Bristol's pedestrian crossings (Pelicans and Puffins) have long been notorious for the excessive delays that they impose on pedestrians wanting to cross the road in order to minimise the inconvenience to motorists. For example the crossing of Queen's Road outside the Museum (above) gives a ridiculously short green phase and the crossing of Baldwin St where it joins the Centre (below) imposes long delays.
But now a City Council project is underway to review each pedestrian crossing in Bristol and reduce the wait times for pedestrians "without causing unacceptable congestion for traffic". Despite the lack of any definition of what constitutes 'unacceptable congestion for traffic' (and aren't pedestrians 'traffic' too?) the progress report on the pedestrian crossings 'improvement' project goes on to state -
During times of peak traffic flow, some pedestrian crossings in the city cause heavy congestion, therefore they are brought onto the traffic control system ‘Scoot’ during these times of day so that the ‘green man’ time which causes the congestion is restricted to the part of the traffic signal cycle where it will cause the least delay. This project has reviewed the way that the crossings are brought under scoot control and the times of day this control is needed. The pedestrian crossings reviewed are now brought under control by using live traffic flow data rather than fixed times, the flow level at which the crossings cause congestion has been worked out for each site, and when this trigger level is reached they are brought under Scoot control until the traffic flow level drops off again. The type of Scoot control in use has also been reviewed and where possible the cycle times for the crossings have been reduced.As the bold text indicates I was struck by the repeated assumption that it's pedestrians who are causing congestion by daring to want to cross roads. Is it not plain to anyone with eyes to see that congestion is caused by the mass use of cars? Congestion, whilst not entirely unknown before the age of mass car ownership, is nevertheless overwhelmingly a product of it. Surely that elementary fact should be firmly embedded in the mind of anyone who presumes to call themselves a highway engineer.
Yet there we have it, they say pedestrians cause congestion. And to penalise us for our selfish behaviour in wanting to cross roads we must be made to face longer delays to allow motorists to make their blameless journeys without 'unacceptable' delays. Nothing of course about what might or might not be acceptable delays to pedestrians. We pedestrians, it seems, must put up and shut up.
Am I being uncharitable in making so much of what may be little more than sloppy writing? Probably, but I would say justifiably so since at the root of so many traffic problems is the pro-car biased thinking of highway engineers, which as we see remains very much the norm. Perhaps we have to wait for yet another generation of highway engineers to pass on before we can make real progress.