In my childhood of the 1950s the way you got across a busy road, although there weren’t many busy roads in Lincoln then, was at a crossing marked by flashing Belisha beacons. These were introduced in 1934 by then Minister of transport Leslie Hore-Belisha. Black and white stripes were soon added on the road surface, and these became known as zebra crossings. Their essential feature was that pedestrians have priority over traffic while on the crossing.
Traffic levels began to increase, and I remember in 1962 Lincoln was chosen, along with Guildford, to trial some new-fangled Panda crossings. Here there were the beacons, but only lit some time after a pedestrian pressed a button signalling they wanted to cross. The balance of power was changing; the pedestrian no longer appeared to have right of way.
The Pandas didn’t really take off, but in 1969 came Pelican crossings which in various guises, are still with us today. The pedestrian presses a button indicating their need to cross, which eventually triggers traffic lights to change in their favour. In practice, this often means a significant wait.
Pelican is a sort of acronym from PEdestrian LIght CONtrolled, giving an illusion of control by the pedestrian. Actually, the balance of power has swung decisively to the motorist; the pedestrian no longer has right of way, in the interests of traffic flow.
Thus was a fundamental freedom to cross the road gradually restricted as we increased our great love affair with the motor car.
Sadly, the Pelican approach has subsequently been over-used. New crossings seem to be Pelican-style as a norm, rather than zebra crossings. Simple observation shows that on a little-used (by pedestrians) crossing, much time is spent waiting to no good purpose by both pedestrians and vehicles – and when it’s foul weather or in hot sun, guess who suffers more. The old-style zebra crossing with Belisha beacons is far more efficent, with little waiting by either.
Knutsford’s main through road has 2 zebras and three pelicans. I know where I choose to cross.
Bring back the zebras and Belisha’s wonderful beacons!
Featured image of Abbey Road zebra crossing
by Josephenus P. Riley, via Wikimedia Commons