Painted pedestrian crossings aren’t safe enough

Last year in talking about the rise in the number of people killed while walking, Ben Rossiter from Victoria Walks pointed the finger squarely at motorists and road design – and he’s right. 

Take zebra crossings – lines painted on a road surface showing where, according to rule 81 of the Road Rules, a driver must give way to a person on the crossing (not waiting, crossing). Painted zebra crossings pose dangers to pedestrians. Many drivers do not give way or are not driving at slow enough in preparation for people stepping onto the road, and it’s worse at night. And too often a driver will drive behind a person who’s just crossed the road with only centimetres to spare. 

Lines painted on the surface do not provide the safety needed for people to cross the road. Zebra crossings need to be supplemented with vertical deflections for drivers such as a wide speed hump on which the crossing sits or horizontal deflections that require a driver to navigate a narrowed or deviated road space – and preferably both. 

Some councils like Kiama Council as shown in the picture have used horizontal deflection – the flat wide speed hump or wombat – and vertical deflection – the narrowed road space – to slow down car drivers and provide a place for people to cross the road without the painted road surface. This is a proactive and responsive approach to managing traffic in high pedestrian locations. The same approach could have been used with the speed hump in Darlington shown in the photo. 

To install a pedestrian crossing a council needs to carry out counts of people walking and driving and demonstrate that a certain number of each are passing the location at three different times throughout the day. Then, the multiplication of people walking and cars passing at each time must equal at least 60,000. Going through this process in applying to paint the road surface can cost thousands of dollars in counts and months of staff time negotiating with the roads authority to“justify” (RMS supplement to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices) why people should be given an opportunity to cross the road.    

For too long we’ve allowed the roads authority to design our streets and minimise ‘pedestrian impedance’ irrespective of how many people are walking in an area – one formula has been applied to all circumstances. This means Council staff had to persuade an agency designated to protect and grow space for free-flowing car travel for opportunities where people could cross the road. With the Premier’s announcement of absorbing the roads authority into the broader transport agency, hopefully we’ll see a different approach to designing streets based on the people, activities and land uses around them.