After writing the title for this blog post, I feel like I am writing Aesop’s fable, however, this is a fable from the streets. I am someone, who is guilty of making numerous puns out of the term, “zebra crossing”. When I stumbled upon something called a Pelican crossing, I got curious. My search revealed to me that there are more animals on our roads than in our forests.

A street isn’t just a conduit for transportation, in a linear way, it is much more than that. Over the years, the conventional street design has evolved in such a way that, slow-moving traffic such pedestrians and cyclists are on the far edge of a street, while faster traffic such as cars and bikes are towards the centre of the road. What if the pedestrians and cyclists want to move from one edge to the other? Crossings. Crossings are an element in the design of a street, where you enable pedestrians and cyclists to move across the road from one edge to the other. Be it pedestrian or cyclist crossings, they are very important parts of any street design.

However, this is tricky territory. When everything is moving linearly, in their own tracks, like an electric current in a wire, there are no problems. But when you try to mix things up, chaos ensues, mainly because of the varying speeds of these different modes of transit. Like with any problem, humans have come up with many solutions to this design problem.

Zebra Crossing

“The crossing is characterised by longitudinal stripes on the road, parallel to the flow of the traffic, alternately a light colour and a dark one. The light colour is usually white and the dark colour may be painted – in which case black is typical – or left unpainted if the road surface itself is dark. The stripes are typically 40–60 cm (16–24 in) wide.” – The mighty Wikipedia

Why the name? Duh! because of the marking’s similarity to that of a Zebra.

At a zebra crossing, the ‘right of way’, that is the legal right to proceed with precedence over others is with the pedestrian. If I am riding a bike, and if you are at the zebra crossing, I am supposed to give way for you and then proceed, legally. Whether this is followed in India is a rant for another day.

zebra crossing

Pelican Crossing

Now it gets interesting.

“A pelican crossing is a type of pedestrian crossing, which features a pair of poles each with a standard set of traffic lights facing oncoming traffic, a push button and two illuminated, coloured pictograms facing the pedestrian from across the road. These are a red, stationary person to indicate that it is not safe to cross, and a green, walking person to indicate that it is safe to do so. Pelican crossings also provide non-visual indication that it is safe to cross, such as a beep, vibrating button or tactile rotating cone in order to assist visually impaired pedestrians.” – The great Wikipedia

Why Pelican you ask? because pedestrian light controlled crossing! 

pelican crossing

Puffin Crossing

And it keeps coming. This was a development over the Pelican crossing.

“The design is distinct in that the lights controlling the pedestrians are on the same side of the road as the pedestrian user, rather than on the opposite side. They have two sensors on top of the traffic lights (PCD pedestrian crossing detector and PKD pedestrian kerb detector). These sensors detect if pedestrians are crossing slowly and can hold the red traffic light longer if needed. If a pedestrian presses the button but then walks off, the PKD will cancel the request making the lights more efficient.” – The intelligent Wikipedia.

Why the hell is it called Puffin? because it is short for pedestrian user-friendly intelligent crossing!

Toucan Crossing

This is interesting. At a Toucan crossing, both pedestrian and cyclists can cross. Since two can cross, it’s called the Toucan crossing. With this track record, I am assuming traffic engineers make the best dad jokes out there.

Now, we’ll move on to the more obscure and weirder crossings named after animals out there.

Pegasus Crossing

Adding some Greek mythology to anything would make it extra magical. But this is not for the winged mythological creature, but its wingless earthly cousin, the horse. These Pegasus crossings have a special consideration for horse riders. They are similar to Pelican or Puffin crossings but have an additional control panel at two metres high. This is for people on horses.

Panda Crossing

Chronologically, these came after Zebra crossings, followed by X-way crossings, which evolved into the Pelican crossing.

The Panda crossing had triangles rather than stripes and light signals on the beacon poles.

“In the idle state, no lights were lit. A pedestrian wanting to cross would press a button on the beacon pole and be instructed to wait by an illuminated sign near the button. The system allowed for a pause between crossings in order to avoid traffic delays, and so the pedestrian might wait a while before anything happened. The amber traffic light would pulsate for a few seconds to inform motorists that someone was about to cross; a red light was then the signal to stop.

At this point, the pedestrians’ “Cross” signal began to flash. After a few seconds, the “Cross” light started to flash faster and the red traffic light was changed to a flashing amber (this “flashing” phase was considered distinct from the initial “pulsating” amber light). [2] The “Cross” light flashed increasingly fast as crossing time ran out, and the traffic was allowed to proceed during the flashing amber phase if the crossing was clear. Eventually, all lights were extinguished as the crossing reset.” – The all-knowing Wikipedia.

Tiger Crossing

Tiger crossing is very similar to the zebra crossing, with yellow stripes instead of white. When I was a kid, I used to joke that India should have tiger crossings with yellow stripes, because Tiger is our national animal. Little did I know that it was already done.

Cow Crossing

This is more likely to happen in our country if a certain political party hears about its existence.  It was done in the city of A Coruña in Galicia, Spain has opted for spots rather than stripes at a pedestrian crossing, resembling a cow instead of a zebra. The reason for this option is to recognize the importance of the animal for the region’s farming.

cow crossing

This article was an attempt at drawing attention to the varied types of crossings out there, and the idiosyncrasies in their naming conventions. This is not an extensive list of crossings out there, as there are more design solutions to this ‘design problem’ of enabling people to cross. Some good, some bad. I’ll write in detail about them in a blog post later. Hope you had fun reading about it. Share it with your friends, after quizzing them “What is common between a Zebra, Panda, Tiger, and a Cow?”

Now tell me, Why did the chicken cross the road? 😛

PS: I loved playing the game frogger as a kid. Since we were talking about animals and crossings, I got reminded of the game. Nostalgia! If you are someone from the golden age of arcade games, try frogger here.

PPS: let me know your thoughts and suggestions on how to improve my writing.

Leave a Reply