Eugene Suggett: More time to cross and more places, too, please

When they build roads, contractors put in tunnels to allow them to be safely crossed – by badgers and foxes; by sheep and cattle, too, sometimes. Rarely for humans, though.

A fieldpath meets a dualled A-road and humans have to run, if they can, across four lanes of traffic. Three times since 1990 have the Ramblers published their dossier, You’re either quick or dead, which lists more than 1000 locations on the trunk and local road networks where non-motorised users of the highway network need safe and convenient crossings to reconnect paths and communities severed by roads.

Wigtownshire Ramblers trying to cross the busy A75 trunk road near Challoch
Wigtownshire Ramblers trying to cross the A75 trunk road near Challoch

The Ramblers are not clamouring for a new tunnel or bridge at anything like all these locations: often the diversion of a path to an existing safe crossing, such as an accommodation-bridge already provided for private users, would do the trick, but approaches to have these opened have met with resistance.

10 years ago, despite a request supported by the Countryside Agency, the Open Spaces Society, the local civic society, the Chiltern Society, Friends of the Earth, CPRE, Disabled Ramblers, the Long Distance Walkers Association, several local walking clubs, eight Ramblers groups and two Ramblers Areas, a certain local highway authority refused to open to the public a cattle-tunnel under the A404 at a particularly dangerous location.

In the end it took an order made by the Secretary of State for Transport, and a public inquiry when a few nimbies and their friends objected, to make the tunnel available. Confirming the order, the presiding Inspector found that the existing crossing-point over this 44,000 vehicles-a-day road was completely unacceptable in terms of safety.

But there are hundreds of locations like that. The trouble is that planners and legislators, driven by a road lobby run by people who have never walked anywhere much in their lives, have spent the last 80 years overseeing the development of a road-system which serves the drivers well not least by systematically endangering and inconveniencing the pedestrians.

Pedestrian crossing
Enough time to cross? Pedestrians on a busy urban street

Pedestrians in towns spend large parts of their lives corralled by railings and waiting for red men to go green; three minutes for one, then three or four for another: you can wait for nearly eight minutes to negotiate as many metres of tarmac. At least there are these urban crossings; on some country roads the walker stands (often for several minutes) until at last no vehicles are in sight, and then sets off at a running pace, fearfully eyeing the carriageway like small prey, and sometimes to the menacing blasting of motor-horns.

In recent years the Highways Agency – the Executive Agency of the Department for Transport (DfT) which manages England’s network of motorways and trunk roads – has shown some interest in the problem; but local highway authorities (who manage the rest of the roads) still fail to respond to the dangers faced by walkers, horseriders and cyclists. As ever, these are at the bottom of the ladder, with the pedestrian on the lowest rung.

So full marks to our friends the charity Living Streets, who campaign for lower speed-limits in residential areas, for better pavements, and for people-friendly streets. They’re on to this as well, and have just unveiled a report pointing out that a lack of adequate pedestrian crossings can create community severance; that the danger of crossing roads discourages sustainable travel choices; and that in the wrong place, pedestrian crossings can become redundant and increase road danger.

National statistics for 2012 showed that 50% of pedestrian casualties occurred while they were crossing the road without using a pedestrian crossing, 14.2% occurred on a crossing and 9.4% occurred within 50m of a crossing. In their call for 'safer crossings', the charity asks the DfT to update its guidance on pedestrian crossings, and in particular to keep the green man green for longer.

If the government is serious about getting more people walking for health, recreation and sustainable transport, the DfT will do well to take in this report, and act on it.

Step up the pressure on government to give pedestrians more time to cross. Join Living Streets' campaign and find out more on twitter using the hashtag #timetocross.

Photo (top) the Glebe Blog