Toucan Play That Game – Let’s not make the mistake of continuing to lump pedestrians and cyclists together

A new style ‘zebra’ crossing with a cycle crossing bolted onto it is in place in Bexley.

Picture courtesy of Phil Jones

Picture courtesy of Phil Jones

This is a trial version of this new type of crossing, which is proposed in the Department for Transport’s consultation on TSRGD 2015 [pdf] –

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 11.55.52

Some people (including me!) have been a wee bit sceptical about this crossing, and so I think it’s worth setting out why, in long form.

Before I get started, it’s obviously worth stating that priority crossings for bikes are plainly a very good idea in principle, and it’s great that the DfT are open to new ideas, and that this kind of crossing (which could work well, in the right circumstances) is being trialled, on street. I am an optimist, and this does represent progress.

However, there are grounds for concern. Mainly, it’s that this design remains a pedestrian-specific piece of infrastructure, that has had some cycle provision bolted onto it.

Walking and cycling are different modes of transport, with different design requirements, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to lump them in together, on the same crossing.

This is why I made comments voicing concern about this crossing actually being given a name, because doing so legitimises treating walking and cycling the same way. As we shall see, the Dutch don’t name walking and cycling crossings that happen to be next to each other, for the obvious reason that they are entirely separate things.


There is, of course, an existing British crossing that lumps pedestrians and cyclists in together, that has a name – the Toucan.

Toucan crossing, Hyde Park. Note how cyclists and pedestrians mingle with each other, despite their different speeds and requirements.

Toucan crossing, Hyde Park Corner, London. Note how cyclists and pedestrians mingle with each other, despite their different speeds and requirements.

I think it’s fair to say that Toucans are a pedestrian-specific piece of infrastructure that have had cycling bodged into them. They are pedestrian crossings that simply allow cycling, and for that reason they are sub-optimal.

They tend to treat people who are cycling as pedestrians, rather than giving them their own clear distinct routes across junctions. It makes cycling slower and more inconvenient. It’s bad for people cycling, and it’s also bad for people walking, as it creates confusion and unnecessary hazards.

Toucans are obviously not worse than having no cycle crossing at all, but they are worse than crossings that treat pedestrians and cyclists separately. Finally, toucan crossings can provide an incentive to create ‘sharing’ areas away from the crossings – shared used pavements, and so on – because the crossings themselves are shared.

A Toucan at Stratford, with shared use footways on either side

A Toucan at Stratford, with shared use footways on either side

Flexibility, and designing separately

Now it is possible to delineate Toucan crossings, providing separate walking and cycling routes across a junction, as in this example from Jitensha Oni –

Courtesy of Jitensha Oni

Courtesy of Jitensha Oni

But we don’t have to do this – it’s perfectly possible to provide a cycle crossing that is entirely separate from a pedestrian one, with their own respective signals, rather than one set of ‘Toucan’ signals.

Tavistock Place cycle track, with signals, running parallel to separate pedestrian crossing

Tavistock Place cycle track, with signals, running parallel to separate pedestrian crossing

And this is, unsurprisingly, how the Dutch design. They treat walking and cycling as different modes, and provide separate signals, and crossing paths, rather than lumping the modes in together, like a Toucan would.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 16.15.54

Besides the crossing routes keeping the two modes separate, there are good reasons for doing this. Pedestrians and cyclists will take different amounts of time to cross a road, and the signals can be adjusted accordingly, with pedestrians given more time. If there are no pedestrians waiting to cross, the ‘green time’ can be shorter.

Of course, the kind of crossing pictured above doesn’t have a name – it’s, well, a bike crossing that happens to be near to a crossing for pedestrians.

And much the same is true of the way the Dutch treat unsignalised crossings. The pedestrian crossing (zebra or otherwise) is a separate element from the cycling crossing, which may or may not have priority. Sometimes the two ‘bits’ are close to each other, sometimes they are not – but at no point are they the same ‘thing’.

This means the Dutch have a great deal of flexibility in how they design crossings. They can, for instance, put a (two-stage) bicycle crossing, without priority, next to a zebra, if that makes sense. Pedestrians have priority on the zebra, but cyclists don’t have priority.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 23.54.46

Of course, you could have the same arrangement, but with cycling priority. The key point is flexibility, and treating the two modes separately, at all times.

However, this flexibility is not available with the DfT’s proposed new ‘combined’ zebra crossing, which, to repeat, is a cycle crossing tacked onto a pedestrian crossing. It’s worth quoting here what the Cycling Embassy had to say about this ‘cycle zebra’ –

We are concerned that the proposed ‘cycle zebra’ is simply repeating the mistakes of shared use paths and toucan crossings – namely, that cyclists are simply ‘botched in’ to an existing design, without concern for the needs of cyclists.

We are particularly concerned that there is insufficient difference between the proposed ‘cycle zebra’ and an ordinary zebra crossing, and that drivers may not appreciate the need to yield to (faster) approaching cyclists…

We also note that there is potential for great ambiguity (and hence danger) in the existing rules for zebra crossings, whereby drivers must give way only once pedestrians are on the crossing itself. The dangers of this ambiguity are intensified with faster moving cyclists.

We also feel that the regulations with respect to crossings do not give sufficient flexibility to allow for appropriate crossings to be designed in many circumstances, particularly in the vicinity of road junctions. (For instance, the use of elephants’ footprint markings, with give markings, to indicate cycle track crossings across junctions).

Consequently we suggest that controlled area ‘zig-zag’ markings, zebra crossing markings, and elephants’ footprints cycle crossing markings should be prescribed separately as ‘building blocks’, and that it should be the responsibility of the designer to identify how or if these should be combined in each particular instance, including allowing for combinations with stop and give way lines at junctions.

There are practical problems with cyclists using zebra crossings in this way, because of priority rules that only give priority to pedestrians once they are actually on the crossing. This is really quite unhelpful (and potentially dangerous) for cyclists, who will obviously usually be arriving at crossings at a greater speed than pedestrians.

People cycling would really benefit, instead, from a much more straightforward cycle-specific priority crossing, that can simply be placed adjacent to a pedestrian-specific zebra.

Cycle zebra?

Once this new ‘cycle zebra’ crossing has a name, I fear it will encourage – just as the Toucan crossing has – the employment of shared use footways, and general ambiguity in the areas surrounding crossings, because that’s the easiest way out for designers who don’t have a great deal of interest in doing things properly.

As the Embassy response argues, it would be far better if we could employ priority cycling crossings (something we can already provide!) in the vicinity of zebras, while continuing to treat the two crossings as distinct, separate elements, rather than putting an ambiguous cycle crossing onto the zebra itself.

This ‘building block’ technique, as employed by the Dutch, gives much greater flexibility to designers and engineers – they can decide where to place crossings, how to mark them up, and whether or not to give priority to pedestrians and/or cyclists.

It’s laudable that the DfT are (finally!) open to new ideas, but I worry that this minor ‘cycle zebra’ concession may lead us down an unhelpful path, already trodden by the Toucan, and actually inhibit the development of the more useful and practical ‘building block’ approach – which would also require some stripping away of the (often needless) requirements for zebra crossings.

Time will tell.

This entry was posted in Department for Transport, Infrastructure, The Netherlands, Zebra crossings. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Toucan Play That Game – Let’s not make the mistake of continuing to lump pedestrians and cyclists together

  1. This strikes me as a not intrinsically bad feature, just it has been used very poorly in that first example, where the designer has designed for a flow of cyclists exactly as if it had been a flow of pedestrians. It’s not as bad in principle as the Toucan, which always leads to a mess that can’t cope with a large flow of pedestrians and/or cyclists simultaneously and efficiently. I can think of circumstances where this design would be appropriate: for example, where a cycle route on paths or filtered roads crosses a through-road that is not sufficiently busy to warrant signals.

  2. opaangell says:

    Why are the sharks teeth backwards?

  3. Mark says:

    As you say, I would think that ‘desire lines’ for pedestrians and cyclists rarely coincide, so it doesn’t make much sense to always group them together like this.

    On Dutch crossings, you said: “The pedestrian crossing (zebra or otherwise) is a separate element from the cycling crossing, which may or may not have priority.”
    Out of interest, how is the “may or may not have priority” aspect represented to users?

    • Phil Jones says:

      Desire lines rarely coincide? Got an example?

    • As far as I understand it, the Dutch have priorities and non-prioritised crossings for both pedestrians and cycles.

      Cycle crossings take one of two forms. Crossings with priority have elephant footprint markings and give way markings (sharks teeth) on the main carriageway (and are often red asphalt). Non-priority crossings have thin white dashed lines across the carriageway to delineate the crossing and give way markings on the cycleway (see picture above).

      Pedestrian crossing always have zebra stripes. Priority crossings also have give way (sharks teeth) markings on the main carriageway alongside the zebra markings. Non-priority do not have the give way markings and these behave much more like zebras in the UK where the pedestrian waits on the curb and drivers are expected but not required to yield to a waiting pedestrian.

  4. Phil Jones says:

    We have the building block approach you’re asking for. We can have a ped only zebra, and about 10m away we can have a bike priority crossing. With the new Zoucan (!) crossing we now have the ability to put them close together if that’s appropriate – and in my view it often will be. Or do you think (as I was told by Guide Dogs once) peds and cyclists have different destinations?

    I’m sorry, but I’m really not sure what the problem is here.


    PS please don’t get mislead by the early scheme from Erith. It only has two sets of five ways because the priority crossing isn’t legal until March 2015.

  5. Alex says:

    Cycling across a toucan this morning, white van man blasts through the red light shouting at me ‘it’s a faaccckin’ pedestrian crossing’. So yes, they are a bit rubbish.

  6. Phil Jones says:

    Which is why a Zoucan is better. It is conspicuously different from a Zebra, with bike logos on the separate bike part.

  7. ORiordan says:

    There is a photo of Hyde Park Corner in the article. Picking up on this, during weekday peak commuting times my perception is this crossing is totally dominated by cyclists crossing and I wouldn’t be surprised if pedestrians find it a bit intimidating. At weekends it is different with more tourists and less people on bikes. The EW Superhighway plans don’t appear to have any proposed changes to this location but if there is a large increase in cyclists, I can’t see how this crossing will be able to cope.

    • I think the Superhighway plans must address this area. The scheme put in in 2012 is a mess. The cycle and pedestrian routes need to be clear and separated. Getting it right here would be a good example for the rest of the country.

  8. Jitensha Oni says:

    Toubras might be sensibly employed on the arms of fairly quiet roundabouts and maybe near schools. Signalisation is probably needed everywhere else.

    What I didn’t like about the crossing in my photo is that pedestrians get a button to push but bike riders don’t. Later on the same ride, one enterprising young man discovered the solution to this…

  9. George says:

    For me what’s specifically good here is allowing one set of belisha beacons to mark both crossings. This is clear to the motorist and a huge cost saving that means these crossings may actually get implemented.

    Now, the example given is actually missing one set of ‘yield’ markings, on the pedestrian side, so I hope it’s not the actual proposal. And I would prefer those to be swapped for Give Way markings, to fix the point about higher bicycle speeds meaning that we need a marking that isn’t only about people that are already on the crossing.

    But basically the idea is hugely positive. And there’s a zebra outside my house that needs to be one of these!

  10. So little love for the toucan! We have both cycle-only full traffic lights for cycling in Cambridge, and we have toucans in many locations. My preference is for toucans, where possible, because you can legally give way on red. Admittedly, this is using the only tool available to achieve the desired effect: if we could have a give-way cycle only crossing, that would be better.

    I take the point about the combination being unhelpful in some ways, but I think wherever the crossings exist there are desire lines for both walking and cycling.

    This toucan also has pedestrian / cycle separation
    It’s not very successful, but I think that has more to do with the fact that’s it’s joining two unsegregated paths rather than because it can’t work.

    • Paul says:

      Legally give way on red ?? A useful feature of the Toucan is the absence of a red bike – you can cross any time without priority but do have priority over crossing traffic when there is a green bike showing. Pretty well ideal.

    • paulc says:

      Toucans are fine when they allow you to cross the entire road in one go and react promptly to your button press. What is NOT nice is when they make them two stage and effectively make the button a placebo and make you wait for the traffic lights at that junction to cycle through to the next pedestrian phase and also cage you in the middle in a narrow staggered space which is very tight for people with bicycles.

  11. Paul says:

    I would be very happy to give these a chance especially on relatively quiet roads. The problem with signalled crossings is that traffic engineers are scared of reducing “capacity” on roads and so build in long delays for pedestrians (who can legally ignore the signal) and cyclists (who can’t – if there is a dedicated signal). Cue increased moans about cyclists ignoring signals.

  12. Paul says:

    The worst feature of the “Cycling and walking” syndrome is that authorities think of relevant distances in the same way and file under “local”. See the Government’s pathetic action plan. This leads , for example , to a superhighway from Hounslow into London being vetoed by Kensington and Chelsea council the route would have to go through that borough.

  13. paulc says:

    why does the trial crossing have give way markings for the cyclists to pause at? are they terrified the cyclists might just roll straight out?

  14. Phil Jones says:

    Not my scheme! Just a local authority willing to jump the gun – brilliant. I’ve not been there yet.

  15. freoishome says:

    I think the Embassy comments are spot on, encouraging new ideas, but being firm about treating Pedestrians and Cyclists very differently. In Western Australia we are dogged with decades of RAC influence and the creation of shared paths, don’t do anything to let that get a foot hold, as once they are in place they are virtually impossible to remove. Occasional riders or those just getting into cycling want shared paths where the choice is only roads or sharing, RAC has latched onto that; but once a rider gets confident and competent, quite a rapid process, they soon discover the increased risks of sharing, and the antipathy of pedestrians towards riders using ‘their ‘ paths.

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