Belisha beacon

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A Belisha beacon atop its striped pole. This example also features a spot lamp to illuminate the crossing at night.

A Belisha beacon (sometimes referred to as a pelican beacon) /bəˈlʃə/ is an amber-coloured globe lamp atop a tall black and white pole, marking pedestrian crossings of roads in the United Kingdom, Ireland and in other countries (e.g., Hong Kong, Malta) historically influenced by Britain. It was named after Leslie Hore-Belisha (1893–1957), the Minister of Transport who in 1934 added beacons to pedestrian crossings, marked by large metal studs in the road surface. These crossings were later painted in black and white stripes, thus are known as zebra crossings. Legally pedestrians have priority (over wheeled traffic) on such crossings.

Belisha beacons provide additional visibility to zebra crossings for motorists, primarily at night. The flash commonly lasts one second in both on and off states. Some crossings are set so that each beacon flashes alternately to the other side, but they often fall out of synchronization over time. Beacons with an outer ring of flashing amber LED lights, preferred for their brightness and low electricity consumption, are replacing traditional incandescent bulbs in many areas.

To be legally compliant, every zebra crossing must be equipped with two Belisha beacons. In the UK, in cases where there is a traffic island or central reservation in the road, the traffic authority can opt whether to place one or more beacons centrally.[1]

In recent years[when?] the number of zebra crossings and Belisha beacons has fallen in the northern counties of England, being replaced by pelican crossings or puffin crossings, with pedestrian-controlled traffic signals; a waiting pedestrian can stop vehicular traffic by pressing a button and waiting for the pedestrian signal of a red and green man to change to green. The green man can be accompanied by a green bicycle to indicate that the crossing is designated for pedestrians and cyclists, continuing the bird-name theme, this type of crossing is called a Toucan crossing, as in, 'two can' cross. Another variation is the pegasus crossing where the pedestrian is accompanied by a green horse to indicate that the crossing is designated for pedestrians and horses, for example, at Hyde Park Corner, London.

The first Belisha Beacon was erected in Wigan on the corner of Mesnes Street, and became operational on 4 July 1935.

Outside the United Kingdom[edit]

A zebra crossing outfitted with Belisha beacons in Hong Kong.

Australia[edit]

In Australia, recent years[when?] have seen a proliferation of various kinds of beacons and bollards, illuminated, reflective or otherwise designed for high visibility at pedestrian crossings, to which the name Belisha or "Bellisher" is occasionally erroneously applied. These high-visibility crossing markers are often placed on refuge islands in the middle of the road, in addition to or instead of at the roadside. Many of these new crossings are signposted that pedestrians must give way to traffic.

Brisbane, Queensland Australia briefly had a small number of Belisha beacon marked crossings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but the majority of Australian crossings are zebra crossings marked by large yellow circular signs bearing a walking legs symbol.

Republic of Ireland[edit]

In the Republic of Ireland, Belisha beacons are usually accompanied by much higher visibility dual flashing amber traffic lights on either side. Some zebra crossings have only these rather than Belisha beacons.

The Netherlands[edit]

In the Netherlands Belisha beacons were used from 1957 to 1962 to indicate that pedestrians had the right of way on a particular crossing. In 1962 a law was passed that extended this to all zebra crossings and the beacons were removed.

New Zealand[edit]

NZTA diagram for a Belisha beacon device in New Zealand

Outside of the UK, belisha beacons are perhaps most prominent in New Zealand, where they are required at all marked pedestrian crossings. Traffic regulations require a controlling authority to erect on each pole indicating the presence and position of a pedestrian crossing either an internally illuminated amber globe not less than 300 mm in diameter, which has a lamp that provides 40 to 60 flashes per minute, or a 400 mm diameter fluorescent orange disk. The pole must be erected within 2 metres of each end of a crossing. The poles must be not less than 75 mm in diameter and not less than 2 metres in height, and must be clearly painted with alternate parallel bands of black and of white, each having a width of approximately 300 mm. Disks are a relatively new addition as a replacement for illuminated globes, having only become prominent since the 1990s.

Poland[edit]

Belisha beacons were uncommon, but the Highway Code allowed for using them up till early 1960's.

Card game[edit]

In the 1930s, there was a popular card game based on road safety that was called Belisha. It featured pictures of road scenes and a few notable places like Gretna Green and Robin Hood's Well. The gameplay was based on the game Rummy.

References[edit]