Gordon Darroch in Tilburg
Wednesday 12 July 2017 07.30 BST
The distance from Noud Rommen’s front door to the local shops is just 100 yards, but to get there, the 71-year-old with mobility problems must negotiate a six-lane dual carriageway with a notoriously short pedestrian crossing time.
“If I stick to the rules I can only get to the island halfway across before it turns red, so I have to press the button and wait again,” he says. “But nobody wants to do that, so you try to cut between the traffic. It’s not good, but that’s what happens.”
Since April, however, Rommen has been able to cross the road without dodging cars – with the help of his smartphone. He is one of 10 people in the Dutch city of Tilburg trialling the Crosswalk, an app that gives pedestrians with restricted mobility extra crossing time.
A sensor in the lights constantly scans the pavement on either side of the junction, and if it “sees” Rommen waiting when the button is pressed it adjusts the green-light time. The app comes pre-installed with one of four time settings, depending on the user’s level of mobility, to minimise delays to other traffic.
Dynniq, the Dutch company that develops intelligent traffic systems and is helping the city council with the trial, explains the app works in combination with GPS and the software that operates the traffic lights, so there is no need to install extra devices.
The company is also developing a spin-off for cyclists, the CrossCycle, which will sense when bikes are approaching a junction and change the lights sooner. Another version detects visually impaired pedestrians and activates the ticking sounds that tell them whether the light is red or green.
“The essential difference is that the lights can respond to individual users,” says Dynniq’s product manager Martin de Vries. “In the past someone could press a button, but we didn’t know if there was one person standing there or 10. Say there’s a class of schoolchildren needing to cross the road: we can create a category for them in the app so that the light stays green until the teacher confirms that all the children are safely across.”