A zebra crossing is a type of pedestrian crossing used in many places around the world. Its distinguishing feature is alternating dark and light stripes on the road surface, resembling the coat of a zebra. A zebra crossing typically gives priority to rights of way to pedestrians.
The crossing is characterised by longitudinal stripes on the road, parallel to the flow of the traffic, alternately a light colour and a dark one. The similarity of these markings to those of a zebra give the crossing's name. The light colour is usually white and the dark colour may be painted – in which case black is typical – or left unpainted if the road surface itself is dark. The stripes are typically 40–60 cm (16–24 in) wide.
In the United Kingdom the crossing is marked with Belisha beacons, flashing amber globes on black and white posts on each side of the road, named after Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Minister of Transport, who introduced them in 1934. Pedestrians have a right of way when they step onto the crossing: The Highway Code states that road traffic "MUST give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a crossing."
Although the origin of the name is disputed, it is generally attributed to British MP James Callaghan who, in 1948, visited the country's Transport Research Laboratory which was working on a new idea for safe pedestrian crossings. On being shown a black and white design, Callaghan is said to have remarked that it resembled a zebra.
After isolated experiments, the zebra crossing was first used at 1,000 sites in the United Kingdom in 1949 in its original form of alternating strips of blue and yellow. They were introduced nationally in 1951.
In 1971, the Green Cross Code was introduced to teach children safer crossing habits, replacing the earlier "kerb drill".
Line marking machine
The lines of a zebra crossing are commonly laid down by a road marking machine. Because the width of crossing lines is wider than other traffic lines, the marking shoe of a zebra cross marking machine is accordingly wider. The machine is hand pushed.
In the United Kingdom, lollipop men or women (school crossing patrols) frequently attend zebra crossings near schools, at the hours when schoolchildren arrive and leave. Their widely used nickname arose because of the warning sign they hold up as they stop traffic. It's a large round disc on a long pole and thus resembles a giant lollipop, although they were originally of a square design.
In North America, zebra crossings are almost exclusively called (marked) crosswalks. Zebra crossings are widely used in the United States and are the preferred variation out of the many crosswalk styles, they are painted at all intersections including stop light controlled intersections but are less used in Canada (they are almost exclusively used in Toronto) as the standard parallel lines crosswalks are preferred. In most areas, marked crosswalks are the only places where it is legal to cross the road (see jaywalking).
In New Zealand, motorists are required to give way to pedestrians. Pedestrians wishing to cross the road within 20 metres of a crossing facility (which includes zebra crossings) must use a crossing facility.
A 1998 Swedish study by A Várhelyi at Lund University found that the frequency of giving way at zebra crossings was 5% and drivers typically did not observe the law concerning speed behaviour at the zebra crossing. Speed behaviour in encounters (148 observations), non-encounters with pedestrian presence (642 observations) and situations without pedestrian presence (690 observations) were compared.
Three out of four drivers maintained the same speed or accelerated and only one out of four slowed down or braked. The study concluded that encounters between cars and pedestrians at the zebra crossing were critical situations in which the driver had to be influenced before he reached the decision zone at 50 to 40 m before the zebra crossing, in order to prevent "signalling by speed" behaviour.
In Switzerland yellow stripes are used for pedestrian crossings. Unlike with yellow "tiger crossings" in the UK, however, cyclists are required to dismount to cross.
In Lebanon, zebra crossings are the preferred pedestrian crossing type, though many other variations exist, such as the parallel cat's eye lines. Zebra crossings are painted at mostly all intersections and they provide priority and right of way to pedestrians under all circumstances.
In the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, it is the law that motorists give way to pedestrians at zebra crossings (Rule 195 of The Highway Code). They were introduced in the late 1940s and '50s to tackle high death rates of pedestrians crossing roads. For over 60 years they have been recognized as a safe place for pedestrians to cross but more recently, some drivers are failing to give way to pedestrians. It is believed that hundreds of people have died at the crossings and thousands more have been injured. This has prompted some councils to install enforcement cameras at the crossings to catch offenders.
In the United Kingdom, a fine of £100 and three licence penalty points is given to those failing to give way at the crossings. Such a penalty has attracted criticisms of leniency when compared to other countries which enforce fines of up to £2,000. For failing to give way at a zebra crossing patrolled by a school crossing patrol ("lollipop man/lady" as they are commonly called), however, the penalty rises to £1,000 and a minimum of three licence points, with the possibility even of disqualification. In the United Kingdom, motorists have to stop for a crossing patrol, even when it is not on a pedestrian crossing.
The city of A Coruña in Galicia, Spain has opted for spots rather than stripes at a pedestrian crossing, resembling a cow instead of a zebra. The reason for this option is to recognize the importance of the animal for the region’s farming .
A tiger crossing is a variation used in Hong Kong, and formerly (experimentally) in the United Kingdom. It is painted yellow and black. In the United Kingdom, it allowed cyclists to cross in a central area of the road without dismounting, and obliged motorists to give way to both cyclists and pedestrians. Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire experimented with tiger crossings during 2006–2007, but replaced them with toucan crossings.
A number of countries have experimented with "three-dimensional" zebra crossings based on an optical illusion. The white stripes of the crossing appear to hover above the ground as is a physical barrier. Although intended to improve pedestrian safety on the crossings, they have also been popular with tourists who like to be photographed crossing them, appearing to hover above the ground. Such crossings can be found in Australia, Iceland, Malaysia, India, New Zealand and the United States.
In popular culture
A zebra crossing appears on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album. It made it a tourist attraction, and it has been incorporated into the Abbey Road Studios logo. Since the Abbey Road photo was taken, zigzag lines at the kerb and in the centre of the road have been added to all zebra crossings. The band Shriekback's album Sacred City contains an entire song, "Beatles Zebra Crossing?", about the Abbey Road zebra crossing and its status as a tourist attraction. English Heritage has given this crossing Grade II listed building status.
There is also a tongue-in-cheek reference to zebra crossings in the science-fiction comedy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by English author Douglas Adams, in reference to Man using the improbable creature called the Babel fish as proof of the non-existence of God; the novel says, "Man then goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed at the next zebra crossing."
The La Paz traffic zebras is a team of young people who dress in zebra costumes and dance in the streets of La Paz, Bolivia in order to make drivers and pedestrians aware of traffic rules.
Rainbow zebra crossings
A zebra crossing immediately outside the Russian Embassy in Helsinki was painted in summer 2013 with the colours of the rainbow in protest the Russian government's policy towards lesbian and gay people, the rainbow being one symbol of the LGBT culture.
In 2018 in Paris, the authorities decided to paint some crossings with rainbow borders for the Pride; those were supposed to be temporary, but after homophobic vandalism, the municipality declared that the rainbow stripes would remain permanently.
A zebra crossing outside the Russian Embassy, Helsinki painted with a rainbow.
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