Getting Cross at Traffic Crossings


Imagine you’re at Leeds Town Hall and you want to walk to the train station.

Your options are to cross the Headrow and go down East Parade then along Infirmary Street to City Square; or you could go over to Victoria Gardens, cross the Headrow at the art gallery or Henry Moore crossing and then down Park Row. Both are pleasant walks. My choice would always be the first option. There are fewer roads to cross, wider paths and much less street scrap to navigate – I think guard rails are pedestrian penitentiaries and I’d rather risk a run in with a BMW in the open street than serve time behind bars.

Crossing the Headrow here is not easy or straightforward though. Yesterday I timed the sequence of the traffic lights at the junction. I was at the Cycle City Expo at the Town Hall and it seemed a logical way to spend the coffee break. Plus, there’s a lot of talk about data in Leeds at the moment and I thought it might be interesting to find out exactly what was going on – subjectively I seem to spend hours waiting to cross roads in Leeds city centre, but what were the objective facts?

The traffic lights you can see in the pic above face West down the Headrow. They go red for forty seconds, amber two seconds, green ten seconds, amber two seconds.

The Headrow has four lanes to cross. Traffic comes at you from three directions. There are no pedestrian lights on the Town Hall side in either direction. The island in the middle of the road is placed too far down the road to be of any use to anyone crossing where it’s most sensible, which is at the corner giving the best view of traffic from all directions.

It takes an alert, confident, able-bodied pedestrian about two seconds to cross a single lane of traffic.

Yesterday I set off across the Headrow having noticed the traffic stopping as I was coming down the Town Hall steps. Within a second of leaving the pavement the light changed to amber. The light turned green and cars were already accelerating as I stepped into the second lane. My choice was run back to the pavement, dash to the pedestrian island (basically dash in the direction of accelerating traffic) or carry on over the next 3 lanes and hope the cars turning left from East Parade weren’t so eager – none of them good choices for a pedestrian. I managed to avoid an oncoming Peugeot but only because the driver swerved gracefully into the nearside lane knowing he was accelerating much faster than the 508 bus – damned nippy those Peugeots.

I must have started to cross the road nine seconds after the light had turned red. There was no way of knowing that – I was concentrating on making it down the steps, not the traffic flow.

Each time you step onto a busy road where traffic has stopped but you don’t know exactly when you are gambling with your life when the light will turn green again.

Watching the road yesterday I found out that a ten second green light is enough to get two buses through the junction. One bendy bus and a car will just make it. A bike behind a bendy bus will hit the yellow hatched area of the junction after the light has turned red. Same for a cyclist after four or five cars. I can’t blame the traffic for being keen to put the foot down.

But a pedestrian who blinks and misses the light turning green is in trouble.

I went back to City Cycle Expo Leeds for the afternoon sessions. Some of it was a bit beyond me to be honest – technical types talking cycle lanes, roundabouts and junctions – but a lot of it was about how we get people to think about how to make cities like Leeds better places to travel around in for everyone, not just cars. And how to make a place like this very junction outside the Town Hall a safer more pleasant place to use. It might make the difference between the likes of you and me getting across this damned road in one piece or ending up beneath the wheels of a Peugeot.


  1. Phil

    Lots of crossings in Leeds are poor and I think any crossing that inevitably leaves pedestrians stuck in the central reservation for any length of time is very badly designed, even with barriers it is not the safest place as there is nowhere to go if things do go wrong except into traffic.

    Likewise crossroads like the ones at Beeston Rd/Cemetary Rd or at Tommy Wass where the pedestrian cycle doesn’t allow time to make the whole crossing. At Tommy’s how long does it take to walk from the building society to the chemists at if you obey the lights?

    My major hate though is the crossing at the junction of Neville Street and Sovereign Street. The Sovereign St crossing doesn’t have a pedestrian cycle so you have to wing it, but if the lights change while you cross traffic shows no mercy and I’ve been driven at on more than one occasion.

    The northern, Hilton crossing of Neville St should work but is useless without sanctions for drivers. It suffers from the tiny box junction, traffic tends to queue through the lights then as it is over the stop line sets off randomly, including during the pedestrian cycle. The number of times I’ve had to jump back because a car stopped on the crossing or just before it has set off after I’ve begun to cross. I’ve also had to dodge cars illegally turning left from Little Neville Street.

    If we really want to get people out of their cars we need to stop favouring cars at where the two meet.

  2. The culture vulture merits of traffic lights and crossing the road. I am not sure which is worse, that you timed the lights and wrote about it or that I actually read it.


    I have some paint drying if you want to pop round.

    1. there may yet be a blog about paint drying… paint is inherently art isn’t it?

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