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Pedestrian Perceptions of Road Crossing Facilities - Research Findings

DescriptionThe research involved roadside interviews with pedestrians who were asked about their views on, and use of, pedestrian crossings.
ISBN1 84268 032 3
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateSeptember 28, 2000
Development Department Research Programme Research Findings No. 92Pedestrian Perceptions of Road Crossing Facilities

Judith Sharples, John Fletcher
Transport Research Laboratory

The government is committed to promoting walking as a mode of transport. As part of its support for the development of strategies to increase walking, the Scottish Executive commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to carry out research to identify factors associated with a range of pedestrian crossing facilities, which might encourage or discourage walking in urban areas. The research involved roadside interviews with pedestrians at 30 different site locations in 6 towns and cities across Scotland, and school children and mobility-impaired people were also asked about theirs views on, and use of, pedestrian crossings.

Main Findings

  • The main reasons pedestrians used formal crossing points, in broadly equal proportion, were those of convenience, on their route and safety.

  • The majority of pedestrians used crossings correctly; however 6% used them incorrectly and 23% of those interviewed in the vicinity of a crossing had not used them at all.

  • The main reasons given for not using a pedestrian crossing to cross the road, were that the traffic was light or non-existent or that it would take too long.

  • The main general factors in deciding to use a crossing facility were road safety, rated as important by 96% of the sample, followed by volume of traffic cited by 91%, particularly those crossing at puffins, toucans and zebras.

  • The majority of pedestrians tended to prefer signalled crossings to pedestrian islands and zebra crossings. Zebras were preferred to traffic islands at traffic calming schemes.

  • Children (under 16 years of age) are much more concerned with safety when crossing roads than other age groups.

  • People with mobility impairments considered that some crossing facilities were impediments to their walking trips, and preferred crossings with audible or tactile enhancements such as knurled knobs.

  • The carers of people with learning disabilities who were interviewed were of the view that there should be an educational package for people with learning disabilities explaining how different crossing types should be used.

  • The research concluded that provision of crossings is probably a minor factor in maintaining levels of walking among the population. Pedestrians are generally satisfied with current provision and no great increase in trips would be achieved by changing them.


The 1998 White Paper "Travel Choices for Scotland" signalled the government's commitment to improving walking provision as a component of its integrated transport strategy. The Scottish Executive Walking Forum identified a range of measures to address the decline in walking as a form of transport, including encouraging local authorities to develop walking strategies and improve the design and provision of space and facilities for pedestrians. This study was commissioned to explore the role of pedestrian crossings in facilitating or inhibiting the pedestrian journey and thus to help inform local authorities on the type of pedestrian crossing preferred by pedestrians and to assist in the development of walking strategies.

The specific objectives of the study were:

  • To explore pedestrians' perceptions of how different types of road crossing facility affect their walking journey.
  • To establish pedestrians' priorities in road crossing provision and the trade-offs they make between safety and mobility.
  • To identify which types of crossing have the greatest and least effects on pedestrians' mobility.
  • To make recommendations on how pedestrian crossing facilities might be better used to reflect pedestrian needs, encourage walking journeys and contribute to local walking strategies.


The objectives of the study were achieved by conducting roadside interviews, issuing self-completion questionnaires to primary and secondary school children and by interviewing a sample of people with mobility impairments at drop-in centres. The roadside interviews were conducted at 30 different sites located in six towns and cities throughout Scotland. These towns and cities were Aberdeen, Dumfries, Edinburgh, Galashiels, Glasgow and Inverness. A total of 890 interviews were conducted at crossing facilities. These interviews aimed to sample the views of pedestrians of a variety of ages, and respondents were divided into 3 main age groups for analysis purposes - aged under 16 years, 16-59 years, and over 60 years of age.

The types of pedestrian crossings studied were:

Pelican: Puffin; Toucan; Zebra; Under-bridge; Over-bridge; Pedestrian Island; and Traffic Light (with pedestrian phase).

The school children and mobility impairment groups from which views were obtained were located in Edinburgh and Glasgow. 230 self-completion questionnaires were returned and 32 people completed the questionnaires directed at people with mobility impairments.

Research Findings

Use of Crossings

The survey found that in general pedestrians, both users and non-users of crossings, were happy with the existing crossing provision. The majority of people interviewed used the crossing correctly (71%). Use of different types of crossing facilities is illustrated in Figure 1 below. 1

The main reasons given for people choosing to use a particular pedestrian crossing facility were convenience (39%), that it was on their route (39%) and safety (36%).

Women used the crossing facility for slightly different reasons than men - a greater proportion were concerned with safety, whilst men attached more priority to the crossings being convenient or on their route. There are clear patterns in different responses of pedestrians of different age groups, with gradations in all responses from the young to general group to elderly for all factors. Child pedestrians were much more concerned with safety and whether or not the crossing was on their route than respondents of the other age groups. Elderly pedestrians were the group most concerned with convenience of the crossing type or lack of an alternative, and least concerned with safety or whether the crossing was on their route.

Figure 1: Pedestrian use of crossing facilities

Figure 1: Pedestrian use of crossing facilities

Suggested Alternative Types of Crossing

All respondents were asked to suggest what alternative crossings, if any, they would like to see at the point where they were interviewed. In most cases the respondents stated that the crossing type that was already present was the best for that point. The most favoured types of crossings were signalled crossings as opposed to under and over-bridges and pedestrian islands.

Importance of Factors when using a Crossing

Interviewees were asked how important they felt certain factors were in making a decision to use a road crossing facility (see Table 1 below). People felt that safety from traffic was the most important factor in deciding whether or not to use a crossing. This was supported by the importance that pedestrians placed on the volume of traffic in making their decision to use a crossing facility. Time spent waiting to cross was also considered of some importance when deciding to use a crossing or not. On average 72% of the responses of all crossing types said that the distance that they had to detour from their direct route, was important. However, fear of crime was not identified as a very important factor except by those interviewed at under and over-bridges. On average 30% of the respondents graded this issue as important or very important. Over 60% of people who used under-bridges said that fear of crime was important or very important.

Table 1: Importance of factors when using a crossing (rating important or very important)

Traffic Volume


Waiting Time

Fear of Crime


In traffic calmed area












Traffic island










































All types






Non-use of Crossings

The most common reason people gave for not using pedestrian crossings was that there was little or no traffic (see Figure 2 below). Time added to their journey caused by the diversion from their direct route to use a crossing facility, was a frequent reason given for non-use of the crossing facilities. Children gave the length of time that it took to use the crossing the main reason for choosing not to use crossings. In contrast to this elderly people stated they had not used the crossing facility because there was little or no traffic.

There were some gender differences in the reasons for not using a crossing facility - men were more likely to state that using the crossing would take too long and that the traffic was light enough to cross without using the facility. Women stated more frequently that they felt the crossing to be unsafe.

Figure 2: Reasons for Not Using a Crossing

Figure 2: Reasons for Not Using a Crossing

Mobility - Impaired People

People with walking disabilities preferred not to use over-bridges due to the awkwardness of steps and because this crossing was physically challenging to them. People with mobility impairments seldom stated zebras as the preferred crossing types. Lack of confidence that the traffic would stop for them at zebras, was the reason given by 40% of the people that responded.

In general people with mobility impairments preferred signalled crossings and in particular ones with enhancements, such as audible messaging, or tactile signals. Visually impaired pedestrians were concerned with the maintenance levels of the wait sign on the signal boxes at pelicans. Many of the visually impaired rely on the disappearance of the yellow wait sign as an indicator that the traffic has been stopped and it is safe to cross, rather than the lighting of the green man light on the far side of the road. It should be noted that this is a potentially dangerous practice since the light is not bright and might not be working.

People with Learning Difficulties

The carers of pedestrians with learning difficulties were concerned that there appears to be no widely available educational pack to help their dependants understand the procedures for crossing a road at different facilities.

Figure 3: Reasons which children gave that would persuade them to walk to school

Figure 3: Reasons which children gave that would persuade them to walk to school

School Children

Of the school age children surveyed, 63% walked to school, with higher levels of walking among boys than girls and among primary school children. Secondary school children are more likely to use a bus to get to and from school.

None of the children who completed the questionnaire used a zebra crossing on their journey to and from school. Primary school children were almost three times more likely to use a crossing with an authorised person, such as a lollipop man, than secondary children were. However, secondary children were three times more likely to use a 'green man' crossing compared with primary children.

The pattern of responses that both primary and secondary children gave for not walking to school was very similar. Pedestrian crossings hardly appeared as a deterrent to walking, being mentioned by less than 5%. The most common reason given was that it was too far for children to walk, accounting for 69% of the total responses. More primary school children's parents would not let them walk to school, whilst more secondary children's parents dropped them off at school. Only 13% of children felt that the roads were too busy. Other reasons such as weather, personal choice and lack of time were given by 21% of respondents. There was no significant difference in replies between girls and boys. Figure 3 above illustrates what children said would persuade them to walk to school.

Summary of Recommendations

This study has demonstrated that users and non-users of pedestrian crossings are generally satisfied with current levels of provision. The research concludes therefore that the effect of changing provision on levels of walking would be marginal. The research findings suggest that the existing appraisal framework used for crossing provision is appropriate, and that pedestrian crossings should be tailored within this framework to local circumstances and need.

However, there is some scope for refinement particularly in the area of information and publicity. Recommendations arising out of the research findings include:

  • A number of users feel threatened by traffic at crossings, and a publicity campaign aimed at drivers describing priorities and promoting correct behaviour may be helpful.

  • Publicity about pelican crossings should be targeted at pedestrians. This should highlight the operation of the pelican crossing, particularly that a green man crossing is protected after the tone ceases until all pedestrians clear the crossing. This may reassure slow moving pedestrians and maintain their intentions to continue walking.

  • Children who do not walk to school should be made aware of the health benefits, social opportunities and practicality of walking on the school journey; research is needed to explore how crossing provision and other aspects of safe route provision affect parental decisions to allow children to walk to school

  • People with impaired mobility need crossings that do not tax their physical ability and that function unambiguously for people with impaired sight, hearing or learning ability. Enhanced facilities such as voiced crossing, announcements, tactile devices and keyed facilities are desirable at all 'green man' crossings. Two stage crossings are confusing for blind people and separate voices controlling each stage are desirable.

  • An educational pack aimed at people with learning disabilities should be designed and made available to organisations that could help promote safe road crossing procedures to this user group.

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1 Many pedestrians who had used the crossings incorrectly declined to be interviewed. Consequently, the proportions of interviewees correctly or incorrectly using the crossings do not provide reliable estimates of the populations who use crossings correctly and incorrectly. The data are peculiar to the sample and do not provide generalisable estimates.