Crossing the street in Cardiff is an exercise in frustration

I wanted to reflect on something from our recent visit to Cardiff.

Some of central Cardiff is pedestrianised, which is great. Many other areas have nice wide footpaths.

It would be near-perfect for walking… if at most intersections the traffic lights weren’t designed to be so pedestrian hostile.

It’s as if the traffic engineers either hate pedestrians, or have done everything they can to theoretically prevent car and pedestrian accidents.

But in the process they’ve created an environment where people have to wait for so long to cross the street that jaywalking is widespread.

Cardiff staggered pedestrian crossing

Beg button x 2

What’s the only thing worse than waiting for a traffic light to cross the street? Waiting for two traffic lights to cross the street!

In Cardiff, many intersections have traffic islands, and the pedestrian crossings have all been designed to be staggered, with the lights programmed to give a green man at different times.

Rule 28 of the UK Highway Code says:

When the crossings on each side of the central refuge are not in line they are two separate crossings. On reaching the central island, press the button again and wait for a steady green figure.

The proliferation of this design in Cardiff means that at most spots as you cross the street, provided you obey the green/red man, you have to wait twice, and the way these are implemented, the wait is often for an extended period of time — even when there’s no traffic coming.

I suspect it’s used to minimise accidents caused by inattentive drivers:

  • For instance at a three-way (T) junction, you might have a three part cycle with each road having equal green time.
  • Then you fit the pedestrian cycles around it: on any one of the three roads, two-thirds of the time, people can cross in front of the stopped cars.
  • Only when those cars get a green can you cross the rest of that road. So you’ll never make it across the entire road in one go.

They’ve set up similar programming at many four way intersections.

Yes, it theoretically cuts vehicle conflicts with other vehicles and pedestrians, and probably maximises vehicle throughput where there are a lot of turning vehicles.

But should that be the top priority in a dense city centre?


Pic from Google Streetview — On the main road from Cardiff city centre to Cardiff Bay. The pedestrian light nearest the camera is red; the other one is green.

This setup is beyond irritating when you’re trying to walk around. Often there will be a long wait for two separate green men despite there being little or no traffic.

It’s a very poor experience for pedestrians, and does nothing to encourage walking.

Thankfully such a design is rare in Australia. The only time you’re unlikely to get all the way across a divided road is if you’re not a fast walker, and you’re at a very wide road, perhaps 4+ lanes each way plus a wide median.

Traffic light design

Apart from how they’re programmed, some of the traffic lights have their green man display not on the opposite side where it’s easily seen, but on a display next to the button.

This is quite low down and can be difficult to view when other people are waiting.

Cardiff pedestrian signal mounted on pole

It’s also completely counter-intuitive to watch for a light that’s off to your side, rather than in the direction you’re wanting to go.

Combined with many traffic lights not having audible prompts (near-universal in Australia), this leads to people not even noticing when the traffic light eventually allows them to go.

Not all the crossings in Cardiff had this design. It’s not clear to me whether this is the new standard, or one of several standards, depending on context. We saw them elsewhere in Britain, though I don’t recall seeing any in London.

(See an example, with an additional indicator further up the pole, outside Cardiff Castle.)

Outcomes?

In this kind of walking environment, it quickly became apparent that many of the locals jaywalk regularly – and I can’t say I blame them. It was positively painful walking around and obeying all the traffic lights.

Widespread jaywalking means that the safety benefit (if indeed that was the motivation for these designs) is completely undermined.

I saw similar issues elsewhere in the UK, but to nowhere near the degree they’ve done this in Cardiff.

I don’t know the history of this, and whether there have been objections from the locals – I searched online a bit, didn’t find anything.

It’s unlikely it would ever happen, but if I ever end up living and working in Cardiff, I think I’ve found my first advocacy campaign.

Cardiff is a lovely city. But it treats its pedestrians with contempt.

Subway into SoCross: could it be re-opened?

I had been going to write a blog post asking people what this thing is, on Little Collins Street. If one looks closely, it has City of Melbourne markings.

Old subway entrance to Southern Cross Station, Little Collins Street

The City of Melbourne and the Herald Sun have highlighted it overnight: it’s an old entrance to the subway underneath Spencer Street, into the nearby station.

At the old Spencer Street station, the main way on and off the platforms was via the subway. It headed west past the ticket offices to multiple exits, mostly along the western side of Spencer Street (the street), but one or two went under the road to the other side; I seem to recall one ending at a spiral staircase in a nearby building. I suspect the exit on Little Collins Street might be the only one still in existence.

If you want a reminder of how the old Spencer Street station (including the subway) looked, check this web site. Marcus Wong also has some great photos, including this of the subway.

Public access to the subway was removed when the station was rebuilt — but for some reason nobody seems to have anticipated that passenger/pedestrian traffic would swamp nearby streets.

It’s now a regular occurrence to see footpaths in Collins and Bourke Streets overflowing, particularly at peak times.

The City of Melbourne is apparently wanting to investigate if the subway can be re-opened, which is a great idea. From their agenda from Monday night (the section on Council Works, 3.2.3):

The Elizabeth Street Streetscape works are on hold until the timing and resolution of the tram track realignments at the southern end have been agreed with the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority. Given the funding was from the Parking Levy it is necessary to reallocate the majority of these funds within this financial year.

It is recommended to Council that $1.7 million from the Parking Levy Funding be reallocated to the upgrade of the footpaths in Collins Street between Spencer and Market Streets to provide a better walking environment for pedestrians and commuters at Southern Cross Station and $750,000 be allocated towards an investigation and documentation to the reopen the subway from Spencer to Little Collins Street. The balance of the funding will remain with Elizabeth Street in order to progress this project into the next financial year.

See also: Herald Sun: Spencer St subway reopens to stop crush (paywall)

Another CBD spot in need of a footpath upgrade. Wonder if @DoyleMelbourne is looking at these?

As I understand it, much of the structure is still in place. The western end is used by service vehicles — you can see the entrances on many of the platforms for them — but if the eastern end under the road is there but unused, there is potential there, perhaps with it popping up somewhere in the main concourse.

The Little Collins entrance is steps only, so unless heavily modified, it wouldn’t be DDA-compliant.

But like the Campbell Arcade/Degraves Street subway at Flinders Street Station, for able-bodied people it could provide an alternative, traffic-light-free way in and out of the station which could take pressure off the other accessible but very busy intersections.

It’s also good to hear they’ve given more time to pedestrians at some of the existing intersections — but there’s more they could do, and the westbound tram stop in Bourke Street in particular is a problem. I’ll write about that soon with some photos. (Update: Bourke/Spencer tram stop not fit for purpose)

Some good stuff in the City of Melbourne’s Draft Walking Plan

You might have seen media coverage (Age / Herald Sun) of the new City of Melbourne Draft Walking Plan.

There’s lots of interesting stuff in the document (PDF, 35Mb).

Below are some notes from a skim through. (Page references refer to those at the top of the page, eg numbered from the start of the PDF including cover sheets/intro, not the start of the document.)

William Street, morning peak

p1. The economic benefits from dense city centres and improved walkability, underpinning the need for action: “A 10 per cent increase in the connectivity of the Hoddle Grid’s walking network is estimated to increase the value of the economy by $2.1 billion per year by making it quicker and easier for people to move around the city to do business, access services and jobs.”

p6. The bottom line on numbers: 840,000 people visit the city daily, expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2030.

p10. Updated figures (2011) for journeys to work in the City of Melbourne: Public transport 50.4% (Train 39.5%), vehicle 37.7%, walking 5.5%.

Note that the City of Melbourne is a lot bigger than the CBD, and the Hoddle Grid — I would expect figures for just the Hoddle Grid to show a higher proportion of public transport trips, but this walking strategy covers the whole council area.

p12. Weekday trips within the City of Melbourne are dominated by walking (66%).

p16. The importance of resolving crowding: “Crowding discourages people from walking, creates delays which waste time and money and undermines Melbourne’s international reputation for liveability.”

p20. Yikes: “In the City of Melbourne, a pedestrian is killed or sustains a serious or other injury every two days.”

p21. They’re aiming/expecting to increase walking, and public transport and bicycle use, with private car trips reducing.

Another CBD spot in need of a footpath upgrade. Wonder if @DoyleMelbourne is looking at these?

p30. They’re seeking to work with the Vicroads SmartRoads network operating plan, which already highlights which streets should prioritise which mode.

p32. Ever wondered why more traffic lights don’t automatically show a green man, even if nobody presses the button? Or wondered what it’s called? Apparently this is called “Auto pedestrian phase signals”.

Sounds like it will be implemented at a lot more crossings, which is good. Why is it important? As the document says: “They reduce waiting times for pedestrians (pedestrians do not miss an opportunity to cross if they get to the intersection after the time a walk phase could start). They give pedestrians a similar level of service to motorists, public transport vehicles and cyclists who do not need to manually activate lights.”

I’ve spotted this at a handful of recently re-programmed suburban traffic lights… would be great to see much more of it — it should be the standard.

p33 has a map of where they plan to implement it, which is encouraging. Thing is, I’d like to see it become the default for all signalised intersections — particularly as typical traffic light programming means a pedestrian who just misses the start of the green phase has to wait until the next one starts to get a green man.

p34 notes some (about 15) CBD intersections don’t have green man displays (“pedestrian lanterns”), apparently a legacy of the original installation in the 1940s! They’re going to install them — I suppose it may seem more restrictive for pedestrians, though as the document says “people with disabilities face significant difficulty when crossing the street as they are not alerted when it is safe and appropriate to cross”.

p36-47 goes into some detail about increasing pedestrian priority across the CBD, with five proposed categories:

  • Street as place — eg a destination, for instance Centre Place, Degraves Street
  • Walking street — for instance Bourke Street Mall, and proposed for the bottom of Elizabeth Street
  • High mobility walking street (public transport corridor) — for instance Swanston Street at present, and proposed for the remainder of Elizabeth Street
  • High mobility street (public transport corridor)
  • Other streets used by pedestrians

p50 talks about improved maps around the city.

p52. Stop lines to be moved to require motorists to give way to pedestrians when exiting minor lanes.

p56-57 talks about works to assist current areas of pedestrian overcrowding, such as around railway stations.

p59. Widen pedestrian crossings at intersections, and build-out kerbs. Also act on motorists who block crossings.

Edit: This page also notes they plan to move blockages such as street furniture (eg bins) away from busy intersections.

p64-69 goes into some detail about access in and around railway stations, including investigating re-opening the Little Collins Street pedestrian subway into Southern Cross Station).

I’m somewhat amused that they believe they need to “investigate ways to encourage use of [the Degraves Street] entrance” to Flinders Street Station. One look at it makes it pretty obvious what the problem is — there’s zero signage telling you it goes to the station.

p72-73. More formal pedestrian crossings, such as mid-block crossings.

p76-77. It notes that it is completely legal to cross more than 20 metres from a crossing, and because this is important for reducing walking distances and delays, and because they can’t provide crossings absolutely everywhere, they want to make streets easier to cross between the crossings.

The example they give (William Street outside Flagstaff station) is slightly odd — the reason people cross here is to avoid the packed footpaths. It’s unlikely many would cross between the station and the old Mint car park — though some using the car park might be going to nearby buildings.

p84 onwards. The appendices cover a number of interesting topics, including pedestrian countdown timers — not generally seen as recommended as trials haven’t shown they improve signal compliance.

Barnes walks (scramble crossings). They conclude they’re not worthwhile due to overall delays to pedestrians, trams and motorists — though oddly that’s based on a study of two locations seemingly chosen at random. They really should have looked at spots which are more obvious candidates, for instance those with busy buildings on all corners and a railway station on one side: say, Spencer and Bourke, Spencer and Collins, and Flinders and Swanston.

Pedestrian early starts — showing a green man before parallel traffic gets a green light. Fair enough — it’s really of benefit when turning motorists aren’t correctly giving way, and this isn’t a big problem at signalised intersections in the CBD.

p95. An interesting couple of tables about “Pedestrian level of service” — that is, different standards for how quickly a pedestrian can cross the road at traffic lights.

p96. Another interesting table showing a Transport For London reference on pedestrian comfort levels (PCL), based on how congested a pavement is, measuring the number of people and how restricted movement is at each level.

“At Pedestrian Comfort Level D, walking speeds are restricted and reduced and there are difficulties in bypassing slower pedestrians or moving in reverse flows.”

This is important research — for someone who hasn’t regularly experienced such conditions, it can be difficult to understand why a photo of a bunch of people on a footpath which appears to have plenty of space is, in fact, quite restrictive if you’re actually trying to walk on it. (This is why people resort to walking on the road.)

Pedestrian Comfort Levels (from City of Melbourne draft walking strategy, originally from a Transport For London document)

Conclusion

The draft document makes a lot of good points, and it’s fantastic to see the breadth of thought and research into a topic that’s so important for the City of Melbourne, including recognition of such issues as permeability and crowding levels on footpaths.

Cities like Melbourne need to plan carefully to cater for more pedestrians. On foot (in conjunction with public transport access) is the most efficient way to move more people around a busy city centre.

The only niggle I have is that it completely fails to talk about motorcycles parked on footpaths — as I’ve noted before, the guidelines don’t seem to be well-known (or followed), and certainly aren’t enforceable.

But overall, a big thumbs up — and it’ll be great to see some of the proposed changes implemented.

1 in 6 have challenges just getting down the street. Don’t block the footpath.

In an ABS survey in 2009, 4.0 million people (18.5% of the population) reported having a disability.

Of people with a disability, Mobility aids used by about 15% of them.

Car blocking footpath #RoadMorons

So about 600,000 people nationwide use mobility aids of some kind: walking sticks, walking frames, wheelchairs.

Additionally, the 2011 Census says there are 1,457,571 people aged under 5. Let’s assume that all of these kids either ride in a pram pushed by a parent, or walk under close supervision with a parent, eg another 1,457,571.

And let’s ignore for a moment that some of the 600,000 people who use mobility aids are aged under 5, or supervising those under 5.

What we get is that perhaps around three and a half million people (about 1 in 6) in Australia have some challenges with simply walking down the street.

They need two things to help get around their neighbourhood.

Firstly they need adequate footpaths provided by councils and road authorities. This means both sides of the street, built with proper drainage, and designed for minimising journey distances, rather than taking long detours to get places. Adequate road crossing places also need to be provided — responsive traffic lights, pedestrian refuges (islands) and so on.

And secondly, they need people to not block the footpaths with their motor vehicles. To do so is the ultimate in arrogance and thoughtlessness for three and a half million of your fellow citizens. Yet I see it continually when walking. It’s high time there was a crackdown on it.

Personally, in the last few months I’ve left several polite but firm notes around my neighbourhood on repeat offending vehicles — they seem to work, and it’s probably easier than trying to convince the council or police to do something about it (though pleasingly, it does sometimes happen).

William Street — too much space for cars?

Heading south along William Street in morning peak hour, fighting for space on the street, are pedestrians (predominantly coming out of Flagstaff station), trams, cyclists and motorists.

How many of each?

Tram route 55 gets a tram about every 4 minutes in peak hour. The May 2012 PTV load survey said that each tram carries an average of 78.6 people between 8am and 9am southbound (actually measured slightly north from this point), making about 1179 people per hour.

William Street, morning peak

Pedestrians: Marcus Wong recently found some great City of Melbourne CBD pedestrian statistics. At its peak between 8am and 9am, about 5000 pedestrians head south from Flagstaff station.

Motorists: Vicroads network performance monitoring figures may or may not be of relevance to this specific street, but show that the arterial road average across Melbourne in AM peak is a bit under 800 people per hour. William Street southbound is only one lane, so let’s use that figure.

Cyclists? Dunno. I see quite a few heading up and down in peak, but the Bicycle Network “Super Tuesday” count doesn’t seem to publicly publish anything useful from the enormous amount of data they collect. Shame. In the absence of other figures, let me take a wild guess at 200 in the busiest hour.

The bike lanes aren’t properly configured. They fizzle-out in places, and around Little Bourke Street (southbound), cyclists often either have to squeeze between cars, or wait for them to shift.

William Street, morning peak

If you assume the footpaths are roughly the same width as each tram/traffic/parking lane, and the bike lanes are half that width, what do you get?

Mode % people % road space
Pedestrians 70% 22%
Cyclists 3% 11%
Tram 16% 22%
Motor vehicles 11% 44%

The most over-allocated, least efficient mode here is obviously motor vehicles — in part because they are allocated two lanes but one (at least in AM peak) is wasted on parking.

Meanwhile the footpaths get so crowded that many people simply walk on the road. In this terribly fuzzy mobile phone footage, you can see a bloke in a wheelchair give up on the footpath and take-off across the road for the other side:

(Note: it is perfectly legal to cross the road anywhere that is more than 20 metres from a pedestrian crossing.)

What could they do?

They could widen the footpath at the expense of car parking, particularly on the super-busy western side of the street. In the busiest section between Bourke Street and Flagstaff station that’s probably losing about 20 car spots. You’d lose a traffic lane in PM peak, but so what? Traffic is at a standstill now — it would still be at a standstill. If delays got longer, fewer people would drive.

They could install full time bike lanes all the way down. It’s crazy that cyclists get stuck behind cars.

Better enforcement of motorists blocking intersections; you see this every peak hour. (Could be a money-spinner for a cash-strapped government, in fact.)

And more fare gates at Flagstaff could ease congestion there, particularly in morning peak.

Ultimately, the station and trains are the most efficient mode available for getting large numbers of people into and out of the CBD. It already does this very well, but making the area more efficient and safer for pedestrians is vital.

Update: The video keeps disappearing out of this post — possible WordPress bug? The direct link is here.

Update 12:30pm: Someone anonymously sent me a link to what looks like it should be a Bicycle Network page with detailed stats, but it doesn’t work. The region or state specified is invalid

Update Thursday: I didn’t even notice this before — the Clearway (and thus the bike lane) inbound/southbound on William Street only operates during PM peak. What sort of craziness is this?!
Clearway in William Street southbound/inbound only applies in PM peak?!

See also: Motorcycle/scooter parking on footpaths – In a crowded city centre, this doesn’t make sense.