Zebra crossings are – strictly speaking – a stopgap in places where car traffic dominates urban traffic. They were made in Britain, like this probably most famous zebra crossing photo in Abbey Road with the Beatles.
The protective effect of zebra crossings is beyond doubt. As the guidelines state: “MSDS are one of several ways of protecting pedestrians when crossing the road (see VwV on §25 StVO)” (German guidelines for pedestrian crossings, (R-FGÜ 2001). The federal states were asked to introduce these guidelines and to apply them from January 1, 2002.
The guidelines are only binding on the authorities in the individual federal states if they have been introduced by the responsible ministries by virtue of a decree. The federal states have dealt with them differently. There has been no response to repeated enquiries from FUSS e.V. about how the state of Bremen is dealing with it. Practice shows that the installation of zebra crossings in the city of Bremen has to be fought hard. The few zebra crossings that exist in Bremen are not maintained and are threatened with abolition as soon as an accident happens here. The saying “Pedestrians sway on zebra crossings in deceptive safety” still haunts the minds of planners* and politicians* – fortunately not all of them.
Pedestrians go their own ways
Pedestrians do not like to walk along traffic-loaded streets, from junction to junction, so to speak, but prefer to find quiet side streets or paths in green areas for longer distances through the city. At their end is usually a main road. In order to cross it safely, pedestrians would have to walk to the next junction – a detour. If people on foot don’t feel like it or don’t have the time, they risk their lives when crossing the open road, are hunted and chased “because they have no business being here”. The situation is different at crosswalk crossings. Zebra crossings are necessary between the crossings.
Apart from detours and loss of time, it is very uncomfortable for pedestrians to walk along a main road, to wait at an intersection and to be exposed to noise and bad air. When they finally have GREEN, turning motorists usually also have GREEN. So pedestrians are not even safe at crossroads. But then you prefer zebra crossings where pedestrians want to cross the road. Waiting for a traffic flow gap is still more comfortable than pilgrimaging to the next intersection! The car traffic is interrupted less than by a pedestrian traffic light – a win-win situation.
To better understand the restrictive handling during the introduction of zebra crossings in Germany, it is worth taking a look at the traffic history.
Zebra crossings and road traffic law
In response to the record number of road accidents in the UK, Leslie Hore-Belisha initiated a number of safety measures in 1934, including foot-passenger crossings, which were incorporated into the Road Traffic Act 1934 (“Road Traffic Act, 1934” (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-10-25. Retrieved 25 October 2018).
To make these pedestrian crossings more easily recognisable, they were initially provided with blue and yellow stripes. After changing the design to black and white in 1949, the name zebra crossing was created.
In Germany, the precursors of the zebra crossing consisted of white road markings at intersections where centrally suspended four-sided traffic lights with automatically switched red-yellow-green signals were installed. These strips were intended to assist pedestrians* crossing the road (1926).
Driving fast – pedestrians are left behind
In 1934, the first “Reichsstraßenverkehrsordnung” (German highway code) gave motor vehicles priority for the first time and abolished all speed limits. Three years later, the restriction of traffic space for pedestrians* was legally cemented: “Pedestrians must use the sidewalks. … lanes … must be crossed by the shortest route at right angles to the direction of travel with the necessary caution and without stopping”. (§ 37 RStVO, RGBl 1937 I, p. 1188, see today § 25 StVO). In 1939 there was again a speed limit, not to protect human life (just before the war!), but to save petrol. Cycling was – by the way – now also possible and allowed on the motorway.
Zebra crossing as traffic sign
The UK-born zebra crossing first appeared internationally in the Geneva Protocol on Road Signs and Signals on 19 September 1949. Because of their ease of use, zebra crossings have been installed all over the world.
In Germany, too, zebra crossings were marked from 1952 and included as traffic signs in the StVO in 1953. At the same time, however, the reintroduced speed limits in the cities were lifted. “Free passage for free citizens”, even through the middle of the city. Many people lost their lives in car traffic, especially children.
In the 1950s, therefore, the aim of the Deutsche Verkehrswacht, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Transport and the economy, was to adapt children to road traffic by means of traffic education: “The child should be educated to become a person … who loves and seeks order … and therefore also willingly integrates himself into a system of order, as represented by road traffic legislation. The children brought up in this way are now around 70 years old. This explains the attitude of most car drivers, who believe that pedestrians have to adapt to the traffic situation and are themselves “to blame” when they are run over.
Dispute about speed limits
In 1957, a limit of 50 km/h was reintroduced in urban areas, accompanied by a highly emotional debate about speed limits – as was the case 23 years earlier in the UK in connection with the speed limit of 30 miles per hour. In 1957, pedestrians* on pedestrian crossings had priority over the rest of the traffic: “On the pedestrian crossings, every pedestrian has priority over every vehicle if the pedestrian is on the crosswalk before the vehicle reaches the crosswalk. (§37a, StVO)
A risky manoeuvre for pedestrians*! Who was faster? Just this preferential treatment of pedestrians in combination with a speed of 50 km/h, which is intolerable for cities, led to the fact that zebra crossings were abolished in the 60s and only partly replaced by pedestrian traffic lights.
Germany – the most children involved in accidents in Europe
In the 1960s and 1970s, accident statistics in Germany showed the highest number of childhood accidents in Europe. Numerous parents and educators realised that their children were only able to behave “in a car-friendly” and therefore “roadworthy” manner to a limited extent. Many called for more government measures such as speed limits or looked for alternatives such as transporting their children in their own vehicles.
Zebra crossings or pedestrian traffic lights?
Under the given circumstances (speed of 50 km/h), crossing a roadway requires great attention even at zebra crossings; even at a speed of 30 km/h, caution is required. But zebra crossings at least increase the chance of crossing the road safely and give pedestrians a higher perception of the traffic.
Zebra crossings should also cross cycle paths. Zebra crossings are just as safe as pedestrian lights (FG-LSA), regardless of the vehicle load, if the following criteria are met
– Good recognisability through conspicuous signs and markings
– Good visibility on zebra crossings and waiting areas
– Additional lighting
– Barrier-free design
– If possible structurally supported by central island
A pedestrian traffic light, on the other hand, is no safer than a crosswalk. This is the result of a comprehensive study commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Transport. Crossing a road is most unsafe when there is neither one nor the other. To abolish a zebra crossing for “safety reasons” is a big mistake. Where accidents happen, the zebra crossing must be repaired. This is also stated in the R-FGÜ 2001, the guidelines for pedestrian crossings.
Advantages of zebra crossings
– Zebra crossings are safer than pedestrian lights or just as unsafe
– Zebra crossings are more comfortable for both pedestrian and moving traffic; both types of traffic are spared unnecessary waiting times.
– Zebra crossings are much cheaper to produce than pedestrian traffic lights. The installation of a simple pedestrian crossing without a central island costs between 2,500 and 8,500 €, the construction of a simple pedestrian light signal system costs between 10,000 and 30,000 €, i.e. four times as much. The same difference in price exists for the entertainment, which amounts to approximately 350 € per year for zebra crossings, and approximately 1.300 € for pedestrian LSA.
– The real costs depend on road construction, lighting, with and without drainage, central island, sidewalk stretching (sideways stretching of sidewalks). According to calculations from Berlin (2004 to 2012), a zebra crossing costs on average 31,000 €, a pedestrian traffic light between 50,000 and 70,000 €.
Drag shoes of crosswalks
The existing guidelines for the construction and equipment of pedestrian crossings (R-FGÜ 2001) express the concern that the flow of motor vehicle traffic in its flow could be disrupted by pedestrians* crossing it. For this reason, the conditions for the construction of zebra crossings are very strict.
Pedestrian crossings are not allowed on road sections with “green wave”.
Zebra crossings may not be laid out in the course of streets with trams without their own track system.
The Federal Ministry of Transport is doing its utmost to prevent zebra crossings. In the VwV StVO, a total of 16 points regulate where and how they are to be laid out – and above all where not: not on country roads, not across multi-lane carriageways in one direction, not close together. “Pedestrian crossings must be sufficiently far apart”, says the regulation. Where “sufficient” does not mean that something for pedestrians should be sufficient. It is sufficient for the fact that it is really worthwhile to step on the gas between two pedestrians. And enough so that the cars don’t back up before the second crosswalk, except for the first one, which is right in front of it. Zebra crossings are also forbidden near traffic lights. And as a prerequisite for a zebra crossing, it is not enough to simply want pedestrians* to be able to walk quickly and without waiting. According to the ordinance, they should “as a rule only be laid out when it is necessary to give pedestrians priority, because otherwise they will not cross the road safely”. Zebra crossings are also not permitted where “bending right of way” exists. But just such places are especially dangerous for pedestrians*. Paradoxically, the consequence of this in the StVO logic is not that they get this safety device – but that they definitely do not get it.
A Green Wave for car traffic in the city is not justified towards other road users* who want to cross the road. A “Green Wave” for public transport, on the other hand, makes sense; in trams and buses the number of people is usually higher than the number of people who want to cross the street at the moment a tram passes. Priority for trams even at zebra crossings is easy to see and well communicated.
In Switzerland, for example, zebra crossings are also used in streets where the tram runs without its own track. For safety reasons – possibly for German tourists – there is sometimes a sign at such zebra crossings with the inscription “The tram has right of way”.
Zebra crossings currently under discussion
Only recently, a woman was run over by a 78-year-old woman driver on one of the rare zebra crossings, which will be a tough fight in 2013 – a senior citizens’ residential area in Horn-Lehe had campaigned for this. The question arose as to whether a zebra crossing is safe or should be abolished or replaced by a traffic light system. The Advisory Council has now decided to maintain and improve visibility. The abolition would have meant that the many elderly people who have used this zebra crossing for six years without an accident would again have to accept detours to the next traffic light controlled intersection.
More zebra crossings in Bremen – also via cycle paths
Instead of fewer, there must be more crosswalks, wherever they are needed: At bus stops, in front of kindergartens, schools, residential homes for the elderly, supermarkets and entrances to parks, also and especially in connection with the nationwide speed limit of 30 km/h, even though the R-FGÜ 2001 states: “As a rule, 30 km/h zones are dispensable”. This sentence should be deleted without replacement.
Another sentence of the StVO-VwV, on the other hand, should be emphasized: “As a rule, pedestrian crossings should also be built across cycle paths to protect pedestrians”. It is even clearer in the directive itself: “MUCs should not be interrupted at constructional cycle paths, cycle lanes and guard rails”.
In Bremen we are far from zebra crossings over cycle paths. We can already be grateful if a zebra crossing is installed at all!
An example of this practice in Bremen: In 2017 “Der Stern”, a central roundabout square with tram and bus stops, was extensively redesigned to make cycling safer. A lane for motorists* inside was removed and the cycle lanes were marked red. This has indeed increased the safety of cyclists. Zebra crossings, on the other hand, were omitted. The sidewalks at Am Stern for pedestrians* have been widened and provided with guide strips for the blind. But what use are guide strips for the blind if they do not have a continuation in the form of a zebra crossing, both over the cycle path and over the road?
In other countries, the zebra crossing is led over the cycle lanes, as the example from Ghent shows:
It is high time that pedestrian traffic becomes more visible in terms of infrastructure. Zebra crossings do not only encourage pedestrian traffic, but are a symbol for the fact that there is also pedestrian traffic in the city in addition to car and bicycle traffic!