Debate rages over rollout of 'smart' pedestrian crossings in Aussie city

The transport department insists the new technology does not make Melbourne's crossings more dangerous.

A Melbourne roads initiative designed to 'make pedestrian crossings safer' has come into question, with some locals raising concerns over the smart crossing system.

But the Department of Transport has shut down claims they're unsafe, and said the whole point "is to make crossings safer, not more dangerous".

The initiative was part of a $340 million Smarter Roads program which launched in July 2021. Since then, 75 high-definition detectors have been installed at crossings across Melbourne, in the west, east and southeast suburbs.

The pedestrian crossing technology aims to detect pedestrians and cyclists in real time, allow more time to cross for bigger groups and reduce unnecessary delays for drivers. It also aims to create safer right turn signals and keep everyone moving in busy pedestrian spots.

Smart crossing on a Melbourne road.
Smart crossings were introduced at 75 crossing in Melbourne and are designed to extend crossing time. Source: Reddit

Concerns raised of safety of smart crossings

Curious about the new technology, a Reddit user snapped a photo of a crossing believed to be in Werribee. "A simple traffic light stop with tech?" they wrote this week.

The photo shows a sign attached to the pole indicating that the crossing was equipped with the smart technology. But responding to the post, some perceived problems with the multi-million dollar tech and implied they thought it was dangerous.

"I can see an immediate problem with this. What happens when there's one person waiting to cross, so it gives significantly less time than normal. But that person (by way of disability) moves a lot slower than their standard person? one poster commented.

Another questioned whether the dynamic crossings were "smart enough not to have green turn signals into active pedestrian crossings".

"So many pedestrians have been hit by careless/idiotic drivers thinking a green arrow gives them the right of way," they added.

School children crossing Melbourne road at a smart crossing.
The dynamic crossings were designed to make it safer for large groups of school children to cross the roads. Source: Victoria Department of Transport

Transport spokesperson shuts down concerns

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport allayed such fears and explained to Yahoo News that its primary function is to extend crossing time designed for larger groups, and those with mobility issues were already being considered.

"A normal crossing time at any pedestrian crossing has factored in people with mobility issues," they said. "Someone with mobility issues will not get less time to cross, it’s the same amount of time, but crossings with the dynamic detector will be able to extend it."

They said the smart crossings were designed with school groups in mind and allow large groups of children to cross more safely before the lights turn red. Maintaining safety on a green turn signal, on the other hand, comes down to basic road rules. "It doesn't have anything to do with the dynamic pedestrian crossings," Yahoo News was told.

"Every single intersection in the state of Victoria where one road meets another has road rules that apply to it, and if you’re turning right on any road it’s your responsibility to give way to that pedestrian," the Department of Transport said.

"You have a responsibility when you have control of a motor vehicle and you must know the road rules. Additionally, people have to take some sort of responsibility when crossing the road."

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