You Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee

Pedestrian refuge island, London, preceding the onslaught of the motorcar (via Flickr)

Pedestrian refuge island, London, preceding the onslaught of the motorcar (via Flickr)

Listen, it don’t really matter to me baby

You believe what you want to believe

You see you don’t have to live like a refugee (Don’t have to live like a refugee)

Yeah Somewhere, somehow, somebody

Must have kicked you around some

Tell me, why you wanna lay there

Revel in your abandon

It don’t make no difference to me baby

Everybody’s had to fight to be free

You see you don’t have to live like a refugee (Don’t have to live like a refugee)

Now baby you don’t have to live like a refugee (Don’t have to live like a refugee) No!

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Refugee Lyrics | MetroLyrics

I think Tom Petty speaks not of the oppressed living in third world conditions, but rather his girlfriend. The lyrics however apply to the pedestrian trapped on refuge island between two stream of traffic (perhaps this post should be Islands in the Stream – nah)

The pedestrian refuge island allows the pedestrian to cross some of the lanes of a roadway without crossing all of the lanes of a roadway. If the lanes are going in two directions, this might decrease the travel time to cross the street, by increasing the likelihood of finding a safe gap in traffic (since you are more likely to find an acceptable gap in fewer lanes than more lanes) and reduce the number of objects the pedestrian is looking for.

The refuge island is presumably a safety improvement (the evidence is that all else equal, it is: See, e.g. Retting et al. (2003) for a review of this and other crash counter-measures). However pedestrians with pedestrian refuge islands may also be more aggressive and ignore traffic control devices since there is a refuge only a few lanes away. (I have observed this to happen almost daily), particularly when lights are timed with long cycles (e.g. resulting in waits > 50s). It also adds to the total crossing distance, and potentially time if there are no cars (remember most roads are empty most of the time). But these effects are smaller than the main  safety benefit.

So far, so good – safety first and all. However, the existence of the refuge island makes it possible for the traffic engineer, and worse the driver, to even further subjugate the needs and rights of pedestrians. It creates an environment where the pedestrian must seek refuge from oncoming traffic, which implicitly has the right-of-way, rather one where the motor vehicles must yield to pedestrians who seek to cross.

Charlotte Complete Streets-Rozzelles Ferry Road  Charlotte completely revamped Rozzelles Ferry Road. The streetscape was enhance by the addition of street trees and planting strips, while pedestrian crossing opportunities--as indicated by the crosswalk and corresponding refuge median--were added along the length of the road to make walking a breeze. The bike lanes facilitate cycling on road that previously unsuitable for riding. Photo: Charmeck.org (via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Charlotte Complete Streets-Rozzelles Ferry Road
“Charlotte completely revamped Rozzelles Ferry Road. The streetscape was enhance by the addition of street trees and planting strips, while pedestrian crossing opportunities–as indicated by the crosswalk and corresponding refuge median–were added along the length of the road to make walking a breeze. The bike lanes facilitate cycling on road that previously unsuitable for riding.”
Photo: Charmeck.org (via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

This is a problem of first best and second best. In a second best world, where pedestrians have no rights, this is the literal life-jacket being thrown to them so they don’t sink in the traffic stream. In a first best world, there would be no stream in which to sink. Life should not be a game of Frogger.

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4 Responses to You Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee

  1. Mike Sonn
    mikesonn July 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    That last paragraph: YES!!

  2. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell July 17, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    Hah, hadn’t thought about frogger in a while…

    FWIW many refuge islands in northern Europe also feature narrowed lanes to slow traffic. This from speeds that are already a bit lower than typical speeds in the U.S. Not all include lane narrowing though and yet they still seem to work quite well. School children use them routinely without problem.

    I’d guess that the overall lower speeds of motor traffic may be the key.

  3. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD July 18, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    On my neighborhood Facebook page a woman was recently complaining about the refuge islands on the Charles Avenue bikeway, saying that they force her to slow down before turning. Duh! That’s the point. I do resent, in a small way, that refuge islands are even necessary. As I pointed out to her, if auto drivers slowed down and gave pedestrians right-of-way the islands wouldn’t be necessary. Either way, I didn’t think they’d be that helpful when the bikeway was being planned, but now that they are in place I love them. The make crossing Dale, Snelling, and Lexington so much easier and more vehicle drivers are stopping for pedestrians and cyclists at all intersections along the route.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Sunday Summary | streets.mn - July 20, 2014

    […] visual posts on crossing the street:  Ignore the Red Hand of overregulation, You Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee (or, how to get off the island), and Speeding Up the Green Line suggesting fixes for […]

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