The Daily Mail reports –
The zebra crossing is facing extinction just as it prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary in Britain, experts have revealed. The iconic crossing is being phased out and replaced with more sophisticated substitutes after a rise in deaths in the last four years. Ironically, the crossings were first introduced in Britain to tackle mounting road deaths in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But it seems the effectiveness of the crossing today could be in decline as it emerged many drivers fail to stop for pedestrians walking over the black and white painted pathway.
… during the last five years more than 1,000 zebra crossings have vanished and many others have been replaced by fewer more sophisticated alternatives with lights and flashing signs. Low fines and the reluctance of motorists to stop have also seen deaths on zebra crossings double in the last four years. Andrew Hammond, head of road safety at the AA, said: ‘Zebra crossings are looked on as inferior to other pedestrian crossings as there is no red light telling cars to stop. ‘In towns and villages there is a pressure from residents for councils to fit pelican crossings as they believe they are safer, so zebras are being phased out. I suspect zebra crossings will continue to have a role in some busy town centres where they can be effective at helping people cross without constantly stopping the traffic. But in villages and towns I think they will eventually become extinct.’
Mr Hammond said the solution is having more crossing points for pedestrians, even if they are not fully-fledged zebras or pelicans. Zebra-crossings could be down-graded so they indicate a good place for pedestrians to cross and motorists know to watch out for them, but are not legally obliged to stop,’ he said.
The first thing to observe is the entirely car-centric perspective of the AA’s ‘road safety’ representative, Andrew Hammond. For him, zebra crossings are considered useful only in locations where they can help people cross ‘without constantly stopping the traffic.’ The type of crossing, in other words, is entirely dependent upon the impact on motor vehicle flow, which should naturally come first, even in towns. The idea that pedestrians should be able to cross roads in towns and villages when they want to (which is the key advantage of zebra crossings) – even if that might mean stopping the traffic, momentarily – is apparently anathema to the AA.
Likewise, for Mr Hammond, a better ‘solution’ for allowing people to cross is to replace the zebra crossing with a down-graded version, at which motorists merely have to ‘watch out’ for pedestrians, while not being ‘legally obliged to stop.’ Of course, what this actually means are that zebra crossings are being ‘downgraded’ to the status of ‘a road’ – although the ‘motorists watching out’ part of this equation is increasingly denuded.
The evidence that zebra crossings do actually ‘stop the traffic’ (beyond the trivial sense of stopping it while pedestrians are crossing) is not provided. I’m not at all sure how or why the presence of these crossings increases overall motor vehicle journey times – in my experience, they merely delay the time at which a motor vehicle arrives at the tail end of the next queue in a town or city. Slow journey times in built-up areas are entirely a function of other vehicles, not pedestrian crossings of any kind.
In any case, the motive behind the removal of these crossings is allegedly ‘safety'; they are, it seems, inferior to other crossing systems (which almost entirely involve pedestrian delay) because, in Mr Hammond’s words, ‘there is no red light telling cars to stop.’ Apparently motorists are increasingly having a hard time working out how to stop their vehicles without the presence of a light signal telling them to do so. This is rather interesting, given that there is no red light telling cars to stop at ‘give way’ junctions, yet they usually manage to stop there. The meaning of the dashed lines at junctions is well understood. Likewise, all drivers know they have to yield to pedestrians crossing on a zebra. They just know they can escape punishment for not doing so. In other words – despite the logic of the man from the AA – this is a problem of enforcement, not of a lack of a red light.
Despite the already rapidly dwindling number of zebra crossings in the UK, they (or their equivalent) are rather prevalent on the continent; indeed, they are in rude health. Here are some examples –
Directly outside the main entrance of Gare Cornavin, Geneva’s central station. An enormous crossing, on which pedestrians have priority.
Place du Neuve, Geneva. A large, rather busy square, across which there is a long zebra crossing. Not sure if it is legal to cycle across it, but cars were happy to yield to this family.
Intersection of Rue du Mont Blanc and Rue de Berne, Geneva. Zebra crossings where people want to cross. (To the left, Rue du Mont Blanc has been completely pedestrianised, although I am not sure how recently).
Other examples of the Geneva streetscape –
More photos can be found in my post here.
Paris also has rather a large number of zebra crossings –
My picture here gives the misleading impression that this is a quiet road, but this is actually the Quai des Grands Augustin, the racetrack running along the south side of the Seine. A zebra crossing here too.
More zebra crossings – again, these are rather typical in plenty of Parisian districts. More photos of Paris, and its zebra crossings, can be found here.
And in a typical Swiss town, plenty of zebra crossings too, precisely where pedestrians want them.
Rather hard to see, but there are in fact three pedestrian crossings here, within the space of a hundred metres. This is the main road into Nyon from the north, where it goes under the railway station. Because pedestrians will be walking to the station at these points, they have been provided for.
Other spots in Nyon town centre –
And directly outside the front entrance of Nyon train station, we again see a zebra crossing, meaning that passengers arriving by train can walk directly across the road, without delay, into the town.
Now to compare with my town, Horsham. At what is quite possibly one of the busiset locations for pedestrians in the entire town – the eastern end of the pedestrianised West Street – there is no zebra crossing. Pedestrians – despite vastly outnumbering the motor vehicles passing through – have to defer, as shown in the photos below.
Not good enough.
In fact, there is only one zebra crossing in the entire town; I strongly suspect it was only put in because it provides direct access from the town centre to a Sainsbury’s supermarket built on a school playing field in the 1990s. There was no pedestrian crossing prior to this development.
You can see it in use in Google Streetview.
Wait there, lady!
Perhaps the Google Streetview driver was confused by the absence of a red light.