April 2, 1962: The first panda crossing opens outside the Waterloo Station in London. This type of signal-controlled pedestrian crossing was used in the UK between this date and 1967. It followed on the zebra crossing after the British Ministry of Transport chief, Ernest Marples, looked for a safer way for British citizens to cross ever more congested roads safely. The zebra crossings were not only not as safe as hoped, but they also were responsible for traffic congestion as pedestrians could cross whenever they chose. Then available systems were considered too expensive to implement countrywide so some localities set up their own systems. The non-standardization was also a safety issue. The two major flaws with the zebra crossings were the snarling of traffic and the violation of contemporary right-of-way laws. The “Don’t cross” sign was not a legally enforceable instruction.
The hope was the new panda crossing system would incorporate the best features of all the currently available systems. The layout of the crossing was superficially like the zebra crossings with the black and white pattern painted on the road but instead of stripes, triangles were used and Belisha beacons (a pole to warn of a crossing zone) which had traditionally been plain now included the lights on top and were painted in stripes. The traffic signals had two lamps on top, one red and one amber. The pedestrian signal had only one display with the word “Cross” when it was safe to do so. In the idle state, no lights were lit. A pedestrian would press a button and wait for the appropriate signal to appear, indicating the time was right to cross the street.
A built in pause between activations allowed traffic to clear between times when pedestrians also wished to use the system. The amber light pulsed before the red light stopped traffic, giving drivers warning that a pedestrian was waiting to cross. Then the pedestrian “Cross” signal flashed and permitted people to cross the street safely. A few seconds after it began, it would pulse faster and the flashing red light would begin to pulse amber, letting drivers know it would soon be their turn. The “Cross” light continued to pulse quicker as time ran out and indicated to pedestrians to clear the roadway and then all lights would extinguish and traffic would resume.
This was later improved upon by the next system. The X-way lights replaced the panda crossing lights in 1967, although it was done rapidly rather than being phased in. It was so fast that the lights were changed, but the triangle paintings on the street were not updated at the same time. Two years later, the X-way system was replaced by the Pelican crossing system. The name came from PEdestrian LIght CONtrolled or PELICON crossing which changed to Pelican crossing for spelling’s sake. It is used with this name in the UK and in Ireland. The system in a similar form is used in Hong Kong and the US, although the lines on the street are different in those regions.
Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary. – Henry Louis Mencken
A society without jaywalkers might indicate a society without artists. – Paul Theroux
Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by traffic from both sides. – Margaret Thatcher
Don’t play for safety — it’s the most dangerous thing in the world. – Hugh Walpole
Also on this day: Giacomo Casanova – In 1725, Casanova was born.
US Coinage Act – In 1792, the Coinage Act was passed.
The Sunshine State – In 1513, Juan Ponce de León discovered Florida.
Starving – In 1863, the Richmond riot took place.
Some lead in Your Pencil – In 1827, Joseph Dixon produced the first lead pencils.