More than 7,000 accidents occur at pedestrian crossings every year in the UK, according to data from the Transport Research Laboratory. And there are many factors which impact upon the safety of pedestrians as they cross the street, including their position relative to traffic and how crowded a crossing is.
So far, officials have mostly sought to improve the safety of pedestrian crossings through minor changes to design, with technological developments taking a backseat. In the future, however, smarter technologies may become the primary strategy for making crossings safer, and various high-tech crossing projects are already being trialled around the world.
Here are four of the most notable.
1. The Starling Crossing
One of the most prominent is the Starling Crossing, which is short for STigmergic Adaptive Responsive LearnING. It’s being designed by a London-based company called Umbrellium for insurer Direct Line, and it’s currently at the prototype stage.
Instead of being painted on the road, the markings for this crossing are made of LEDs, which enables them to change according to traffic conditions. If a large group of pedestrians is crossing, the crosswalk widens. If there are no pedestrians, it disappears.
The system uses cameras to monitor car, foot and bike traffic and direct everybody accordingly. It uses machine learning to inform its decisions and adjusts the crosswalk to the route that pedestrians typically take to cross the street.
2. The Line of Sight
Direct Line is also working with a second company, Mettle Studio, on another crossing project called the Line of Sight – a strip of red LEDs that light up when pedestrians are crossing the street. The red lights warn cars anytime someone steps onto the crossing. Once pedestrians cross the street, they flash and then go out entirely.
Image: Mettle Studios.
Like the Starling Crossing, the Line of Sight uses cameras to detect pedestrians and activate the LEDs.
3. FLIR Systems Pedestrian Detectors
Another tech company that’s looking to revolutionise crosswalks is FLIR Systems, which recently acquired the company Traficon, a maker of intelligent traffic systems.
FLIR offers smart city products such as the TrafiOne, a sensor that monitors vehicle and pedestrian traffic and uses that information to control traffic signals. In addition to a camera, this device uses thermal imaging, which enables it to more easily detect pedestrians in the dark. If the system detects pedestrians waiting to cross the street, it can extend the red light for vehicles.
4. Traffic Tech Pedestrian Switch Pads
Image: Traffic Tech.
Another way to detect pedestrians is with pressure-sensitive switch pads, such as those from Australia-based company Traffic Tech. The pads offered by the company are only 3.5 mm tall and can adhere to existing pedestrian ramps. The pad detects when a pedestrian is standing on it and sends a signal to control traffic lights. It can also cancel the signal if the pedestrian steps off of the pad. The device can even detect the direction a pedestrian is walking because it contains multiple rows of buttons that are activated individually.
Implementing Smart Technologies
We already employ some technologies at our pedestrian crossings, such as buttons and sensors – although some question whether these devices actually help pedestrians cross the street faster. At any rate, the technology we currently use is fairly basic, and the more advanced tech is mostly in the prototyping and testing phases.
Implementing these advanced devices into crossings is slow work, since they must undergo stringent testing to ensure safety. Eventually, though, we’ll likely see smart crossings in cities around the world improving pedestrian safety.
Crossings won’t be the only part of the road that will be smart in the future. In fact, other aspects, such as vehicles, are already incorporating smart technologies. In the future, nearly every element of traffic will communicate with one another: self-driving cars, traffic lights, road signs, roads themselves, crosswalks and even pedestrians and cyclists will be able to communicate with each other over a network of sensors and internet-connected components.
This increased connectivity could help to improve safety for pedestrians and drivers and also increase the efficiency of how we get around by improving traffic flow and reducing congestion. Smart technologies are expected to be able to reduce travel times by between 16 and 36 percent.
Building this system, however, will be a long and challenging process. Although it’s already getting started, it’ll be a while before we have fully connected smart roadways. Until then, we should continue the work that’s ongoing in designing better crossings that make life safer and more convenient for pedestrians.