Monday, March 7, 2011

Respect zebra crossings forpedestrians' sake

HEARD the one about a country bumpkin who was trying to cross a busy street downtown? Seeing the poor man in his predicament, a traffic policeman walked up to him and said: "Sir, there is a zebra crossing down the street."
The chap looked at the policeman, looked annoyed, and exclaimed: "Oh, yeah? I hope he's got better luck than me."

If you are smiling because you know what a zebra crossing is, I wonder if you recognise it when you see one.

Plentiful in the 1970s, zebra crossings are black and white (now yellow) stripes painted across roads with flashing amber lights stationed at either end.

They have no standard traffic lights facing oncoming traffic, but motorists are obliged to stop when someone is spotted on the crossing, or at the road shoulder waiting to cross.

The pedestrian crossings you see around the city today, including those at traffic light junctions, are not zebra crossings in the strict sense of the word.

In the United Kingdom, they are called pelican crossings -- pelican being a modified acronym for pedestrian light controlled (or pelicon). These have standard traffic lights mounted instead of flashing amber lights.

There is a button for you to press if you need to cross, but you have to wait for the light on your side to turn green before you should do so.

Some of these crossings are disabled-friendly, with chimes to alert the blind when it is safe to cross. Many have countdowns to let you know how much time you have to cross before the light for oncoming traffic goes green.

Compared with viaducts or overhead bridges, zebra or pedestrian crossings are more viable alternatives to connect walking pathways.

They can be built at a fraction of the cost of a bridge and in much shorter time.

They are also easier to maintain and more likely to be used by everyone than the pedestrian bridges or underpasses, many of which have become crime havens.

The only problem with pedestrian or zebra crossings is that many city motorists are like country bumpkins.

They do not recognise the crossings when they see one -- perhaps out of ignorance or apathy.

Take the zebra crossing at Sentul Pasar for instance.

Each morning, while driving to work, I see market-goers making their daily dash to cross the busy road despite using the crossing as they lug their baskets or with children in tow.

Motorists zip pass without batting an eyelid, let alone stop.

There have been many near-misses and I have watched startled pedestrians hurling verbal abuses at inconsiderate motorists.

Fortunately, I have not seen anyone hurt.

I have not seen any camera mounted at this zebra crossing or any pedestrian crossing around the city for that matter to record the misdeeds of errant motorists.

Because of this, brazen motorists continue to give scant regard to the rights of pedestrians on crossings.

In one of my trips to Johor, I saw a pedestrian crossing that can perhaps be an eye-opener for traffic authorities in the Klang Valley.

This crossing did not have flashing amber lights or signalised traffic lights. The only indicators of the crossing's location were two signboards placed several metres up and downstream of it.

But motorists obediently slow down when approaching the crossing even when no one was using it.

Humps high enough to slow down the most reckless speed demon have been put up on both sides of the crossing.

Someone must have been irked by speeding motorists in the area to have come up with the bumpy ride idea to teach errant motorists to slow down.

Perhaps the traffic managers in the city can learn a thing or two from this so that errant motorists learn to respect the rights of pedestrians at crossings.

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