Pedestrian crossing

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This crossing in London was famously featured on the cover of The Beatles' album Abbey Road.

A pedestrian crossing or crosswalk is a designated point on a road at which some means are employed to assist pedestrians wishing to cross. They are designed to keep pedestrians together where they can be seen by motorists, and where they can cross most safely with the flow of vehicular traffic. Pedestrian crossings are often at intersections, but may also be at other points on busy roads that would otherwise be perilous to attempt to cross. They are common near schools or in other areas where there are a large number of children. Crosswalks can be considered a traffic calming technique.

Crossings may just consist of some markings on the pavement in low-traffic areas. However, in busier areas, they usually have special signals consisting of electric lamps or light-emitting diode (LED) panels. A button is often provided to trigger the signal. These signals may be integrated into a regular traffic light arrangement or may be on their own if the crossing is not at an intersection. Audible or tactile signals may also be included to assist people who have poor sight. Sites with extremely high traffic (freeways or motorways) may instead use pedestrian bridges. A variation on the bridge concept, often called a skyway or skywalk, is sometimes implemented in regions that experience inclement weather.

Special markings are often made on the road surface, both to direct pedestrians and to prevent motorists from stopping vehicles in the way of foot traffic. There are many varieties of signal and marking layouts around the world and even within single countries. In the United States, there are many inconsistencies, although the variations are usually minor. There are several distinct types in the United Kingdom, each with their own name.

Pedestrian refuges or small islands in the middle of a street may be added when a street is very wide, as these crossings can be too long for some individuals to cross in one cycle. In places where there is very high pedestrian traffic, pedestrian scrambles (also known as Barnes Dances) may be used, which stop vehicular traffic in all directions at the same time. Another relatively widespread variation is the Curb (or kerb) extension (also known as a bulb-out) which narrows the width of the street and is used in combination with crosswalk markings.

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Crosswalk button in Paris

Pedestrian crossings in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, animal names are used to distinguish several types of such crossings:

Belisha beacons are often used in the UK and in New Zealand to warn drivers of a crossing. The colored lights of the signal are red and green.

Crosswalks in North America

In the USA, crosswalks are usually marked with white stripes, though every municipality seems to have a slightly different method, style, or pattern for doing so (and the styles vary over time as intersections are built and replaced). There are two main methods for road markings in the United States. Most frequently, they are marked with two thick white lines running from one side of the road to the other. A shorter third line is usually also present, to be used as a stop point for vehicles and discourage drivers from pulling into the crosswalk. The more easily visible zebra stripes (like UK zebra crossings) are seeing increasing usage in place of the two-line variant.

Crosswalks are usually placed at traffic intersections or crossroads, but are occasionally used between intersections near schools or other popular pedestrian destination. In the United States, such crossings may be marked by signs such as "PED XING" (for "pedestrian crossing"), by flashing yellow lights, by stop signs, or by full traffic signals. At a crossing without a traffic signal, the vehicles must yield right of way to a pedestrian or bicyclist who has already entered the crosswalk.

At crossings controlled by signals, the most common variety is arranged like this: At each end of a crosswalk, the poles which hold the traffic lights also have WALK and DON'T WALK signs, usually lighted with white fluorescent argon tubes and red-orange neon tubes, respectively. Modern signals in the United States tend to feature an orange hand and a white pedestrian symbol instead of the WALK/DON'T WALK signs. Additionally, LEDs have replaced the tubes in many modern installations. As a warning, the WALK or walking man signals may begin to blink when the transition to DON'T WALK is imminent.

Crosswalks have also been adapted for the blind by adding two small loudspeakers at each corner, chirping when it is safe to cross east-west, and cuckooing for north-south. Salt Lake City has had these for years; other towns include Yakima, Washington and Waynesville, North Carolina, and they are becoming more widespread in Southern California. The speakers are not usually installed at every crosswalk in a city.

Some pedestrian signals integrate a countdown timer, showing how many seconds are remaining until the vehicular traffic will be allowed to proceed through the crosswalk. Some also incorporate a button on the near side to allow a pedestrian to "tell" the system that a pedestrian is waiting for a WALK signal, which may or may not produce the desired signal more quickly -- although some systems for busy roadways will increase motor traffic flow by not producing a WALK signal at all unless such a button is pushed.

Enhancements for disabled users

Pedestrian controlled crossings are sometimes provided with enhanced features to assist the disabled. Enhancements may include:

  • Tactile cones near the control button. These rotate when the pedestrian signal is green - the image of a "green man". This provides an indication to pedestrians incapable of seeing the lights that a crossing is possible with a degree of safety.
  • Tactile surfacing pattern laid flush within the adjacent footways (US: sidewalks), so that visually impaired pedestrians can locate the control box and cone device and know when their crossing has been accomplished.
  • Audible signals, such as beeps, in order to assist blind or partially sighted pedestrians; or a short recorded message, as in Scotland.
  • Vibrating button in addition to audible signal is used in Australia to assist the hearing-impaired.

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