The Crossings Menagerie

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Once upon a time there were just zebra crossings. Now there’s a whole menagerie of different types of crossings: pelican, puffin, toucan and even tigers! So what are the differences and how do they affect cyclists? Monica Frisch has done some research.

Zebra crossing

Zebra crossing: the veteran of the ark of crossings
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Zebra crossings are bold, black and white stripes marked on the road and were introduced into UK law in 1951. Their presence was usually marked by Belisha beacons: flashing orange globes atop tall black and white poles and named after the transport minister who introduced them in 1934. Drivers have to give way to a pedestrian on a zebra crossing who has priority once he or she has stepped onto it.

As they are designated as pedestrian crossings, cyclists should not cycle across them, though they can wheel their bikes across. However, in Finland and Australia cyclists can use them.

Do not ride across a pelican, puffin or zebra crossing. Dismount and wheel your cycle across.

Panda crossing

According to Wikipedia, the panda crossing in the UK was an early attempt at a signal-controlled pedestrian road crossing. The first trial installations started in 1962. A complex system of flashing traffic lights was used to dictate when vehicles should stop, and pedestrians could cross safely. The system proved unwieldy, and was superseded by the pelican crossing.

Pelican crossing

Pelican crossing at Gonville Place.
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Pelican crossings were introduced in 1969 and are controlled by traffic lights. The name comes from PEdestrian LIght CONtrolled crossing. Separate signals tell pedestrians when they may cross. A red person indicates one should not cross, while a flashing green person means one should not start to cross. The flashing green indicator is accompanied by a flashing amber light for motorists and on-road cyclists, indicating that they can move if there is no pedestrian crossing but they must give way to any pedestrians on the crossing. The steady green person indicator may be accompanied by a bleeping sound to help blind people. There are several in Cambridge, for example across Gonville Place near the swimming pool. Cyclists should not cycle across them, though they may wheel their bikes across.

Pegasus crossing

A pegasus crossing
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Named after the flying horse of mythology, these are like pelican crossings but with a second control panel situated higher up for the use of mounted horse riders and with red and green mounted horse pictograms. Usually combined with features to increase safety for horse riders.

Puffin crossing

Puffin crossings differ from pelican crossings in that the lights controlling the pedestrians are on the near side of the road, rather than on the opposite side. The reasoning for the positioning of the pedestrian controlling lights on the same side as the pedestrian is to make it easier for pedestrians to watch the lights and the traffic at the same time. The name comes from Pedestrian User-Friendly Interface. In Cambridge puffins are gradually replacing pelicans.

In Cambridge puffins are gradually replacing pelicans.

They may also have extra pedestrian detectors. These are meant to ensure that the signal for vehicles remains red until the pedestrians have finished crossing (within practical limits) or cancel the pedestrian demand should the pedestrian move away from the kerb side, cross in a gap, not use the crossing, or wait outside the detection area. They don’t have a flashing amber phase for motorists like the older pelican crossings. It appears that the ‘latest thinking’ is that the detectors mean the crossing phase can be shortened, thereby easing traffic congestion.

Tiger crossing

These are zebra crossings which cyclists can use and they are painted yellow and black. The idea is so new it’s not yet in the Highway Code (though it has got into Wikipedia), but they have been trialled in London and we’ve heard one is planned for the Addenbrooke’s site.

Toucan crossing

At a toucan crossing the red pedestrian and cycle signals are advisory and if it is safe one can cross even when it is red.
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Toucan crossings, the Highway Code explains, are ‘light-controlled crossings that allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross at the same time’ hence the name (‘two can’ get it?). They are push button operated. Pedestrians and cyclists will see the green signal together. Cyclists are not segregated from pedestrians and are permitted to ride across. Unlike the older pelican crossings, they don’t have a flashing amber phase for vehicles on the road. The signals indicating whether or not it is safe for pedestrians and cyclists to cross are, in Cambridge, often on the far side of the road though government policy now favours conversion to puffin-style nearside signals. At a toucan crossing the red pedestrian and cycle signals are advisory and, if it is safe one can cross even when it is red (on foot or on one’s bike).

There are several toucan crossings in Cambridge. A particularly well-designed one with farside signals crosses Queen’s Road from Garrett Hostel Lane to Burrell’s Walk.

At a toucan (Pelican or Puffin) crossing, the red cycle- and pedestrian signals are advisory, and if it is safe one can cross even when it is red.

This works well because pedestrians and cyclists are informally segregated by painted markings on the approaches to the crossing. One with nearside signals crosses Fen Causeway near the Leys School.

Cycle-only crossings and parallel crossings

Parallel crossing: Regent Street.
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The Highway Code explains ‘Cycle tracks on opposite sides of the road may be linked by signalled crossings. You may ride across but you MUST NOT cross until the green cycle symbol is showing.’ They may be parallel to a pedestrian crossing, in which case they may be combined with a ban on cyclists turning left or right (depending on layout) across the pedestrian crossing. There’s one in Cambridge which crosses Regent Street from the corner of Parker’s Piece by the University Arms Hotel. Before its recent unsatisfactory conversion to a toucan with nearside signals, the main Gonville Place crossing was a parallel crossing with farside signals.

Crossings, cyclists and the law

So cyclists can use cycle-only crossings (obviously), tiger and toucan crossings. Rule 64 of the Highway Code states clearly: ‘Do not ride across a pelican, puffin or zebra crossing. Dismount and wheel your cycle across.’ An illuminated cyclist sign indicates a crossing cyclists can use.

The Highway Code states that pedestrians ‘MUST NOT loiter on zebra, pelican or puffin crossings’ – and that’s sensible advice for cyclists too!

The Highway Code states that pedestrians ‘MUST NOT loiter on zebra, pelican or puffin crossings’ - and that’s sensible advice for cyclists too! But there are variations in the restrictions, with the signals at some crossings being advisory and at others mandatory. Where the signals are mandatory, as with cycle-only crossings, the Highway Code is clear that cyclists must not cross on a red light.

At a toucan crossing the red pedestrian and cycle signals are advisory and if it is safe one can cross even when it is red (on foot or on one’s bike).

If you are concerned about crossings for cyclists (and pedestrians) join the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s crossings subgroup and contribute to the discussions about what’s good, bad and dreadful.

Monica Frisch