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Belisha beacon

by Gary Reading, Dec 2018

A Belisha beacon is an amber-coloured globe lamp atop a tall black and white pole, marking pedestrian crossings of roads in the United KingdomIreland and in other countries (e.g., Hong KongMalta, and Singapore), historically influenced by Britain. It was named after Leslie Hore-Belisha (1893–1957), the Minister of Transport who in 1934 added beacons to pedestrian crossings, marked by large metal studs in the road surface. These crossings were later painted in black and white stripes, thus are known as zebra crossings. Legally pedestrians have priority (over wheeled traffic) on such crossings. In 1948, the Central Office of Information produced a short film which showed the correct way to use a pedestrian crossing (without the stripes at this time).

Belisha beacons provide additional visibility to zebra crossings for motorists, primarily at night. The UK flash rate is 750ms on, 750ms off as per British Standard BS8442-2015, Para 12 [2]. Some crossings are set so that each beacon flashes alternately to the other side, but they often fall out of synchronization over time. This has been overcome by the built in sychronisation and high visibility features included in belisha beacon patent GB2549455.

GB Beacons with an outer ring of flashing amber LED lights, preferred for their brightness and low electricity consumption, are replacing traditional incandescent bulbs in many areas.

LED halo zebra crossing beacon

In 2015 the first solar powered belisha beacon requiring no mains cabling was introduced using energy saving technology in patent GB2519445. 

To be legally compliant, every zebra crossing must be equipped with two Belisha beacons. In the UK, in cases where there is a traffic island or central reservation in the road, the traffic authority can opt whether to place one or more beacons centrally.

Since the introduction of new regulations in 1997 the number of zebra crossings and Belisha beacons has fallen in the northern counties of England, being replaced by pelican crossings or puffin crossings, with pedestrian-controlled traffic signals; a waiting pedestrian can stop vehicular traffic by pressing a button and waiting for the pedestrian signal of a red and green man to change to green. The green man can be accompanied by a green bicycle to indicate that the crossing is designated for pedestrians and cyclists; continuing the bird-name theme, this type of crossing is called a toucan crossing, as in, ‘two can’ cross. Another variation is the pegasus crossing where the pedestrian is accompanied by a green horse to indicate that the crossing is designated for pedestrians and horses, for example, at Hyde Park Corner, London.

The first Belisha beacons were erected in the London authorities areas and, following the Road Traffic Act 1934, were rolled out nationally in 1935.