Pedestrian-controlled traffic signals or pelican crossings are a common installation at street crossings in many countries. The signal, which allows pedestrians to cross a road, requires people to press a button and wait for a few minutes for the light to turn red and stop oncoming traffic.

Encouraged by the success of this novel idea in the rest of the world, the Bangalore police installed 52 pelican crossings across the city in 2005. The system seemed to sit well with Bangalore’s image as a ‘global village’. The public also received it with a lot of enthusiasm; one remembers little groups of curious people lining up to test the system.

Vandalised

But by 2010, says Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) M.A. Saleem, vandals had destroyed most of the switches that activate the pelican crossings. Convinced that replacing them would be a waste of money, the city police automated most of the crossings. “Now, you will notice that the pedestrian signal automatically turns red every few minutes. In the last two years since we moved to the automatic system, there has been no loss of property,” says Mr. Saleem.

However, a few manual pelican crossing signals still survive. Asked for a list of such crossings, Mr. Saleem asked us to check out the one on Queen’s Road near the Kamalabai School. “The school’s watchman operates the signal to help children make the crossing,” he said.

When we visited the spot, we found that the switch on one of the two signal poles had been smashed. Peter (58), school watchman, blamed some boys in the locality. “For them it’s a game,” he said. He also complained that vehicles don’t stop when the light turns red. He said that the traffic police should deploy a constable to ensure that vehicles comply with the rule.

“We can either have a constable or a pelican signal,” Mr. Saleem responded.

Our next stop was at the automated pelican signal on Cunningham Road near the Fortis Hospital. The signal here seems to serve an ornamental purpose. Red, amber, green… the flickering of the light had no effect on the vehicles or on the pedestrians. Two women crossed the road when the light was green for traffic. When asked why they did not wait for it to turn red before crossing, one of them said: “Oh, is that what those poles are for? I didn’t realise.”

At the pelican crossing at Palace Gutthalli near the ITC Windsor Hotel, there appeared to be much better compliance. “That may be because motorists know that traffic policemen are usually deployed at the next signal,” explains Mr. Saleem.

But it is not like there were no violators here. Many pedestrians as well as motorists paid no heed to the flickering lights. In fact, many of them complied with the rule only when they saw The Hindu’s photographer taking pictures.

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