How do you get from point A to point B? When it comes to getting around a city, the answer is usually to cross a pedestrian crossing. The city is full of them, but not all of them are adapted for all citizens to cross. Just note the moment when the green light comes on at the traffic light until it turns off: how often is the time in the traffic lights for crossing not enough?

It was when they noticed that the time of one of the capital’s traffic lights was so short that it was putting pedestrians at risk that a group of citizens from the Lisboa Possível platform wanted to start a change: suddenly, passers-by on Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro Avenue (between São Domingos de Benfica and Campolide) saw the green light on a pedestrian crossing increase from 15 to 37 seconds (the average time that, according to the law, it takes to cross).

A 14-metre crossing without a central reservation, in front of number 80, which at a normal pace would always take at least 22 seconds to complete – as we experienced.

Image from Google Maps

Everything happened after a complaint was formalised with the Lisbon City Hall and the National Institute for Rehabilitation by the collective, which waited eight months for a reply.

It was enough to resort to the law to get it. And the time of the traffic light has indeed changed.

What the law says

It was the “way in which we could change this”, explains Ksenia Ashrafullina, from Lisboa Possível. The law is very clear regarding the times of the green light at zebra crossings:

The green pedestrian crossing signal must be open long enough to allow pedestrians to cross, at a speed of 0.4 m/s, across the full width of the track or up to the central reservation, where one exists

Decree Law n.º 163/2006, of August 8th

Faced with the facts, the Lisboa Possível movement formalised the concern. “It was a very legal complaint and that has a psychological effect, it showed that we were prepared”, explains Ksenia. Eight months later, they finally received a response from the Câmara – and the zebra crossing gained an extra twenty seconds to cross.

But what was happening on Avenida Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro is a problem that spreads throughout the city and is therefore related to safety on the streets, to accident figures. A 2019 study, “The maturity of road signs and safety in Portugal”, by AFESP (Portuguese Association of Road Signs and Safety), shows that it is in the main urban centres that the highest road accidents occur, especially on the streets within the localities.

Now, the Lisboa Possível movement has issued a challenge based on this story, proposing, on their website, a model of complaint to be sent to the City Council and the National Institute for Rehabilitation. “It will probably be a problem all over the country, considering the number of complaints we have been receiving,” says Ksenia.

How many more zebra crossings can be made safer?

The complaint should be sent

  1. Through the contact form of the Lisbon City Council, or the following e-mails: and

2. Through the contact form of the National Institute for Rehabilitation or by e-mail:

Pedestrian crossings that do not comply with the legislation in force

On the publication of Lisboa Possível, comments soon appeared from other citizens who are rolling up their sleeves to make the city safer. Like this one, who recounted having helped change one of the zebra crossings in Alvalade, but who also acknowledged the problem of Avenida Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, which he was unable to change:

“The issue has already been identified for some years,” points out Diogo Martins, a specialist in transport accessibility. Another case that is exemplary for him is the zebra crossing that connects the Gare do Oriente to the Vasco da Gama Shopping Centre.

According to Pedestrian Accessibility Plan, the crossing time would be improved, but even so, it remains insufficient. The length of the four crossings, with the three dividers between them, is about 30 metres. 30 metres for 34 seconds.

However, as the law stipulates the 0.4 m/s “from the whole width of the road or up to the central reservation, when it exists”, here the law only applies up to the central reservation. About these cases, with central separators, Ksenia denounces: “It is a great injustice”.

But there are many cases around the city that are quite obvious. Another is that of the pedestrian crossings in Avenida da Liberdade. In the zebra crossing that precedes the one that connects Avenida da Liberdade to the Tivoli Theatre (i.e. the longer one, because it is located in the centre of the Avenue), it will take around 13 seconds for about 18 metres.

The fight is spreading across the city. A petition launched in 2019 by the group Vizinhos do Areeiro (Areeiro’s neighbors), in addition to warning about the insecurity at zebra crossings caused by drivers often speeding, also denounced:

“(…) the residents appeal to the Areeiro Parish Council to identify with the Lisbon City Council all the traffic lights that are illegal (…)On a ten-metre wide carriageway, the green light must be open for at least 25 seconds. However, in many places of crossing (and without counting the islands in the central separators!) in Areeiro the pedestrian has only 15 seconds, that is 10 seconds that can make the difference between life and death!”

The 9 unsafe crossings around Curry Cabral

That crossing times do not comply with the legislation was also the conclusion of a study published by Acta Médica Portuguesa in 2020, in which the crossing times of pedestrians at crossings between Curry Cabral Hospital and local public transport were assessed.

Twenty-six pedestrian crossings were assessed. For the sample, they counted on 100 patients who attended the external consultation of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation service and with an average age of 75 years. They answered a questionnaire and performed a ten metres walking test.

More than three thirds of this sample walked or took public transportation to the hospital. In addition, 29 of the patients used a walking aid such as a walking stick (7), a cane (17), two canes (5).

In the end, only 17 of the 26 zebra crossings analysed (65%) met the requirements to be crossed safely. The remaining 35% represent an obstacle. Only two patients had a walking speed below 0.4 m/s (defined by law as normal walking speed) – meaning that if the legislation had been enforced, 99% of the sample would have been able to cross the crossings safely.

Oriente Terminal Mobilidade Autocarro Metro Passageiro EMEL Restart
For the elderly and those with mobility impairments, crossing times at pedestrian crossings in the city are not enough. Photo: Inês Leote

The most flagrant case pointed out in the study is the pedestrian crossing of Avenida dos Combatentes, which requires a minimum walking speed of 2.17 m/s, i.e. more than five times the speed defined by law.

The issue is entering the city’s politics. In 2020, and based on the results of this study, the CDS-PP party ( Social Democratic Center Party – Popular Party) presented the following recommendations in the Municipal Assembly – which would be unanimously approved:

  • That a change in the traffic light times near the entrances of the Curry Cabral Hospital be carried out;
  • That a survey of the city’s traffic light times be carried out, particularly in areas with essential equipment and a large flow of people;
  • That the situation regarding the previous points be presented at the Municipal Assembly.

We tried to contact the CDS-PP, in order to know if these proposals had resulted in any change in the city, but got no reply.

How the primacy of the car affects our crossings

In 2021, the SIM.Lx – Lisbon’s Intelligent Mobility System – began to be installed, to replace the integrated traffic light control system, in place since 1985 in the city – the GERTRUDE. This is nothing more and nothing less than the system that manages the crossing times for each traffic light.

According to EMEL, this new system allows the centralisation of all the city’s intersections, thus achieving a real-time response to programmed actions such as works or accidents. In addition, it is possible to manage the time of traffic lights of BUS lanes and of lanes for the flow of traffic entering and exiting the city, as well as of reduced emission zones (ZER).

Diogo Martins recalls how cities still privilege cars and not pedestrians. Photo: Inês Leote

But the changes – more or less technological – have shown a primacy of the car over the pedestrian, so often forgotten in the urbanistic equation.

“Those who plan road networks are concerned with getting as many cars around as possible. The city lives from its people. We need to reverse the mentality of those who control the road network”, says Diogo Martins.

Some solutions are starting to emerge, such as the intelligent pedestrian crossings, which are already present in some streets in Lisbon. How do they work? When they detect the approach of a pedestrian, they light up, thus increasing safety and visibility conditions. This is an option, especially for the more distracted.

But the issue of crossing time is still an unresolved problem. And Diogo Martins sums it up: “When one chooses to ignore the law, one is taking a decision in favour of something”. In this case, it’s the car that wins.

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