Pedestrian islands exist at intersections only to maximise the flow of cars. To reduce the number of cars that have to make a sharp left turn, slip lanes are sometimes installed, so some cars don’t wait at a red light. This leaves people on foot having to cross the slip lane, then wait on a small island to cross the rest of the road. Parents often grip the hands of their children quite tightly, since there are trucks, buses and other vehicles moving at speed on all sides – there is not enough space to be safely back from the kerb.
There are a number of notorious pedestrian islands in Sydney, which should be reconfigured. They are the islands where many people cross on foot, and by the nature of a slip lane, cars travel behind them at significant speed (the intended purpose of the slip lane). If more people travel across an intersection on foot per minute, than in a car per minute, the pedestrian island needs to be rethought.
If there are too many people on a pedestrian island, they often stand in the main roadway.
As Sydney grows, a number of these old pedestrian islands that only ever had a few people at a time on them are no longer fit for purpose. The best solution is often to remove the slip lane and reallocate that slip lane space to the footpath. Let people cross the intersection in a single journey. It doesn’t make sense to maximise the average speed of cars in areas with many people on foot, as is the case in our shopping districts. Pedestrians, who are on their way to a local destination, should have priority over people in cars, who often are just travelling through.
Fewer slip lanes gives pedestrians more space to wait, fewer movements needed to cross an intersection and a quieter, safer road.
It’s time to rethink the islands in our city.