Pedestrian Crossings

In the UK, the country with the safest roads in the world (IRTAD), there are currently five types of formal pedestrian crossings in use, these being Zebra, Pelican, Puffin, Toucan and Pegasus crossings. The most basic form of crossing is a pedestrian refuge, this is usually in the form of an island in the centre of the road, where pedestrians may wait in relative safety while vehicles pass on either side.

pedestrian-crossing_uk_zebra-01ZEBRA crossings (left) are the oldest type, and are marked by black and white painted strips across the road and flashing amber beacons. The British ‘Highway Code’ says that motorists “must give way when a person has moved onto a crossing”. It is advised, however, that pedestrians should remain on the kerb, for safety’s sake, until approaching vehicles have stopped. Zebra crossings are cheaper to build than traffic signal crossings although their use on roads where traffic speeds are higher than 35mph is not recommended.


White zig-zag lines are used down both sides of the road and along the centre line of the road, both before and after the Zebra crossing, as shown above. These increase the warning to approaching drivers and also create a zone in which parking and overtaking (i.e. ‘passing’) are strictly forbidden.

The black and white poles, with flashing yellow lights on top (see photo, above), are called Belisha Beacons and are named after Leslia Hore-Belisha, the British Minister of Transport who introduced them, for added conspicuity of Zebra crossings, in 1934. (He also introduced the driving test to Britain.)

PELICAN  (Pedestrian Light Controlled Crossing) crossings have red/amber*/green signals facing drivers, and red man/green man signal heads on the opposite side of the road to the pedestrians waiting to cross. A pedestrian push button unit operates these. When the red man is lit pedestrians should not cross (although it is not against the law to do so). The Highway Code says that when the steady red signal to traffic is lit then drivers MUST stop. The green man will then light for pedestrians and they should, having checked that it is safe to do so, cross the road. When the green man begins to flash pedestrians should not start to cross although there is still enough time for those on the crossing to finish their journey safely. At all Pelican crossings (apart from ‘staggered’ crossings) there is a bleeping sound to indicate to the visibility impaired when the steady green man is lit.

PUFFIN  (Pedestrian User-Friendly INtelligent) crossings differ from Pelican crossings as they do not have a flashing green man/flashing amber signal. The overall crossing time is established each time by on-crossing pedestrian detectors. The demand for the crossing is still triggered by the push button unit but kerbside pedestrian detectors are fitted to cancel demands that are no longer required (when a person crosses before the green man lights). At the latest Puffin crossings the red man/green man signals are above the push button unit on the pedestrians’ side of the road. This layout encourages pedestrians waiting at the crossing to look at the approaching traffic at the same time as looking at the red man/green man signal.

Many people in Britain have asked for Zebra crossings to be changed to Puffin crossings, believing them to be safer. Recent research has shown that the safety record of both types is very similar and that, in some cases, Zebras are safer.

[Source:  Hull City Council, Kingston-upon-Hull, England]

TOUCAN crossings are designed for both pedestrians and cyclists and are typically used adjacent to a cycle-path (Cyclists are not allowed to cross the road using Zebra, Pelican or Puffin crossings). There is a green cycle symbol alongside the green man. At the latest Toucan crossings the crossing time is established each time by on-crossing detectors in the same way as Puffins. The cost of a Toucan is similar to that of a Puffin.

PEGASUS crossings are similar to Toucan crossings but have a red/green horse symbol and higher mounted push buttons to allow horse riders to cross. This type of crossing is only used where many crossing movements are made across a busy main road.

‘Staggered’ PELICAN, PUFFIN and TOUCAN crossings – When the crossings on each side of a central island are not in line they are two separate crossings. Pedestrians should cross the road in two stages by pressing the push buttons for each crossing and waiting for the green man to light at each separate crossing. Because it may lead to confusion between crossings there is no bleeper at ‘staggered’ traffic signal crossings. There may be a tactile signal to help deaf blind people in this instance.

* Note:  In the USA, the traffic signal and direction indicator colour (color!) referred to as amber in the UK is known as yellow.

To address the needs of disabled and mobility impaired persons, many British councils have a policy of incorporating dropped kerbs at appropriate places within work to improve and maintain the existing highways as well as requiring such provision as a condition for the adopting of new roads and streets.

These provisions generally include ramping down footway surfaces as necessary, and the provision of tactile paving surfaces to assist the visually impaired, in accordance with DTLR Guidance on the use of Tactile Paving Surfaces.

There is a national Best Value Performance Indicator for the percentage of controlled pedestrian crossings (ie. signal controlled pedestrian crossings and zebra crossings) that have facilities for the disabled.