UCL Engineering


Saving lives with smarter zebras

New technologies to develop smarter pedestrian crossings

Zebra crossing

14 February 2020

The speed and volume of motor traffic on urban roads often act as a barrier to those travelling on foot, occasionally resulting in pedestrian death and injury. The main tool used to mitigate this is the signalised pedestrian (zebra) crossing.

However, these crossings often operate in a manner that does not recognise the expectations and needs of the people using them, leading to a high incidence of crossing against the signal, increasing danger and stress.

The development of ‘smart’ urban traffic control systems that can actively respond to sensor input provides the technical opportunity for pedestrian ‘human factors’ to be taken into account.

In 2016, Mike Grahn of London Living Streets, a charity campaigning for pedestrian-friendly streets, won seed funding during an Engineering Exchange community research forum on Healthy Ageing and Wellbeing.

In collaboration with Dr Tom Cohen of UCL’s Transport Institute, London Living Streets launched a project to better understand how pedestrians actually use crossing signals and to test the hypothesis that the current design does not take user behaviour into account.

Since then, Living Streets has developed links with Transport for London (TfL) to collaborate on a substantive piece of work.

TfL is undertaking a comprehensive review of their 6,000+ signal-controlled pedestrian crossings with the aim to optimise the control algorithms to reduce wait times for active travel users.

Living Streets are measuring pedestrian experience and behaviour at selected sites before and after the signal timings have been adjusted.

The results will be used to monitor and improve the operation of signalised crossings by TfL and will be made available for use by other transport authorities.

The project aims to facilitate active travel and increase health and well-being by introducing a new generation of smart crossings that respond to user needs.