We Want Wombats

A wombat crossing is wide, flat, and elevated marked pedestrian crossing. In short, it’s a zebra crossing on a speed hump. Named for the short stumpy Australian marsupial which it loosely resembles, the wombat crossing does several things:

Wombat in Willoughby Council area
Wombat in Willoughby Council area /
  • It elevates pedestrians relative to the street, increasing their visibility. This is important as cars are getting taller.
  • It slows cars down due to the vertical deflection of the roadway.
  • The road crosses the footpath, so the vehicle is crossing pedestrian space, rather than pedestrians crossing vehicular space.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on a study, summarizing: ‘Wombat crossings’ reduce pedestrian casualties by 63 per cent, says new study

(The full study is here: Makwasha, Tariro and Turner, Blair. Safety of raised platforms on urban roads [online]. Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, Vol. 28, No. 2, May 2017: 20-27.)

They are becoming more widely deployed across Australia. Some are red, or painted on bricks, increasing visibility. Though traffic engineers prefer everything be standardised, it is quite possible that non-standardisation introduces enough surprise into the environment that drivers are more cautious.

A wombat crossing adjacent to Broadway Shopping Centre
A wombat crossing adjacent to Broadway Shopping Centre

These should replace the randomly strewn about ambiguous humps across the Sydney landscape. Every laneway crossing could be refitted with a Wombat, and the pedestrian sphere would feel (and be) much more contiguous, while vehicles would be reminded of their need to slow down. In exchange, excessive mislocated, midblock speed humps and bumps can be removed.

Wombat (Source: Wikipedia)
Wombat (Source: Wikipedia)

I once wrote about Rotterdam, though this applies to other cities in the Netherlands:

 The sidewalks are often continuous elevation across streets (i.e. there is no cross-walk, there is a cross-drive). This helps remind drivers they are entering a woonerf. Drivers must slow down since they are crossing the pedestrian right-of-way, rather than vice-versa. If there is one thing I could do to American residential neighborhoods, it would be implementing the woonerf. If there is one thing I would build to tell drivers they are in woonerfs, it would be this sidewalk extension across the local street (when it joins a major road) as a way of signaling to drivers they are in a new space. This is far more effective than signs or changes in pavement surfaces alone.

Let’s rethink our residential streets as residential spaces, where cars are permitted but not preferred. The wombat crossing is a simple device that delineates spaces very clearly.

We can use the laneway crossing as the simplest and most easily achieved element of the model, though obviously wider roads require some differences in design.