With the Pelican established, the history of the pedestrian crossing's development is mostly finished. But it would be a terrible shame to stop without mentioning what can only be described as a completely baffling idea that was raised more recently.
It came about because the Greater London Council (GLC) was looking for ways to get more efficient performance from its signalised junctions. More efficiency meant more time on green lights and less time where the chaotic London traffic was held up. A set of holiday photographs from a trip to Spain held on government file show that one of the Council's traffic engineers had seen something there that he thought could be the answer. It became known as the Flashing Amber Arrow experiment.
The idea was bounced around the GLC for years, and in discussions with the Department of Transport it found favour in principle. Test sites were selected at Southwark and Harrow. Draft wordings of road signs to describe the horrors of the experiment to motorists were drawn up (and annotated in pencil with a warning not to show the diagrams to the GLC's traffic department or they would be "made up before we know where we are"). While the idea would bring the UK into line with Europe and the USA, where either flashing amber lights or a simple "right on red" rule did much the same thing, it was noted with some hesitation that laws already existed asking motorists to give way to pedestrians when turning in to a side road. If those rules were mostly overlooked, what hope did this stand?
The initial idea — to turn off the pedestrian lights and then let drivers plough through the last part of the crossing phase — was refined. By 1985, the concept was finalised and it was a little different. Instead of giving pedestrians a green man crossing phase, the lights would simply show them the safest part of the traffic light cycle to cross the road, during which time traffic would be required to give them priority. It did this by showing a red man to pedestrians when it wasn't safe and then, at the best time in the sequence for them to cross, this changed to a flashing amber man. Motorists turning in to that arm of the junction would be faced with a flashing amber light, intended to be reminiscent of a Belisha Beacon. Where the pedestrian phase was to one side, an amber arrow was to be used as a warning that pedestrians were crossing out of sight.
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