Thursday, May 10, 2007

Making Everyone Cross

When I was working in Norwich last year (which I'll be doing again soon, although for a different client), I first encountered a new style of pedestrian crossing which I have recently learned is called a Puffin Crossing. I wasn't impressed. They are confusing, and to my mind not very user-friendly, despite what the acronym stands for (see Wikipedia article). Incidentally, the name is obviously a desperate attempt to crowbar some meaning into the word Puffin whilst keeping the name of the crossing aligned with names of other crossings: Pelican, Zebra, Pegasus (equestrian), Toucan (bicycles), Panda (now defunct), Tiger (rare). Feel free to grab any of these crossing names and produce a convincing acronym.

Trouble is, they're cropping up everywhere. I've encountered them in Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Leeds. It looks like they are going to become the new norm.

I've tried to understand the logic, and I think I get some of it, although my conclusions differ from the reasons they give.

Okay, having the red and green man on the same side of the road as the pedestrian might make it easier for the visually impaired who might struggle to see him from across the road. On the other hand, if there's a crowd at the crossing, only those immediately next to the controls will be able to see the indicators, everyone else's view being obstructed by the people closest to the controls.

In contrast, with a standard Pelican crossing, the vast majority of the people at the crossing can see the green/red man, even though he is across the street, and provision is made for those of restricted vision by the audio signal. In some cases, for both Pelican and Puffin crossings, there is an additional tactile feedback device built in to the crossings controls that make additional provision for the visually and/or aurally impaired.

They claim that the benefit is that as you wait, you can check out the traffic at the same time that you check the status of the red/green man. This isn't a particularly strong argument at all. It means you might be aware of traffic coming towards you from the first half of the road you are going to cross, but you are facing in the opposite direction to traffic coming from the second half of that same road. With a Pelican crossing, the red/green man is in the middle, so you can easily direct your attention to either side, and see traffic coming from both directions.

The only justification I can think of - and I haven't see it in any of the literature that attempts to convince the great unwashed that Puffin crossings are A Good Thing - is that the signals used by a Pelican crossing draw your eyes, attention, and direction across the road, making you more inclined to cross. The Puffin signals, by drawing your eyes to one side, make you more inclined to wait.

It also occurs to me that the introduction of this new style of crossing is going to mean a lot of guide dogs need to be re-trained, and for quite a while, there's going to be a period where those dogs will have to cope with two different set of signally systems. So does the introduction of this new thing really help the visually impaired? I doubt it very much.


Inexplicable DeVice said...

The Puffin crossings are infernal devices (no relation)!

I've a good mind to take them all out with a well placed oil slick.

Tickersoid said...

I don't need persuading.

Just tell me this, why did the fish eating bird cross the road?

Da Nator said...

Wait, you mean in the UK you actually pay attention to those signs?

Al said...

Isn't one of the other 'features' of a Puffin that it senses that someone is still standing at the crossing, thus ending the child's game (or let's face it, Drunken adult's game) of "Let's annoy the drivers by pressing the button and then walking off". As well as that, it has a sensor that works out if you're a bit slow and still on the crossing, holding the traffic until you're safely across.

Oh, and it has no "flashing amber" phase either.

That said, I can't see any reason why they couldn't have just put those features on a normal Pelican and kept the signal on the other side.

The only 'feature' I want, is the one where it works out that there are actually people waiting to cross, but not one of them has had the sense to push the button!