The 2019 Insurance Classic Motor Show : 50 YEARS OF THE PELICAN CROSSING The 2019 Insurance Classic Motor Show : 50 YEARS OF THE PELICAN CROSSING
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Early summer in 1969, when many Britons were talking of the impending moon landing and of the new album being recorded by John, Paul, George and Ringo at Abbey Road. But in London, the major news on the 14th of July was the inauguration of a new type of crossing, one that opened with this faintly bizarre ceremony – Pelican Pedestrian Crossing (1969). Its name was Pelican, derived from “pedestrian light controlled” after the Government had rejected “Greenways” and “Lightways”.

The first 36 Pelicans were established in London, Bristol, Lincoln and Reading. They represented the culmination of efforts by the Government to devise a form of crossing that would be controlled by the pedestrians themselves. As early as 1929, the Manchester-based company Forest City introduced their push-button “Traffic Signal Controller”, and they were used on the A23 in Croydon. The road was notorious for its serious accidents involving people crossing the highway, and the council regarded the new system as an effective solution. The signals were initially controlled by the police until the public had become acclimatised to them.

According to the historian Joe Moran – whose books on road history are an absolute “must” – there were also worries by school teachers during the 1930s about teaching road safety. One headmaster, who really does sound like Will Hay, complained that ‘we shall develop a highly-strung, birdlike type of child, swivel-necked with constant practice in looking right and looking left’. Moran also notes that by the end of the decade  ‘a pilot project in the capital, policemen stood on the roofs of police cars in busy streets during the rush hour, shouting advice and admonishments at pedestrians through megaphones’. If nothing else, it was a testament to the strength of the coachwork of various Humbers and Wolseleys.

1942 saw the introduction of the “Kerb Drill” and by 1953 the Zebra Crossings were guarded by flashing beacons. In that same year, Leeds City Council had installed a signalised mechanism in Brigate with “CROSS NOW” and “DON’T CROSS” warnings to pedestrians; these functioned on a regular cycle. The local authority had not asked permission from Whitehall for this radical development and, in the manner of a late-period Ealing Comedy, irate correspondence sped back and forth from Yorkshire to London. Back in Croydon, the site of those early A23 crossings, the local newspaper contained this worrying story:


Women are the main offenders when it comes to pressing the button without checking whether it is necessary. A few seconds later the approaching traffic is brought to a sudden halt - but by that time the cause of the hold-up is safely across and is gazing into a shop window, blissfully unaware of the inconvenience she has caused.

One can only hope that the author of that 1955 vintage gem of observation resembled a young Terry Scott facing the wrath of June Whitfield on his return home.

The Panda Crossing of 1962 (so named for its black and white road markings) seemed to confuse everyone, be they on foot or behind the wheel, with its pattern of flashing lights. Two years later the Ministry of Transport introduced the now-familiar red and green silhouettes - and in March 1967 the Pandas were replaced by the “X-Way”  - does any reader remember using one of these?. Their formula was close to the eventual  Pelican set-up, including the audible warning; a first for a British traffic control.

Unlike the Pelicans, X-Ways were bordered by  studs in the tarmac (rather than zig-zag lines), and a further difference was that a white cross gave motorists the all-clear instead of a green light. This did not prove especially popular, and the improved X-Way featured conventional traffic lights and a new name, The  COI produced this well-remembered instructional cartoon voiced by Deryck Guyler and also this one; they were still being screened well into the 1970s.

A further campaign transported the Home Guard platoon of Walmington-on-Sea some thirty years into the future - along with another one.  N.B.  we advise all readers not to perform a hoe-down at the crossing in the manner of this 1976 public information film.


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