Pedestrian Crossings used to be simple things where you pressed a button and light went on saying 'wait' and then you waited until the red man turned to a green man.

However, modern crossings in the UK are 'computerised' and react to the inputs from a number of sensors - so that their time to react to pressing the button is variable.

Would it therefore be useful to have some kind of display on the 'wait' panel which gave an indication of 'processing' - such as the ubiquitous spinning disk icon - or would a more complex indicator be required ?

Edit: Observing people's actual behaviour at crossings shows that people often don't 'obey' the crossing but make their own decisions about when to cross.

I'd argue that this is down to the apparently 'random' behaviour of computerised crossings (sometimes it reacts quickly when you press the button, sometimes it reacts slowly).

And there is no feedback from the crossing display indicating that anything is happening ( on software you'd use a 'loading' indicator )

  • With regard to your edit, it could be argued that manually crossing the road is safer the using the signals, as it requires a user's focus and rational judgement. Certainly in the UK (where "jaywalking" doesn't exist) there is a move towards shared spaces with no pedestrian crossings (not even kerbs or road markings). See, for example, Exhibition Road.
    – Brendon
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 11:06
  • I've driven on 'shared space' roads in Europe and would agree that removing kerbs and road markings certainly forces car drivers to go much more slowly and increases the need to watch what pedestrians are doing.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 10:59

5 Answers 5


No, "processing indicators" would not be helpful. Crossings are used by a wide range of people -- the elderly, the young, the partially sighted, the very distracted, etc. The output should only be used to convey two states: (a) it is not safe to cross, and (b) it is safe to cross. The design is simple to accommodate everybody.

By showing a "processing" sign, you are indicating to the user that a change of state has occurred. When a change of state occurs, the human response is to take action first, think later -- this is called automaticity. At a crossing, this would be very dangerous: it only takes the half a second to walk forwards without thinking, and you could be struck by a vehicle.

Countdown timers in the "safe state" to show how long the user has to cross can be useful. The user's response here doesn't put them in danger. But, the "not safe state" should be clear and consistent.

  • 3
    Couldn't the "processing indicator" be located on or near the button itself (rather than on the main display) to avoid confusion?
    – DallonF
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 0:00
  • 1
    Wish I could give another +1 for the interesting link.
    – Fogmeister
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 8:15
  • 2
    Actually, count down timers are used on more and more bike-specific traffic lights in bike-dense Netherlands specifically to keep cyclists from running the red light. Most cyclists in the Netherlands tend to run red lights because they figure that ... I don't know, I do know I usually don't wait for the light to change to green before crossing when I can see there is no conflicting traffic. The count down timers serve to make most cyclists more patient as I can figure out how long I have to wait for green. Knowing its not gonna be long before green comes, stops many from running the red light. Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 18:40
  • Marjan would you like to post that as an answer ? - Having experienced the brilliance of Dutch road engineering in terms of user behaviour; I'd consider that a tried and tested solution.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 19:40

On British pedestrian crossings at least, when pedestrians press the button to request the lights change in their favour, there is a "Processing" signal to acknowledge the request and let them know that something is happening.

On the older Pelican crossings it's the illuminated WAIT on the button panel.

Crossing control panel, pedestrian operated  Image by Secretlondon from Wikipedia

Because Puffin crossings have the "red man" symbol immediately above the button, they don't have the word WAIT, but a simple red indicator light. While their timing sequence is slightly different, it serves the same purpose: to let pedestrians know that they have caused something to happen and the lights will change in due course.

There's no need for anything more complicated.

The use of the word WAIT in one case and the red indicator light in the other is supposed to stop an automatic reaction that that change of state means "Go".


Yes, make the button light up.

You see this used in elevators or lifts to indicate the button is pressed and something is happening. It is helpful to indicate to the user the button is operational and does not need to be pressed again. In the cases where this does not occur, it's common to see users pressing a button multiple times and looking around for some indication that an elevator is coming.

I would argue pedestrian crossings would benefit from the same feedback. Pedestrians would know the system received their command and they should wait for the system to indicate the street is safe to cross - as opposed to wondering if the button was pressed and trying to press it again.

  • 1
    That's a great idea, but I wonder if it's feasible to light a button in a way that it can be seen in bright daylight (and if it's not visible, it may seem like a false negative and have the opposite effect).
    – Kit Grose
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 5:36
  • @Kit Grose - You're right. I believe this is why traffic lights have covers on them. There cannot be any ambiguity between the "on" and "off" states. Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 15:10

Giving information to users, in this case pedestrians, is always a good thing. Especially if it can be done in a way that it doesn't clutter the view of the task the pedestrians are going to accomplish.

A count down sign across the street would be a great way to inform pedestrians on how long they have to wait (and for how long they can continue interacting with their smartphone until they can walk across the street).

  • 1
    Some kind of 'countdown' seems a good idea. It'd be useful if was actually in seconds and labelled as such rather than in some random unit (as I've seen used in one or two places) A 'crossing the road' app which could pick up data from the crossing would be cool !
    – PhillipW
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 10:02

Yes. As long as the pedestrian can take more information out of it.

At Dublin and Salzburg Airport quite a few pedestrian crossings display the remaining waiting time which leads the pedestrians to change their behavior.

Many villages put up signs at the road monitoring traffic speed immediately displaying passing by vehicles how fast they are going. img and source.

Although both can not directly be compared with each other - since one displays information and the other warns on wrong behavior - I strongly presume a connection since both trigger some sort of social acceptance I believe.

Also see or google for persuasive computing.

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