Cyclists and pedestrians elsewhere often feel that their time is wasted by pedestrian and cycle crossings which are timed in such a way that they prioritize "keeping traffic moving" over people who want to cross roads. This often causes people to cross against a red light, especially if they are in a hurry.
Here in the Netherlands, timings are quite different. This video shows a crossing on the route to school taken by my youngest daughter. The maximum delay is eight seconds. Therefore she never has to wait too long for a green light and I am happy that she is never tempted to cross while the cars are still moving.
If only it could be like this everywhere...
Comparison with the UK
Some years ago, I did some calculations based on a pedestrian crossing which I used with my daughter on the route which we walked to school in Cambridge. This was a very typical crossing for Britain. Even though the highway engineers can correctly claim that the cycle time is the same for motorists and pedestrians, the average delay for motorists still works out as a far shorter time than that for pedestrians:
Assuming that the junction splits time 50:50 for the two different directions, and that there is a 1 minute cycle time, a motorist can expect to be delayed a maximum of 30 seconds. Half of drivers are not delayed at all as the light is already green, and the other half are delayed by an average of 15 seconds, making an overall average delay of just 7.5 seconds for a driver.
On the other hand, a pedestrian only gets to cross if they walk right up to the crossing and push the button. Typically, the green phase for a pedestrian will last as little as 3 or 4 seconds, fitted into the 1 minute cycle. What's more, there is an initial use delay on the button intended to make pedestrians bunch up. The intention of this is to make best use of the this short time and "keep traffic flowing" on the road in the meantime.
So, you push the button. Wait, say, 10 seconds, then have an average delay of (60-4)/2 = 28s. As a result, the average delay for a pedestrian is 38s. That's 8s longer than the maximum for a driver or 5x as long as the average for a driver even though they are subject to the same cycle time.
Now I know that some people will say "it's just a few seconds", but let me explain further. At one time I would walk my children to primary school, then return, walk again to collect them, and return again, using this crossing four times a day. That means that on average the pointless extra delay would consume one and a half minutes each day. That's about as long as it would have taken to make one of the journeys by car. I literally worked the numbers out while waiting for a green light to show.
|Newly built junction in Cambridge,|
England. Cyclists and pedestrians on
shared use path must use four crossings
to cross one road.
As you'll have seen from today's video, it's really not the same here. Cyclists often get to avoid traffic lights altogether so you see far fewer of them than if you drive. However, when you come to a traffic light it will work well for pedestrians and cyclists and not cause you to feel like a second class citizen due to a ridiculous delay. Almost always the junction will have started counting before the button is pressed because it is normal to have both a loop under the ground and a button at junctions. Sometimes such crossings are even set up so that the light defaults to green for the cyclist.
Peter Miller also wrote about delays at a pedestrian crossing in the UK.
Note that the junction at the top also allows cyclists to take a short-cut which isn't open to drivers. This is an example of how unravelling of driving from cycling routes encourages cycling by making it more convenient than driving.
Of course, some traffic lights in the Netherlands are not so ideal. But I've yet to find one which appears to be set up specifically to annoy pedestrians as sometimes seems the case in the UK. The day after this post, Gaz545 wrote a response which shows "Delays at crossings in the United Kingdom".