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Evan Davis on... pedestrian crossings

Updated Friday, 6th November 2009

Evan Davis from The Bottom Line explains the valuable lessons we can learn from the pedestrian crossing.

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You can learn the most fascinating lessons in life from the most unlikely places, and here’s a lesson drawn from a pedestrian crossing. Now the lesson is this that it is very easy to tackle life’s hurdles and challenges, piece by piece, step by step as you confront them, and of course most of us are going to do that. It’s the natural way to approach obstacles; as we see it, we overcome it, we move on. But occasionally it’s worth standing back and thinking to have the solutions to all these obstacles that I’ve been overcoming, do they really all make sense taken together or should we just dismantle them all and think about the problem afresh, think about it as a whole problem, which is where the pedestrian crossing comes in.

Sometimes you can find a sequence of actions that are taken at a pedestrian crossing; all of which seems to make perfect sense at dealing with the last problem that you had. You put traffic lights there because there’s slightly too much traffic to cope. You then find the pedestrians are waiting at the kerb and there are too many pedestrians so you put barriers to stop them spilling into the road. And then you find that the shops are getting slightly congested, the doorways are getting slightly congested so you kind of put things that stop people standing in the doorways of the shops and getting in the way.

Now then you can stand back and say actually is there a better way of thinking about this pedestrian crossing, does it pay us to stand back and think about how the flows of cars, people and shoppers are interacting here, and we can do something that is much neater. And pedestrian crossing example is there are cases where you can take a crossroads, you can put a diagonal crossing in as well as other crossroads. You can take away the barriers, you can expand the pavements taking to space out of the roads, and you can find that everybody, cars, pedestrians and shoppers, all move more smoothly.

What did it take? It takes looking at the problem afresh. Not taking each piece of the problem as its own individual issue but taking them all together and giving them some clever and clear and dedicated thought. It’s definitely worth it for pedestrian crossings and for lots of other areas in life too. That’s my opinion. You can join the debate with the Open University.





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