I visited Spain recently, not for the first time and not for the last. ¡Ojalá! I enjoyed the warmer weather, fresher food, relaxed lifestyle …and the zebra crossings. Streets with shops have zebra crossings spaced at frequent intervals. Roundabouts have zebra crossings on each arm. Every side road has a zebra crossing at each end. People walk with poise and confidence, and then motorists proceed when clear. It works well.
Spain is a country that the British love to visit — even British traffic engineers occasionally go. But if you suggest importing the idea of having frequent zebra crossings, those very same traffic engineers will insist that it’s impossible. Traffic armageddon! It can’t work here.
It’s very strange. There are many British people driving cars throughout Spain, and when I passed back through the UK Border, nobody was stripped of their ability to give way to pedestrians.
Yet, in British cities I have watched in amazement as pedestrians hop backwards onto the pavement — multiple times in a row — in fear that some motorist might possibly be turning into a side road, maybe.
The problem is that in the UK, traffic engineering follows the law of the jungle: ‘the powerful trample the weak’. A more civilised guiding principle would be: ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. That’s how I was taught when I originally learned to drive: a mishandled car is a lethal weapon, always drive with care.
The Highway Code is already clear on the matter, although sadly, most motorists here are not aware of this. Rules 170 and 206 both instruct motorists to give way to pedestrians who are crossing side roads.
We also need safer infrastructure. Instead of wide junctions that encourage drivers to speed around corners, we need compact and pedestrian-friendly designs — suitable for all ages and abilities. In addition to more crossings on high streets, we can add zebra crossings at side road junctions easily. Manchester is already leading the way on this, under Chris Boardman’s direction, by painting zebra stripes on side road crossings. We can do it in Cambridge too.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 23 January 2019.