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October 27, 2012

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Walker-friendly signals urged

IT'S all about patience really.

Chinese pedestrians, who have mastered jaywalking into an art form by "collectively walking the red light" and frustrating the traffic police, may be in for a surprise after a recent research revealed that they fared better in terms of endurance than some of their counterparts abroad.

An average Chinese' test of patience at red lights runs out after 90 seconds, according to a Tongji University study which based its results on module tests and observations of 1,800-plus pedestrians at three busy Shanghai intersections.

But the real catch was here: The average Germans' endurance ability was around 60 seconds while the Brits fared even poorly - 45 seconds, the study also revealed.

People tend to ignore the red lights when the waiting time exceeds their maximum patience time.

"A lot of Chinese traffic lights are vehicle-friendly instead of pedestrian-friendly," said Ni Ying, who led the research team at Tongji University's School of Transportation Engineering.

With vehicle users on the rise in the city, transportation planners are giving them more right of way on the roads to beat the traffic jams, she said.

The study also found that at some intersections, pedestrians waited longer than 150 seconds, while at other crossings the wait could be as long as 200 seconds, like the one on Dalian Road.

Most red lights abroad do not exceed 120 seconds.

Also, in some instances the green lights turn red too quickly, forcing people to rush to cross the street. This happens especially at sections where vehicles honk away while waiting to take a right or left turn.

"Sometimes, pedestrians feel it is safer to walk the red light than on the green light," Ni said.

On a T-shaped road intersection of the busy Nanjing and Jiangning roads in Shanghai yesterday, pedestrians were seen dashing down the zebra crossing on a red light. "The red lights here last too long," complained one pedestrian who declined to be named.

A traffic assistant, surnamed Shen, admitted that the red lights were longer than two minutes.

"At this crossing, the three sets of traffic lights for the pedestrians show the same lights - red or green - at the same time," said Shen, adding that people have to wait longer to allow the heavy vehicle traffic to clear first.

Shen also observed that some foreigners run the red lights despite being cautioned.

"The Chinese stop on hearing my warning but some of the foreigners do not," Shen said. "I don't know whether they can understand the Chinese language."

Most Chinese drivers also do not give priority to pedestrians who have to fight their way with the cars at the intersections.

Another common complaint in China is that people usually ignore traffic lights and jaywalk in a group as soon as the road clears a little.

"It is because the Chinese are less disciplined about traffic rules," Ni said, "but the drivers and planners should also take some part of the blame."

The study concluded that planners should take into account the walking pace of people from different age groups, essentially middle-aged people and seniors, while making the roads more pedestrian-friendly.

But the city's traffic police have their own argument. They said they prefer to look at the traffic conditions in their entirety.

The roads are designed not just for the pedestrians, but also for vehicles - bikes, mopeds, cars - as well, a Shanghai police officer pointed out.

"To give more time for pedestrians would mean cutting down the time for vehicles," the officer said. "On a busy traffic day, it can cause problems."


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