Archive for the ‘Pedestrian Countdown’ Category

TfL to tender out £6m contract to reduce pedestrian times at 220 crossing in London

August 2, 2011

Transport for London’s Pedestrian Countdown scheme reduces crossing time for pedestrians, as part of a strategy to squeeze more road traffic through junctions.

London Assembly Member Val Shawcross has warned it will  make the city “less pedestrian-friendly”, and Green Party member Jenny Jones has raised concerns that it discriminates against “less agile Londoners and people with children”.

Run before you can walk: Pedestrian Countdown at Oxford Circus

The most recent minutes of TfL’s bi-monthly Finance and Policy Committee meeting reveal that they have now been granted authority for the procurement and roll-out of Pedestrian Countdown at Traffic Signals at 220 sites over three years  (p7).  They note:

This will reduce confusion and uncertainty and give pedestrians more confidence to cross before the red man. While (sic) also allowing a standard six second green invitation to be introduced with the remaining time allocated to trafficimproving efficiency and through put, and contributing to the Mayor’s objective of smoothing traffic flow.

The estimated final cost is £6m. The project will now be put out to tender.

Thanks to Boris Watch for highlighting these minutes on twitter.

Pedestrian Countdown: the facts

Some reminders about pedestrian countdown:

1. It takes time away from pedestrians and reallocates it to motor vehicles at some of London’s busiest crossings, including so far Oxford Circus and Holborn.

2. Walking speeds go up at crossings with pedestrian countdown, particularly in people over 60.

3. Transport for London claim that fewer people feel rushed crossing the road during pedestrian countdown. This is based on questionnaire responses, not walking speeds. It is also not true for mobility impaired people.

Is this legal?

Reducing time for pedestrians clearly negatively impacts people with mobility issues, older people, parents with children and pregnant women. Fortunately, public authorities and those who exercise public functions have due regard to eliminate discrimination against at least three of these groups.

Additionally, there is a significant chance that some other legally protected groups are over-represented as pedestrians, and therefore reducing times at crossings would disproportionately negatively affect these groups too.

I have sent Transport for London a Freedom of Information request, asking for any Equalities Impact Assessments relating to pedestrian countdown. They are obliged to respond by 1st September.

Get a grip, Boris

Pedestrian Countdown is an iconic, visible and explicit part of Boris Johnson’s smoothing traffic flow agenda, and it exemplifies the rotten state in which Transport for London operates under his stewardship.

In a swift and unambiguous way, road traffic is prioritised over pedestrians. Insultingly, press releases are then issued which try to sell this as a pro-walking measure. All the while, key documents remain unpublished until obtained through FOI requests.

Being a pedestrian in London is already unpleasant enough. Long waiting times, staggered crossings, pedestrian “cow pens”, noise, air pollution and of course road danger (even on the pavement).

People who walk in London – which, I’m afraid Boris, is almost everyone – aren’t going to put up with this forever.

Pedestrian Countdown: Full Appendices

August 1, 2011

In July, I published an analysis of Transport for London’s pedestrian countdown technology:

Artificial road-user hierarchy imposed by a Conservative mayor: a closer analysis of Pedestrian Countdown

Reports obtained through Freedom of Information requests show in detail how TfL have systemically removed time from pedestrians at junctions under the pretext of the pedestrian countdown trial.

I attached the main report, which contains this information, at the end of the above post. Recently, I have received some requests for the rest of the reports.

These have now been published on the London Transport Data blog.

London Transport Data is young, but growing. Read more about it here.

Artificial road-user hierarchy imposed by a Conservative mayor: a closer analysis of Pedestrian Countdown

July 11, 2011

Transport for London’s Pedestrian Countdown at Traffic Signals [PCaTS] trial is one of the more visible parts of Boris Johnson’s agenda to smooth London’s traffic flow. TfL has claimed that Londoners are in favour of countdown timers for pedestrians, but has faced criticism for using the rollout as a pretext for cutting pedestrian time at busy crossings like Oxford Circus.

Green Party Assembly Member Jenny Jones has argued that “less agile Londoners and people with children, should not be expected to sprint across the road,” and that in fact TfL should be allocating more time to pedestrians.

Very Important Pedestrian (VIP) day - a traffic-free day on Oxford Street and Regent Street

Oxford Street when closed to traffic - the demand is there

The Pedestrian Countdown “package”

The Pedestrian Countdown trial actually masks a raft of changes which make walking a slightly less appealing choice than driving.

When TfL tells us how much pedestrians like the new signals, they don’t talk of the timers themselves, but of “Pedestrian Countdown technology” or in technical documents, “the PCaTS package”.

The reason for this is buried on page 73 of over 300 pages of unpublished technical appendices to this report produced for TfL:

The Green Man time was reduced on all sites with PCaTS, and the Countdown time provided was longer than the Blackout time in the ‘Before’ surveys.

The change in available crossing time was a limitation of the study. Any observed changes in behaviour will be a result of both the change to the signal timings and the introduction of PCaTS, that is, the effects are confounded.

TfL rolled out a number of changes to pedestrian crossings at once and then asked people what they thought of them – it is extremely difficult to discern which changes people are reacting to when they respond to the Pedestrian Countdown package.

What did the study actually do?

The following is a summary of the changes to crossing times made by TfL.

Pedestrian phases



Green man




Pedestrian red


Total pedestrian time


Road traffic phases




To clarify:

– “Pedestrian red” is the grace period at the end of the pedestrian phase where the red man appears but road traffic signals are still red.

– “Blackout” is the period for pedestrians after the green man where there is no green or red man showing, and is the phase wholly replaced with Countdown.

Why are we being told pedestrians are given more time to cross?

Despite the above, it is argued in the report on Pedestrian Countdown by Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) that the crossing time for pedestrians is increased (e.g. p73). This defines “available crossing time” as “the sum of the Green Man time and the Blackout time.”

This seems just another attempt to steal time from pedestrians. The red period at the end of pedestrian crossing time, prior to a road traffic green signal, is still part of pedestrians’ time. Road traffic is legally not allowed to advance, whereas pedestrians face no such restrictions. People routinely finish crossing the road during this stage, particularly those who move less quickly. Cutting this time is cutting pedestrian time.

The following graph, composed with data extracted from TRL’s appendices, shows the average change in time across all trial sites:

Pedestrian time decreases

(“After” here is the “After 1” trial, immediately after PcATS is installed. The appendices do not contain the figures for the tweaked “After 2” trial, three months later, though we are told the green time is the same.)

What about road traffic time?

On average across all sites and across both the “After 1” and “After 2” stages of the trial, this time which did belong to pedestrians is reallocated to green for road traffic:

Pedestrians' lost time gives cars more green and less red

How does this affect Jenny Jones’ pensioners?

When countdown was rolled out, Jenny Jones voiced her concerns that,

Pensioners in London are not necessarily fitter than ones in Birmingham or Manchester. The mayor will have a tricky job speeding up the flow of traffic while protecting these vulnerable road users.

The package of measures above seems to have two notable effects in this regard:

1. More people begin to cross the road and then dash back to the kerb. (p89)

2. Walking speeds go up – interestingly, particularly in people over 60. (pp103-4)

TfL says,

At all trial sites, fewer people felt rushed when crossing the road with Pedestrian Countdown, compared to without.


  1. This is a measure of questionnaire responses, rather than time taken to cross the road.
  2. This is not true of mobility impaired people (Appendix 1, pp30 – 34).

What about all the positive responses mentioned by TfL?

It seems likely that there is some good in the Pedestrian Countdown package – certainly in response to the questionnaires, people seemed to be saying they liked something. But because so many changes were introduced at once, we don’t know exactly what. Similarly, when we look at the change in behaviour at the trial sites, there are a number of negative outcomes, but it is difficult to work out why they occur.

We see, for example, an increase in conflicts between pedestrians and road traffic during the curtailed “pedestrian red” phase (p130). This might be because pedestrians are unable to accurately judge against the Countdown how long it takes to cross. It might be because that phase has been reduced in time. It might be for another reason. We don’t know, and there’s no way of knowing.

Let’s stick to what we do know. A timer counting down the seconds that people have to scurry across the road is implicitly hostile towards them. Cutting green man time is explicitly hostile. As is cutting overall pedestrian time.

Who gains?

After hundreds of pages of research, there’s still no clear evidence of any specific advantages, other than more green time for motor vehicles.

This is partly due to the methodology of the study. Given the multiplicity of  measures introduced at once, it is very difficult to draw out which changes might advantage pedestrians. But the very fact that the study was conducted in this way suggests that Boris Johnson’s TfL do not really care about the effects of individual changes on pedestrians, provided that road traffic is delayed by them for less long.

Pedestrian Countdown is explicitly part of Boris Johnson’s Smoothing Traffic Flow policy. In reality, what this means is: pedestrians are seen not as people making journeys, but simply as a factor contributing to the impedance of road traffic.

Is deliberately slowing pedestrians for the benefit of others hierarchical?

In June 2011, the Conservative Party’s London Assembly Members wrote:

Neither the Mayor nor the Government should impose an  artificial road user hierarchy as this inevitably has the effect of deliberately slowing down some users.

I think my hypocrisy-meter just exploded.

Attached: Transport Research Laboratory – PCaTS Technical Appendix 1 (pdf)

How TfL came to claim that pedestrians want less time to cross at Oxford Circus

July 6, 2011

Oxford Street is a pedestrian hell. Everyone knows this.

The need of spending money

In February 2010, the London Assembly demanded more time for pedestrians to cross Oxford Street (p25). Transport for London (TfL) responded by denying that this was their responsibility, claiming that “service levels for pedestrians would have to be discussed with Westminster City Council” (p3).

Despite apparently having no power to give pedestrians more time to cross Oxford Street, TfL have miraculously managed since last year to cut around 25 minutes a day from pedestrians crossing at Oxford Circus.

This is through their Pedestrian Countdown trial, part of the Mayor’s Smoothing Traffic Flow agenda.

Oxford Circus countdown

The clock is ticking...

In his most recent report to the Board, TfL commissioner Peter Hendy said about Pedestrian Countdown,

A majority (83 per cent) of pedestrians surveyed liked the trial technology, as did 94 per cent of mobility impaired users and 79 per cent of children, with the majority of people surveyed feeling safer and less rushed. (p10)

This seems unlikely. Having a massive timer counting down the seconds until cars bear down on you seems likely to instil panic – or at least to make you feel rather harried. Indeed, when scoping attitudes to the idea in 2009, this is what even drivers told TfL:

“They have this in Mallorca. You have everyone pushing and shoving as the timer runs out.” [Private motorist, male, 36+, inner London, non-time critical]

What are TfL’s claims based on?

TfL have, it seems, used two pieces of research as the basis for their remarks here and in their press releases claiming that pedestrians love the countdown system. The first is a questionnaire by market research company Synovate called Smoothing Traffic Flow – Intervention Testing. The second is significantly more comprehensive research by transport consultancy TRL.

This is the question which people were asked about the countdown system in the Synovate research:

Some pedestrian crossings could have a countdown display. This display would show pedestrians how much time they have left to cross the road. This would make it easier for pedestrians to know when they can cross safely. It could also reduce the likelihood of people trying to cross the road when they should not do so. This would mean traffic would not be delayed further, and would make pedestrian crossings safer.

How do you rate this idea? (p43)

This question is about as loaded as a Primal Scream fan in a 1991 club. Let’s unpick it a little. It seems to me that the penultimate sentence in particular makes two extraordinary claims:

  1. The solution to London’s motor traffic congestion problems lies in changing pedestrian behaviour.
  2. Pedestrian countdown makes pedestrian crossings safer.

The first claim is so preposterous that I am not going to bother with it.

There does not seem to be any evidence to support the second claim. Indeed, the TRL report summary published by TfL shows that at three of the four sites with a statistically significant change in conflicts between pedestrians and traffic, conflicts increased hugely (more than doubled – p33). I see no basis for Peter Hendy claiming that Pedestrian Countdown is safer, and if anything the evidence seems to indicate the converse.


The Synovate research is no basis for claiming that anyone is in favour of Countdown. People were given, frankly, false information about what a new system might look like and then asked to how much they might like this fantasy system. Of course people are in favour a magical clock which increases safety, makes people feel calmer crossing the road, and significantly reduces traffic congestion  – this is not what Pedestrian Countdown is, and it is duplicitous of TfL to claim that it is.

I viewed the Synovate questionnaire through an FOI request. It contains plenty of content that I have not blogged about. To download it, click here. Fear not: plenty on the TRL research to come.

Pedestrian countdown: TfL report shows it endangers pedestrians. Suggests city-wide roll out.

June 3, 2011

Most Londoners will by now have come across one of the pedestrian countdown timers being piloted in London.

TfL inform us that,

Crossing the road at traffic lights is getting easier in London. Pedestrian Countdown counts down how long you have to cross the road after the green man light has gone out.

Pedestrian Crossing Countdown Timer

Ah, so they’re for the benefit of pedestrians, then? Well, you won’t find it on their website, but TfL have buried deep in their Network Operating Strategy that, other than their effect on pedestrians, countdown timers are considered advantageous for their

potential to improve the overall efficiency of the junction and reallocate a few seconds green time back to other modes. (p30)

No doubt taking green time away from pedestrians makes things “easier”. Perhaps the easiest thing of all would be to remove the green phase completely so pedestrians are never allowed to cross the road? This would avoid confusion, particularly for hard-to-reach groups like the visually impaired.

TfL have commissioned transport consultancy TRL to produce a report on the pedestrian countdown system, published 31st May 2011. It reveals the extent to which TfL have used the countdown system as a pretext for removing time from the pedestrian-crossing phase and “reallocating” it to motor traffic:

Page 28

Yes, you’re reading it correctly, time has been moved away from pedestrians in every single case and by up to almost five minutes per hour in one location.

The need of spending money

Oxford Street, one of the pilot sites: do we need to make pedestrians less of a priority?

The effects of this are (A) making walking in London an even less appealing experience by rushing pedestrians, and (B) increasing pedestrian risk. And the data proves it.

Do pedestrians feel rushed?

While it is intuitive that pedestrians facing a countdown feel more rushed, TfL have shrugged this off. But look at the TRL results of average walking speed times before and after the installation of a countdown timer:

People are walking considerably faster (page 26)

Now, remember this is measuring the average walking speed throughout the pedestrian phase. As a significant proportion of the cycle is the same under both trials – the green man – the real extent to which pedestrians are rushed by these timers is actually much greater than what is shown here.

Naturally, perceived pressure to cross the street particularly affects those groups already marginalised as pedestrians, such as older people, parents with children, and the physically less-able.

Pedestrian safety

TRL have published the results at four sites for what they call “conflict”, an oddly neutral term defined as “when two people attempt to use the same space at the same time.”

When “conflicts” happen on “roads”, I would consider this “a car crash”. To each their own. The data (p33) shows the following:

  • At Kingsway, Finsbury and Blackfriars, conflicts between pedestrians and traffic more than doubled from 152 to 342 conflicts.
  • At Oxford Street, conflicts were reduced. However, the severity of the conflicts which did occur increased.

Interestingly, on a page which TfL have now taken down but which Google still has a cache of, TfL claims:

Crucially, the study showed that there were no negative impacts on safety during the trial.


So what to take from this? Pedestrians are more rushed and more at risk. On the above cached page, TfL says that in light of this report they are looking at:

how Pedestrian Countdown technology could be rolled out to a number of key road junctions across the TfL Road Network from early 2012.

Garrett Emmerson, Chief Operating Officer for London Streets at TfL said: “Pedestrian Countdown can deliver significant benefits not just to pedestrians, but to all road users.”

Except it is pretty clear that the new system reduces the amount of time pedestrians have to cross the road, bullies them while they do it, and actually increases their risk. So why are TfL so keen?

Look at this graph of vehicle delay after countdown timers have been installed:

A net reduction. TfL are pushing a project to decrease vehicle delays at the expense of pedestrian safety.

And, to be frank, they’re lying about it.