Wednesday, 27 January 2010

A history of pedestrian crossings

A site hosted by one of our local anti-car traffic planners, Hamilton-Baillie Associates, leads us to this fascinating article, Crossing the Road in Britain, 1931-1976.
  • The 1930 Road Traffic Act removed the 30 mph speed limit. It was re-instated in 1934 even though pedestrian deaths had fallen.
  • When Belisha Beacons first came out there was a campaign against them, the captain gatso of its day, and people used to throw stones at them to break them. This idea of campaigning against zebra crossings appeals to us, though we do like the fact they act as short-stay parking for shoppers.
  • In 1934 the Daily Telegraph was running its anti-pedestrian campaign then, calling for punishment for bad/careless/dangerous walking, while the Daily Mail was complaining that the government was picking on the motorist.
  • A national road safety foundation, the NSFA, strongly funded by the motoring companies, resisted needless government interference -driving licenses, 30 mph limits- and instead focused on educating children and pedestrians.
  • Pedestrian barriers were put in in London to stop pedestrians crossing except at approved points. We thought they were there to keep bicycles in the kerb and take away our paveparking, but clearly not.
  • The Times was campaigning against Zebra crossings way back in 1954. We thought our Zebras belong in Zoos campaign was innovative, but not only were we merely reflecting the ongoing activities of Bristol's drivers, the war against zebra crossings has been going on for over fifty years.
  • Light controlled junctions (first, "panda" crossings) to keep pedestrians out our way went in the early 1960s, ever since then slow, unfit people have been whining about not getting enough time. Move faster! Isn't walking meant to keep you fit! You put your foot down when we rev our engines and sound our horns -so why wait until then!
  • These panda crossings were like zebra x-ings with a red light too, a "stop" and a "really-stop" for cars, and pedestrians had to wait for a really stop bit to pull out.
  • Later pelican crossings had the stop/really stop bit, the flashing lights phase. Originally it meant that pedestrians could still cross, but now its been changed to cars can get in gear then go, like the red-amber phase on traffic lights
  • It was a socialist government, and Barbara Castle, that introduced motorway speed limits and brethalyzers -the big anti-driver laws of the 1960s.
It's a fascinating twenty page read to see the struggle to resist anti-car pedestrians -historically the poor and working class, now the over-educated elitists. Our backers have been the people who get things doe -the House of Lords, the police, the German and Italian fascist goverments (Germany did introduce a "careless walking" fine as well as building the A-Bahn's). It's also interesting to see how the Daily Mail and Telegraph haven't suddenly jumped on the bandwagon needs of us, the British Motorist, they have been supporting us for as long as they've been saying Oswald Mosely and Enoch Powell should be listened to.

It's a shame to see so many attempts to rein in the pedestrians have failed -we never knew about red-painted kerbs at £20 spot fines for pedestrians, but apparently this was tried in central london in 1966. Bring it back, we say! All that has gone in from those time is the separation strategy, pedestrian overpasses and underpasses.

We shall cover them soon, as our fellow-travellers the Association of British Drivers are trying to bring them back to the Bristol centre. Now we have better historical understanding of their origin we can put them in their context.

On thing on the final page of the article:
Policy innovations seem to have been inspired not by casualty figures or public outcry about them, but by two main factors : popular hostility towards, confusion about, or lack of observance of previous pedestrian crossings or road safety campaigns ; and the desire not to impede traffic flow as congestion in town centres worsened.
We say: exactly. Zebra crossings impede traffic flow, as do other pedestrians running around our streets.

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