Stop, look, listen, leg it. Normally, few pedestrians would risk dashing across a busy road in front of a queue of waiting traffic, with the lights threatening to change at any moment. But yesterday, they took their chances as the country's first countdown tickers – which indicate how long remains before the green man turns red – were unveiled.
During the morning rush hour, one woman in south London, where the first of the timers has been installed, managed to make the crossing with just a second to spare – having given herself a 10-yard run-up. A few moments earlier, a young man who overestimated his ability to sprint across the road with the clock showing only one second had his backside grazed by the front bumper of a white van.
The digital timers count down from 12 seconds. The first has been installed in Southwark as part of an 18-month trial period. More will follow at eight junctions in London, including Oxford Circus in the West End. The trial will cost £750,000.
One pedestrian, 52-year-old Dragan Todoric from Woking, said: "I do not think people will take too many risks, although they are probably in more of a hurry here than on the Continent," before heading across the road with only a few seconds to spare. Another, Scott Kelly, 38, a banker from Winchester, made his first crossing with The Independent: "I suppose a few may take their chances, if they think they can get away with it."
The trial was undertaken after a study found that about half of pedestrians crossed after the red man had appeared.
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, said: "This technology already works well in other cities around the world, and bringing it to London's streets is just one of the ways we are continuing to improve the experience of travelling around the capital."
Pedestrian groups warned that it was an excuse to "shave off the time that pedestrians have to cross the road". Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Living Streets, said: "In trials that were carried out before these countdown crossings were put in, lots of pedestrians said they were disappointed with the results."