Green man issued with a stopwatch

Crossing central Auckland's main shopping street is a dangerous game at the best of times, but new count-down clocks should allow pedestrians a better chance of escaping harm at one of its busiest intersections.The clocks at the intersection of Queen and Victoria Sts were switched on yesterday for a six-month trial to determine whether the technology should be introduced throughout the country. Pedestrians are given a standard six-second phase in which a green "walking" figure features on the bottom light in each set, before it is replaced by a 20-second count-down clock. Traffic starts moving two seconds after zero. Auckland City Council transport committee chairman Richard Simpson said pedestrians often ended up playing "Russian roulette" against standard lights, which gave them little idea how much time they had left to dash across an intersection. "This innovative project will take the guesswork out of crossing some of Auckland's busiest intersections and will help stop people racing across the road when they've run out of time," he said. Council traffic engineers also intend installing the system in coming weeks at the Quay St crossing from the Ferry Building to Queen St, to help Land Transport NZ decide whether to introduce it nationally. They are also experimenting with extended green crossing phases there and at the intersections of Queen St with Customs and Wakefield Sts, of between 12 and 15 seconds, as part of a range of council measures to reclaim central Auckland for pedestrians. Mr Simpson said the 40,000 pedestrians using Queen St each day vastly outnumbered motorists, yet they were expected to bunch up in large groups on street corners before being allowed to cross the road. Most pedestrians seen crossing the Queen-Victoria intersection yesterday afternoon seemed oblivious to the innovation, including two young women busy enjoying icecreams when they were caught in the middle of a diagonal crossing as the clocks turned zero, forcing them to scurry to safety. But the council will begin surveying pedestrians today, an exercise which will be reinforced by video surveillance to compare behaviour with pre-trial monitoring. The crossing is used by about 6000 pedestrians each lunchtime, and council road safety manager Karen Hay said eight had been injured in collisions there in the five years to last December, two seriously. That was out of 73 injured in Queen St over the same period. Ms Hay said most of the Queen St injuries resulted from jaywalking, a practice she hoped the count-down clocks would discourage by giving pedestrians a better idea of risks. But the chairman of the pedestrian advocacy group Walk Auckland, Andy Smith, is looking forward to commensurate improvements in drivers' behaviour. Mr Smith said many drivers wrongly assumed that flashing red crossing lights meant vehicles had the right of way.
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