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London to trial "intelligent" pedestrian crossings


March 11, 2014

The Pedestrian SCOOT system follows on from TfL's Pedestrian Countdown program (Image: TfL)

The Pedestrian SCOOT system follows on from TfL's Pedestrian Countdown program (Image: TfL)

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Ever walk halfway across a road only to have the light change and force you to make an undignified rush to the other side? The answer is almost certainly yes. If you’re in London, that may soon be a thing of the past however, with Transport for London (TfL) announcing upcoming trials of an "intelligent" pedestrian crossing. Called the Pedestrian Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique (SCOOT), it’s part of a £2 billion to £4 billion (US$3.3 billion to US$6.6 billion) program to improve roads over the next ten years and decrease traffic fatalities in the capital by 40 percent by the year 2020.

SCOOT addresses the problem of how to properly time pedestrian crossings in such a way as to make sure as many people as possible cross with the lights, as well as keeping traffic flowing as smoothly as possible. This is especially difficult in high traffic areas. Ideally, the light should be timed to allow everyone to cross, but pedestrian traffic isn't uniform and what might work for two people might not work for a dozen. Worse, there’s the problem of pedestrians pressing the request button and then crossing against the lights or simply walking away, which creates needless delays.

Pedestrian SCOOT seeks to remedy this by using video cameras to count the number of people in a digital “box” on the crossing pavement. If a large number of people are detected, the system alters the timing of the green walk light to allow more people to cross safely. In addition, if no one is at the crossing, or if someone presses the request button and then crosses against the lights or walks away, the system switches to “call cancel” and doesn't activate the walk light.

The system also increases pedestrian safety by adopting what's known as a puffin crossing design. Unlike older pelican crossings, where the walk signal is displayed across the road, the signal is displayed above the request button. This forces the pedestrian to look in the direction of oncoming traffic while waiting for the light to change, decreasing the chances of stepping off the curb in front of an oncoming car.

Announced in an outline by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and TfL, Pedestrian SCOOT is billed as a world first. It’s based on the Vehicle SCOOT system developed by the Transport Research Laboratory in collaboration with the UK traffic systems industry, which uses sensors at intersections to gather traffic data and a computer system that adjusts light timings to allow traffic to flow as efficiently as possible. It caused controversy during the 2012 Olympics when it was programmed to allow official vehicles to move through the capital more quickly.

The Pedestrian SCOOT system will be tested at high-traffic crossing areas with the first installed outside Balham and Tooting Bec Underground stations.

“I am delighted that London is the first city in the world to be trialling this cutting-edge equipment, which will benefit pedestrians across the city,” says Boris Johnson.

Source: Transport for London

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Does the system cancel the call if Im holding an umbrella? or does it just think a very fat guy is trying to cross the road?


Cancelling the jackwad generated walk request is a good idea at the very least.


Big brother takes a good look at you :-)


"Press the button, look at the traffic, nothing coming, so over I go!" If you get rid of that scenario, it will help traffic flow immensely.

Suzanne Bradley

Something long overdue in London. No only private cars and taxis but big red buses will simple plow through intersections without regard for pedestrians; particularly those from out of the country, who do always think to give a long look to their right prior stepping out. London should also give pedestrians the absolute right of way, in order to modify drivers' attitudes toward collisions they could easily have avoided.


It might be possible to anonymously use smart 'phones to monitor the presence of anyone standing in a designated waiting zone and control the traffic accordingly.

The problem we would still have is cyclists, who in far too many cases seem to think that the rules of the road do not apply to them. Smart 'phones could again assist. Make it illegal to ride a bike without having one (switched on) on one's person and have it record any traffic violations on a rolling 30 minute cycle (technically easy to arrange). Random police checks would be able in a matter of seconds check that the rider had adhered to the law. Had they not done so, then on the spot fines would be levied. It would even be possible to have the technology built-in on all new bikes, with nice little flashing LEDs to inform any police officer that there are pickings to be had. Not that I have anything against cyclists and their refusal to use cycling lanes, of course!

Mel Tisdale

@ Mel Tisdale Not everybody chooses to have a phone. What is the penalty for a dead battery?

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