Types of signal

In this second in my “Traffic Signal” series, I shall be going over the various types of signal, other than a signalised junction, that you may come across in the course of your driving career.


Wig WagYou’ll mostly see these outside a fire / ambulance station or at a railway level crossing.

They are easily identified by the single amber and two flashing red lights.

The general rule for responsibility of them is that if it’s on a level crossing then the railway authority is responsible for them and those elsewhere on the highway are the responsibility of the Highway Authority.


Pelican Crossing push button unit

Pelican push button

The original signalised pedestrian facility which uses the ‘flashing amber’/’flashing green man’.

This type of crossing was proposed to be phased out but some are still being installed in different parts of the country.

This type of crossing has red and green man signals on the opposite side of the crossing, known to engineers as “far-sided” signals.  Many pedestrians like these signals because they can see the green man when they are crossing and will generally speed up if it begins to cross.

This is actually unnecessary because the pedestrian has right-of-way over traffic all the time they are on the crossing, even if the signal turns back to green for traffic.


Puffin Nearside Combined Signals

Puffin single unit

The Pedestrian User Friendly INtelligent crossing facility was intended to replace pelican crossings.

This type of crossing is designed to be safer than the older pelican by

(a) eliminating the ‘flashing amber’ period, thus removing the ambiguity from drivers and pedestrians

(b) by varying the length of crossing time to suit high or low volumes of pedestrians or slow moving pedestrians.

For drivers, the puffin looks no different to normal traffic signals.  The cycle is: green to amber, then to red, on to red/amber and finally back to green.

Puffin Nearside Signals

Puffin separate push button & aspect

For pedestrians, the green man appears for a just enough time for them become established on the crossing, going off once they are on the road.  Then an overhead infra red or video imaging camera will follow the pedestrian across the road, controlling the length of time available to pedestrians, generally up to a maximum of around 32 seconds.   This maximum time can be changed by engineers.

A single person crossing quickly would cause the pedestrian stage to end after around 15 seconds. An additional overhead detector monitors waiting pedestrians, so that if the only pedestrian decides not to cross and walks away (or finds a gap in the traffic to cross the road), the demand will automatically be cancelled.

This all goes towards making the puffin a much more efficient crossing for traffic and pedestrians alike.

The layout of the signals is very different for pedestrians, since Puffin installations use red and green man signals in a box above the push button. These are known as “near-side” signals.

Pedestrians tend to not like these so much as the pelican because they are unable to see a signal once they begin their crossing.  However, this was one of the points of introducing the puffin because some authorities were increasing the green man time on pelicans to give pedestrians enough time to cross under green man.  This resulted in unnecessary waiting times for vehicles.


Toucan Farside signal

Toucan far-side signal (click to enlarge)

Toucan Nearside Combined Signals

Toucan single unit

Toucan Nearside Signals

Toucan separate push button & aspect

So-called because “Two Can Cross”!  Yes, really!

This is a combined pedestrian and cycle crossing facility.

The only obvious difference between this type of crossing and a puffin is the extra width of the crossing to allow for cycles, and an extra signal aspect next to the green man showing a green pedal cycle.

Unlike the puffin these crossings can have either far-sided or near-sided signals, although many authorities nowadays are opting for the near-side option.


Equestrian Nearside single unit

Equestrian single unit

Notwithstanding the fact that Pegasus was a “winged” horse, the name seems to have stuck for this type of crossing.

Pegasus is the newest of the crossing types and is an equestrian crossing facility.  These can be a single crossing serving just the equestrian users, but you may also see it combined with either a toucan or puffin facility.  In the latter case this will, in most cases, actually be two separate crossings, normally 3 metres apart, in order to segregate the horses from the pedestrians/cyclists.

The equestrian crossings are easily recognisable by their taller poles and extra push button boxes mounted high on the pole for horse riders and, like the toucan crossing, can be near-sided or far-sided as the engineer requires.

rotating cone

Rotating cone

In all of the above crossings the push button units should have a small rotating cone device on the under-side of the right-hand button.  This rotates when the pedestrian signal turns green and is an indication for visually impaired users that it is safe for them to cross, particularly useful where there is no audible signal.