To Cross or Not to Cross

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Crossing the street isn’t always an orderly process in Colombo. In some parts of the city, however, along major roads, pelican crossings (better known by the locals as “colour lights”) have been installed in an attempt to regulate the movement of pedestrians from one side of the road to the other.

How though are these push-buttonpelican crossings programmed and operated? Also, how come so many of the buttons are broken or missing and the panels which contain these buttons at times even appear smashed? How much of a problem is this, especially during peak traffic times?

In order to find out more about these particular aspects of pedestrian and traffic regulation, an RTI (Right to Information) application was sent to the Colombo Municipal Council, and the following information was obtained.

When a pedestrian needs to cross, they need to press the Push button first. Should the pre-programmed minimum green time allocated for vehicles have already lapsed, the ‘Green Man’ signal will light up indicating that the pedestrian can proceed to cross the road. This will take place after the 3-second amber light period before the red light comes on signalling vehicles to stop.

The Green Man time period varies mainly with the width of the road and also with the location. It usually lasts 10 – 20 seconds.

Upon pressing the Push button, if the pre-programmed minimum green time allocated for the vehicles is not yet over, the pedestrian has to wait until it lapses. The minimum amount of green time for vehicles also varies depending on location; this time period is usually between 40 seconds and 90 seconds.

If the button on the pedestrian’s side of the road is not operational, they will have to depend on the button on the opposite side (on the pavement across from them). The maintenance contractor gets to know about damaged buttons and button panels during routine visits or by a telephone call from the general public to the number indicated on the signal pole. (The telephone numbers of two maintenance contractors are indicated on the traffic pole.) The traffic police en route will also inform the contractor via their communication channels.

The Colombo Municipal Council also supplied some further points worth mentioning. According to the CMC, it has been observed that button panels in some locations have also been vandalised. This, they said, has been happening often on Sri SangarajaMawatha.

However, deterrents have been put in place to reduce certain problems. Namely, in order to prevent false Green Man signals appearing on the system, some locations are equipped with pedestrian detector cameras.


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