Observing Behaviours on Liverpool’s Arterial Roads

Fact:   Adult pedestrians in Liverpool are more likely to be involved in collisions on major arterial routes than pedestrians in other areas. There are more dual carriageways in Liverpool than in comparator cities, increasing the risk facing individuals trying to cross these roads.


For our work for Liverpool City Council on reducing pedestrian casualties so far we’ve been looking at the effects of alcohol and the high rates of collisions involving taxis.  Another strand of this work involves dual carriageways or arterial roads.  Incidents on these roads currently make up around 20% of total the number of people injured in on the roads in Liverpool.  So before we design any intervention the team has been doing some observations to watch how people actually behave in these environments.  Most recently we studied West Derby Road or the A5049, one of Liverpool’s busiest dual carriageways.  These observations examine the behaviour of pedestrians and drivers which in turn help to design effective behavioural interventions.

So that you can get a feel for the process we’ve produced an edited video of some of the behaviours we saw but the first thing to mention is that about half the pedestrians observed crossed safely at designated pedestrian crossings.  However about half again were prone to more dangerous behaviour.  A lot of the time this comes down to unconscious or ingrained behaviours.  So let’s try and examine these a little more carefully.


Sight-line crossing & Island Hopping

As you’ll see straight away, the shop before the road becomes Tuebrook roundabout is surrounded by barriers.  These finish about a hundred yards before the pedestrian crossing that we were safely located on.  This would make sense from the perspective of planning as this area is the most obviously dangerous.  The roundabout feeds six lanes of traffic and is busy even when it isn’t rush hour.

However, an unintended consequence of this is that people tend to either cross diagonally from this point to the island the camera was situated on or alternatively hop across to another island whenever there’s a brief gap in traffic.

These behaviours are clearly dangerous but when people operate in what psychologists refer to as 'System 1 thinking' (or the state of mind we make quick decisions with) we tend to focus on where we want to be rather than the process of getting there.  This can lead to what we’ve started to refer to as ‘sight-line crossing’ and substantially increases the chances of being involved in a potentially life-threatening incident.


Fast and Slow Driving

Another element that's more difficult to see from the footage is the amount of parking that takes place despite double yellow lines.  Stationary cars block visibility not only for the pedestrians trying to negotiate the passage from the shops to the crossing but also make it harder for moving vehicles to see pedestrians. 

By observing how pedestrians and drivers actually behave (rather than how we think they should rationally act) we are establishing key insights to take into our next stage of problem solving.  It’s a short video and I haven’t described everything so maybe watch it yourself and see if you can observe any behaviours that are understandable but which are also increasing the chances of a collision.

Phil Rigby   So-Mo