How many is too many?

The change of shifts takes place at the new light-controlled pedestrian crossing near Bayfair. Photo: Daniel Hines

Nine people have been employed full-time to help people across a new traffic light controlled pedestrian crossing.

The crossing attendants are referred to as ‘safety escorts’ by New Zealand Transport Agency and they are there to ensure the safe passage of pedestrians, cyclists and mobility scooters across two lanes, at the roadworks outside Bayfair Shopping Centre.

And they do it 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week and in all weather. Two men, one either side of the crossing, in three shifts of eight hours a day.

The two men on duty at any one time engage with crossing users – an average of 771 per day – and press the big button on the light standard that controls the red light. That in turn stops the traffic for people crossing.

Why nine on just one crossing?

“The people staffing the new temporary pedestrian and cycling crossing (on SH2) just north of the Bayfair roundabout are key to helping users become familiar with the new layout,” says NZTA portfolio manager Darryl Coalter.

The temporary, signalised and manned crossing enables people to cross between Bayfair mall and Matapihi Road while construction of the new $120 million flyover continues in the centre of the road.

But nine men, round the clock, controlling a two-lane crossing that is already controlled by lights?

“Leading up to the go-live date of the traffic lights, there was feedback that the new crossing could be confusing for users, especially unaccompanied school children,” says Darryl. “The project team agreed to have the safety escorts in place at the crossing 24 hours a day seven days a week to begin with.” That means nine people are required to cover all shifts and contingencies.

Pedestrians and cyclists use a combination of the new traffic lights and the existing underpass, which remains open, to negotiate SH2. It’s now a much longer journey from the direct path that took locals across the highway. But it is a building site.

It’s also very busy – 38,000 cars a day through the area with forecasts of it building to 60,000 in 15 years.

That’s why they’re constructing a flyover; to fix the nightmarish peak time bottleneck.

When The Weekend Sun made the crossing under and over SH2 recently, a 33 degree celsius sun beat down. But the ‘safety escort’ men who stood out in that blaze in overalls, hi viz jackets and hard hats for much of their shift, were unfazed.

They waited until we were in the starting blocks for the two lane dash and even pressed the button that brought half of SH2 to a halt, just for us. NZTA says the staff have generally been welcomed by users.

They were welcoming, smiling and explaining to The Weekend Sun.

The ‘safety escort’ shifts are eight hours long, involving one person on either side of the crossing. Nine people were ‘inducted to site’ to provide the safety service.

However, the NZTA says there have been abuses - crossing users and motorists failing to follow the road rules and abide by the red light.

“We encourage everyone passing through the area to stick to the 30km/h speed limit.” The message to everyone is exercise caution.

The shifts will be reviewed once the crossing has been in place for a month, with a view to reducing the schedule to peak times only. Given how well the crossing has worked out, it is likely it will be reviewed before the four weeks are up.