turn on raised crossings?

Given the benefits of raised crossings, you’d imagine the question is: how quickly and affordably can we put them wherever people need them?

So it’s been alarming to see the recent government-led backtrack, a sudden U-turn that flies in the face of both the evidence and community concerns.

In a speedy response to signals in the (draft) Government Policy Statement on Land Transport, Waka Kotahi/ NZTA has already downgraded dozens of shovel-ready projects around the country to remove planned and consulted-on raised crossings.

Locally, Auckland Transport has also decided a third of its planned raised crossings will be replaced with “alternative safety measures” – with no mention of alternative accessibility measures.

This is a worryingly backward move for safety, accessibility and local decision-making. And it’s disturbing that the voices of disabled people and other vulnerable pedestrians  – with rare exceptions – aren’t central in this conversation, at both the local and national level.

It’s essential these voices are heard

Concerned by the government’s direction, earlier this year I surveyed the sector to hear what raised crossings mean for people living with disabilities. A few examples:

“As a power-chair user, raised crossings are my preferred crossing spaces as most vehicles are forced to slow down or else possibly bottom out, giving me more time to cross or react to any unexpected decisions made by the driver/s before reaching the perceived safety of the footpath. I feel more visible to the driver/s and am able to better see them for eye-to-eye contact, which is often when they decide what to do next and mostly that happens before they enter the raised level, and it all happens at that raised height which usually signals to most drivers who drive regularly within the city of the need to beware of people possibly crossing here.”*

“I support the use of Platform Pedestrian Crossings. I am a wheelchair user and find crossing roads can be extremely hazardous. I always feel lot safer when I can cross on a raised pedestrian crossing, being a little higher off the main road surface, means that I feel I am more in line of drivers’ sight, and feel a lot safer.”

“As a wheelchair user with severely brittle bones living in a very hilly city, standard kerb cuts with bouncy/unsettling tactile indicators on the steepest angles, I am one very small misjudgement away from a serious injury, long rehab and extended leave from work.

Even if built to the correct NZ standards, I often find myself choosing to push further along the path to use a driveway to drop down on to the road. While this has an added risk of then needing to navigate myself along the road, while dodging traffic, to find an easier/safer junction back to the footpath.

When I am lucky enough to be crossing the road at a raised platform crossing, it ultimately removes my disability! I simply look to ensure traffic is slowing down and very easily traverse across the road.”

“As an ageing wheelchair user I was delighted when raised platform crossings were installed. So many kerb ramps are dangerous often because of the way they are constructed, e.g.

1) steep gradients – even 1:8 is too steep and can be impossible to negotiate when TGSIs [Tactile Ground Surface Indicators, the nubbly tiles] add to the difficulties. There was an occasion when I was trapped on the road unable to get up the kerb ramp and luckily a passing motorist helped me up.

2) often I have to descend backwards and wait in the road for the appropriate time to cross for fear that the steepness of the gradient will tip me out – and often several layers of tar seal bog the wheelchair casters in the gutter. This can be difficult to escape from.

I am also aware of tall wheelchair users getting their footrests snagged into a steep kerb ramp because of how much they protrude in front of the chair.

Platform crossings remove all these difficulties and anxieties, making navigating the streets so much safer – and stress-free.”

“These raised crossings in our area [Mangere Bridge Village] have made the walk to school and the shops much safer because it’s much easier for drivers to look out for us when they are slowing down for the raised area. Some of the installation is a bit wonky so they can be tricky to drive over, but the bumps are a small price for the extra safety.”

“People ignore me at Zebra crossings and school crossings so raised crossings give me hope that maybe I’ll have better luck at crossing the road.”

“As a wheelchair user, I find using the crossing at the Pitt St/Hobson St intersection much easier and safer to get to the island in the middle to cross the Hobson St/Union St/Pitt St intersection. The importance of raised crossings as a visual aid for drivers and a safety aid for pedestrians should not be underestimated. I agree… they should be constructed and used more not less.”

“If they could be constructed at a cheaper cost they would be great. I am trying to get a pedestrian crossing put in at the intersection of Old Mill and Garnet Roads but Auckland Transport have basically said no.”

“Many drivers appear ignorant [that] the law requires them to stop for pedestrians at crossings. The more visibility the better.”

“As a blind person, raised crossings give me confidence that I’ll be seen by drivers! We need more, not less of them!”

Where to from here?

How do we make sure these voices reach the ears of the Minister of Transport and the local transport leaders in charge of our streets? How to move their understanding beyond throwaway comments about “speed bumps”?

In my work as an accessibility advisor, I can often see potential for improvement on our streets. Processes can be streamlined for better outcomes – from the initial design process, to quality control over delivery, to ensuring scheduled repaving makes the situation better, not worse.

On occasions, I’ve taken roading engineers and other relevant consultants on a walkabout to review their streetscape design features, especially crossings, and given them the opportunity to experience them using wheelchairs. The outcome has often been very sobering for them.

Maybe it’s time to extend the same invitation to the political leaders and transport executives who are so busily dismissing and downgrading a vital accessibility option that should by all measures be both welcome and uncontroversial.

Come and cross the road with me. What’s the worst that could happen?

As a society, we tend to measure the people who are there, not those who can’t get there. We can do better. Let’s lift our game for more inclusive and accessible public streets. A timely place to start would be elevating our discussion of raised crossings.

A person using a retrofitted raised crossing in Blenheim. Photo by Peter Kortegast, via NZTA/ Waka Kotahi webpage on raised zebra crossings .
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  1. Raised crossings made traffic on arterial roads slow down and made it safer for pedestrians. I can’t think of anything else I have seen in my career that are as effective. Roundabouts slow traffic but make it more difficult for pedestrians. Signals are more of a binary gate. Maybe we got a bit zealous with the approach slopes, but I hope raised crossings make a comeback in Auckland.

    1. The approach slopes need to be steep to slow traffic. They need to be even steeper to slow 4x4s and SUVs, which are simultaneously more dangerous for vulnerable road users and more able to go over raised crossings/speed bumps at speed.

      1. Yes but perhaps they got a bit too aggressive. Towing a trailer over one results in it taking a thump. I think the AT ones were steeper than the Waka Kotahi book.

        1. The ones on Hendon Ave are the steepest I know of, to the point of avoiding driving that way.

      2. Making the slopes steeper and steeper drives more people into SUVs as the streets become un-navigatable to small cars like hatchbacks. Narrowing the space is more effective than a table that damage vehicles that are preferable in an urban environment.

        1. The only way vehicles get “damaged” by a raised crossing is if they try to drive over it too fast. No sympathy here.

        2. People buy big cars because the advertising is at saturation level and we haven’t taken the evidenced steps available to dissuade them. (Ban SUV and Ute advertising, higher registration and parking costs, actual enforcement of the illegal parking that happens when people can’t fit their too big vehicles into their driveways, etc.)

          Better street design typically leads to lower car ownership, not bigger cars

  2. I would add, I am a forty ish year old, father of two primary school age boys, and also have a massive appreciation for raised crossings.

    These reduce the risk of tripping over, slipping or falling over for able bodied persons; they indicate to traffic that pedestrians have the right of way, and that motorised traffic should reduce speed to allow for safe passage.

    Compared to two unraised crossings on Princes Street, between Albert Park and the University of Auckland; a raised crossing outside my eldest’s Hauraki School has an excellent traffic calming effect, as do the other footpath level crossings nearby Hauraki School.

    Neither my sons’ nor I currently suffer from any mobility issues, but with the state of our city, I am constantly worried that an errant driver will remove that privileged status from my children and I.

    We all must continue to advocate for pedestrians, bikes, mobility scooters and other micro transport options; while we also advocate for better public transport, light rail, and other methods that are more friendly to mobility and bike operators.

    We are only not disabled for as long as we haven’t been run over by a drunk driver, and at any given point in our lifetimes, we could lose the use of our legs.
    Less physically-abled persons are our people too!

    bah humbug

    1. Well said Matiu. I too am a father of two primary age children and feel exactly the same way.

    2. flat crossings also indicate that pedestrians have right of way and any modern car will brake for pedestrians independent of whether it will later encounter a raised crossing.

      Smart crossings are a much better idea for warning drivers and vehicles of pedestrians in a crossing without the downsides of speed tables. Kiwis are probably relatively unfamiliar with them but once you’ve seen one in action the light bulbs will (literally and figuratively) go on for you.

      Also if you worry about your children’s safety, non vehicle involved accidents are much higher per km travelled for active modes. They are some of the least safe ways to travel even if every car was banned. Sometimes people have a difficulty discerning between perceived and actual danger (e.g. they much overrate the likelihood of dying in a plane crash and much underrate the likelihood of dying in a non vehicle involved active mode accident). A true understanding of the risks might help you to mode shift to safer modes if fear of injury while travelling is what is currently concerning you.

  3. If you want to experience the benefits of raised crossings, continuous pavements and similar treatment, try taking a walk with any/all of the following:

    – A friend who uses a wheelchair
    – Young children in a pushchair
    – A loaded trolley (any kind)

    Raised crossings make the difference between seamless connectivity and dangerous, wrist-straining slopes, steps and drop-offs. Yes, they need to be designed properly, without giving too much of a “G-DUNK” to people in vehicles. But we know how to do this – it’s in the manual.

  4. Thanks, Vivian for writing this.

    As a transport engineer, I have been shocked at the ZEAL of some Council and govt agencies suddenly pushing back on raised crossings.

    I have had approved, and near-approved raised crossings suddenly reverted / removed from my designs, in some cases with extremely spurious arguments. My “favourite” argument for removal was that “people usually go slow at roundabouts” (so no raised crossings are needed).

    In one case this involved removing raised crossings specifically called for in the Unitary Plan for the area – i.e. spelled out in the precinct rules for the specific intersection – and still, it was treated like some annoyance they suddenly finally had high level backing to kick out. It was (and is) very depressing.

    As an engineer this heavy-handed direction places me into a severe moral quandary. I have an ethical responsibility to prioritise keeping people safe. I committed to that as an Engineering New Zealand member, and as part of my own company ethical statement.

    Yet I am basically told that one of the most efficient measures of improvement is verboten now, and there’s little attempt to replace it with any other safety treatments (not that there are that many good alternatives anyway, especially with the whole push for faster speed limits now).

    It is agonising (and while it may cause me only some sleepless nights – not a figure of speech – this is rather more serious, as it will kill people).

    1. Unfortunately populism and good design are far too often at odds.
      Populism by it’s very nature is preservation of the status quo, or even in the case of speed limits, getting back to the good old days.
      And populism is doubly dangerous when combined with vested commercial interests.
      Unfortunately the commercial interests associated with the motoring and green fields land development are far more powerful and organised then those concerned with the non private car use of our roading corridors.

    2. Of all subsidies for driving, this one is truly priceless — being OK with having a couple of hundreds of people per year dying in traffic accidents.

  5. While I support raised crossings, some have unnecessarily steep aproach ramps. As a Local Board member I advocated for numerous traffic calming measures in my patch as part of an “area-wide” approach (I.e. calming a neighbourhood rather than just individual crossings and that worked fine up until AT began a policy of putting steeply ramped raised crossings on bus routes about 5-6 years ago forcing bus drivers to slow to a crawl as they negotiated the ramps. When I checked with 2 different bus operators what consultation had occurred with them they confirmed that there had been no consultation at all. I also checked with Transport For London who have many raised crossings but none as steep as AT. I understand that recently AT has modified their design spec to reduce the incline of their ramps. Note that even if the kerb is say 150mm high, after allowing for the camber, the height of the table above the general road surface can be less – TFL uses an 80mm spec. I believe that the famous raised crossings on Meola Road are that height. Not to sure what to do about 4WD vehicles, but some smaller wheeled cars definitely struggle with the steeper ramped crossings.

  6. It’s sad we have a government that is waging a war on anything they perceive as “anti-car”, for reasoning such as slowing down traffic, damaging vehicles’ suspension and impeding emergency vehicle access, all of which is insignificant. They have also misinterpreted the implementation costs, including coming up with figures such as $500,000 for a single crossing, which has already been exposed as false.

    All the directives issued by the Minister of Transport, including the ridiculous proposal to reverse speed limit reductions without consultation or further reviews are completely ignorant to all the evidence that they reduce harm. It’s actually scary knowing their agenda is going to put peoples lives at risk for very little economic gain.

  7. So important to hear these voices! And if *anything* shows that people’s safety and wellbeing shouldn’t be put to a popular vote, this is it.

    Design that removes barriers to accessibility is design for everyone. We’re all children to begin with, and with luck, will all make it to our senior years. Meanwhile, even the fittest, most confidently able-bodied person in the middle of life is one stumble away from a temporary or permanent disability (and a crash course in empathy).

    One thing I especially love about raised crossings is that they bring us back to eye-level with each other. That’s both neighbourly, and crucial for better conversations.

    The combination of safe speeds and raised crossings (plus other tried and tested traffic-calming treatments) re-humanises our streets and neighbourhoods. It provides a lifetime cloak of empowerment for entire communities, as more of us can freely and independently access everything we need to live fulfilling lives. Valuable investment, priceless outcomes. More please!

    1. “a lifetime cloak of empowerment for entire communities”

      So well put. Built infrastructure lasts for decades. Designed physical changes are more effective than continually ‘educating’/persuading each driver to do the right thing. People deserve to feel safe in all the neighbourhoods they live in and visit.

  8. Raised zebra crossings, yes, but what about “courtesy crossings” or “pedestrian platforms”? These are three different things; at the latter two, pedestrians do not have right of way. NZTA has guidance for selecting between the latter two, but not (that I found) for the first.

    “Courtesy crossings are intended to facilitate eye contact between pedestrians and drivers resulting in a mutually negotiated position over who goes first.” – not so great for partially sighted pedestrians or hostile drivers. What next, bring back uncontrolled intersections? They’re great for negotiations.

    1. Courtesy crossings are a horrible solution. The ones in Taupo have (had?) “pedestrians must give way to vehicles” signs!

      1. Walford Rd in Pt Chev has the same style ones. Is outside a school, should just remove the ambiguity and put them as pedestrian crossings and give the kids priority.

      2. The exit across the footpath from Takapuna Mall has a sign, pedestrians give way to cars. On a low tolerance day I may well break that sign.

  9. Thanks Vivian for contributing to the argument for raised crossings from a disabled persons point of view .
    So many things to consider for someone say in a wheelchair that an able bodied person such as myself would never think twice about. I hope your article receives wider viewing .

  10. Thanks, Vivian. I recall in the planning stages for the New Lynn bus/train station we had to resolve waiting space vs kerb slope on some narrow footpaths with steep kerbs. I was delighted to see raised tables win out because they addressed both sides of that problem. And hugely improved safety for vulnerable pedestrians at minimal cost.

    If there was a rash of damaged suspensions caused by drivers taking these crossings at sensible speeds, I suspect we would all have heard about it. If anyone harms their vehicle by driving over them too fast on the other hand, that’s on them.

    These recent regressive changes are purely about an ideology of individual ‘freedom’, not any sort of evidence. Any ‘cost’ arguments are also ridiculous given the overall budget for projects and for the transport system as a whole.

  11. AT has found problems with a number of raised crossings that have not been constructed to the correct designed profile. Also, earlier standards for ramps have been found to be too steep. More recently, close control over construction tolerances and use of different preferred profiles have been found by monitoring to work well.
    Design to control SUVs and utes that are made for rough terrain is difficult in urban streets, but we have to do the best we can while avoiding noise and vibration in nearby homes, and giving an acceptable ride for buses, freight trucks and emergency vehicles. This may be difficult, but it’s not impossible.
    The DSI savings already reported show the true value for money, even allowing for the horrendous 2.5 seconds (max) added to journey times.
    New AT guidance should be published soon to enable good use of raised crossings to continue.

  12. Thank you- I agree with every single statement here – particularly “As a society, we tend to measure the people who are there, not those who can’t get there. We can do better. Let’s lift our game for more inclusive and accessible public streets. A timely place to start would be elevating our discussion of raised crossings.”
    Unpaved roads and chaotic traffic may seem like “freedom” and saving public resources to some nations, but a government or community which fails to see the need to build safe and reliable transport infrastructure, which is accessible to all, especially in urban communities, still makes it unsafe and sends a message about what the governments and communities in these places care most about.
    What part of being a motorist gives someone the right to run people over? The victim is still injured or killed irrespective of the drivers’ intentions. The design of our public spaces plays a large part in preventing serious injury.
    With the development of cycle and other small personal micro-mobility vehicles being more common on our streets, there has also been a less welcome push-back from people who do not think that people who choose/need to use this technology should be able to be present in ‘their public spaces’.
    Its time to give this disagreeable lobby group a wake-up call. Public spaces are for everyone to use not just for the ‘able-bodied or otherwise privileged majority! It is now 2024 not 1824! which if you read about it, was a time where ‘disabled’ people were shunned from public view because their presence was considered by the powers that be to be an ‘inconvenience’. No matter who these people are they also let us know ‘what’ they are as well! This would include hearing the driver, while I was a passenger in a car pool cursing about measures such as raised crossings etc.
    Too many drivers have no space in their reasoning for measures such as raising or even the presence of safe pedestrian crossings and too many view them as an inconvenience.
    How ‘safe’ are these people to hold a drivers’ license, or hold a position of influence in this matter? Yr right- its not good enough! Calling these people out and making their attitude unacceptable , will, more than any modifications and bylaws, help make our streets and public spaces safe for everyone. Time to call them out.

    1. Good post.
      Yes, “As a society, we tend to measure the people who are there, not those who can’t get there.” is a good quote.
      Works for cycling as well as for the disabled and pedestrians in general.

  13. A great post from Viv showing an issue neglected by too many people. Designing and constructing really accessible ‘pram’ ramps and gutters is too hard for some engineers. Indeed, many sites make accessible crossing design very difficult. Raised crossings can make many sites much easier to make accessible. Every crossing should be accessible.
    Raised crossings may be the only way to provide an accessible crossing over a steep street – a maximum crossfall of 3% is the most that should be presented to a wheelchair user. Where the road gradient is more than 3%, a raised crossing provides the opportunity to design at least a portion of the crossing width that doesn’t send a wheelchair off down the road. Two examples in Auckland are at Hakanoa Street by Richmond Road and Pilkington Road between Panmure Library and Health Centre.

  14. Carrington Rd crossing is at the point where it deserves grade separation if they’re going to redo the road. Similar with St Lukes Rd traffic lights/the motorway zebra crossings.

    Re raised crossings, I’m broadly in favour, although cost wise they’re taking the piss. Should be able to prefab a bunch, put them on the back of a truck, dig up the crossing/seal the approaches, and done, rather than weeks and weeks of construction like at present. They did a trial for it recently, but that should be the norm. Quick cheap solutions we’ve somehow turned into slow not so cheap solutions.

    Even something like this: or equivalent would be cheaper (could use recycled plastic/make it more colourful) would be something – I’m not affiliated/don’t know this company so not vouching for their solution in particular.

    1. Most of the new ones in Whanganui are prefab ones as you describe. Seem to be installed in a day, if that.

  15. Important FYI regarding drivers perceived rjght of way – While the Land Transport (Road User) 2004 stipulates when a pedestrian must not enter a crossing, no where in the entirety of the legislation does it ever stipulate that a pedestrian must give way.

    1. In a situation where X has right of way over Y then it follows that Y does not have right of way over X.

      The document would get pretty convoluted if it continually said “in situation A, person X does not have to give way to person Y, for the avoidance of doubt this means in situation A, Y does not have right of way over X”

      It also has a common sense statement that all road users should act to avoid accidents regardless of fault or right of way rules (pedestrians included).

  16. As a motorist and able-bodied pedestrian, raised crossings just make sense. I can’t for the life of me see what some people have against them, unless they want to go hell for leather in urban streets to make more for Mammon. Maybe it’s something our wonderful Minister of Transport (whom I tend to refer to by the title of Ian Cross’s 1950s Auckland novel).

  17. Able Bodied Father of 2 Here… Had never given pedestrian safety too much of a thought, being the kind of person that will walk out and hover on the centre line while cars whizz by… However when my kids were born it was really hammered home to me just how hostile our urban environment is… I live in Pukekohe, and im beyond stoked to see the many raised roundabouts going in… These are used by alot of school kids in particular. I would suggest the views of these kids should be given priority over some troll posting on a local community Facebook Page that his journey time across Pukekohe has been delayed by 3 seconds due to 2 new roundabouts…

    1. Totally agree, becoming a parent I think really opens your eyes to how dangerous roads feel. Which is weird because so many of the people who seem to want more, faster roads with as little restrictions as possible are also parents. And perhaps have elderly parents themselves.

      I don’t really understand how they cannot see the contradictions in their statements. I suppose they just don’t care. The other part is making streets safer actually might improve congestion because children can walk, bike to school – no longer need more car drop offs.

      Fewer cars might enable better bus priority on certain routes which increases the attractiveness of taking PT and then again reduces congestion. Sadly we do still have a massive cultural view of PT being for poorer people and most companies still reward the senior people with car parks. Seems a perverse incentive really.

      But agree, how can anyone be against raised tables – ideally we would have them everywhere, and footpaths would actually be continuous heights with narrowed intersections.

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