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The noun panda (more fully panda crossing) has been used in the United Kingdom to designate a type of pedestrian crossing distinguished by black-and-white chevrons marked on the road, and having traffic warning lights activated by people wishing to cross.
This use of the noun panda alludes to the black-and-white fur of the giant panda, a large herbivorous bearlike mammal.
The earliest occurrences that I have found of the noun panda used in the sense of a pedestrian crossing are from British newspapers published on Tuesday 6th March 1962—for example, from the Evening Standard (London, England):
HERE IS HOW THE MARPLES PANDAS WILL WORK
By ROBERT WALLING
Minister of Transport Ernest Marples today offers a new deal to pedestrians. He has ordered that 45 Pandas, a new type of light-flashing, push-button crossing, go into use in April as an experiment.
And if they are successful, they will have legal “teeth.” Walkers who cross near them will be fined up to £10 the first time, and up to £25 for a second or subsequent offence.
Guildford and Lincoln are to be “saturated” with the new crossings.
The first will have 13 “zebras” converted into “pandas,” the second, 10.
Reading is to have three.
There will be more in Weymouth, Swanley, Brasted in Kent, Lancing and Dunstable.
The London area is to have its share: at Waterloo Station in York Road, Lambeth, Finchley, Surbiton, Croydon and Beckenham.
Press a button
Why has the name “panda” been chosen?
The Ministry’s experts got the inspiration from the marking on its back.
The crossings will have chevron black-and-white markings instead of “zebra” stripes. The illuminated globes on the pavements will have lateral stripes.
This is the way the “pandas” work:
The pedestrian presses a button under one of the globes. Above a sign lights up saying “WAIT” in white letters on a blue background.
Slow . . . then quick
Approaching drivers will see an amber light which will pulsate for five seconds. Then the signal turns for them to a pulsating red.
Out goes the “WAIT,” and across the road a sign facing the walker says “CROSS.”
After an interval, which will usually be half-a-minute but may be more or less according to known conditions, the flashing amber takes over again for drivers. For pedestrians the “CROSS” sign flashes at first slowly, then quicker, to encourage stragglers.
Finally, all lights go out and the vehicle traffic gets going again.
Can the traffic be stopped again right away?
No. A device prevents this from being done for a pre-set time. If a walker presses a button too early, then the “WAIT” sign lights up until the pre-set interval is ended.
There is this great difference between the new and old type of push-button crossing. It is that no signals show at all to drivers when the way is free for traffic.
There are three reasons for the “pandas”:
There are places where it is not busy enough for uncontrolled “zebras,” but walkers nevertheless need some help, especially at peak periods.
There are others where walker-demand is heavy for short periods.
At some places walker-demand is small but traffic flow is constant.
The following illustration, published in The Guardian (Manchester, Lancashire, England) of Wednesday 7th March 1962, shows a panda crossing, the beacon-poles, and the device placed under each of the beacon-globes:
IF YOU WISH TO CROSS, PRESS THE BUTTON. THE WORD “WAIT” WILL APPEAR TO SHOW THAT YOUR CALL HAS BEEN REGISTERED.
It was not long before panda, in the sense of a pedestrian crossing, gave rise to the noun pandamonium, a jocular blend of panda and pandemonium, denoting a place or state of utter confusion and uproar. The following is from the Daily Herald (London, England) of Tuesday 3rd April 1962:
Panda-monium at guinea pig crossings
DRIVERS had to slam on their brakes and pedestrians had to dash to the pavement for safety.
It happened time after time yesterday when Mr. Marples’ experimental Panda crossings made their very confusing debut.
There was Pandamonium at London’s York-road crossing, Waterloo, the busiest of the 45 test sites that started operation in England and Wales.
A screech, a curse
Six hundred City workers and housewives used that Panda each hour—to the nerve-racking screech of brakes and the cursing of puzzled motorists.
The drivers were confused by the flashing amber and red lights and many were halfway over the crossing before realising who had right of way.
Caught in traffic
Some pedestrians tried to use the Panda as a Zebra. and were caught in the traffic stream. Others just followed the crowd after someone else had pressed the button and found themselves nearly run down when the timing mechanism gave the traffic the go-ahead.
It seemed that few people knew their Panda drill, apart from Mr. Marples himself. He confidently inaugurated the Waterloo crossing when he pressed the button and strolled across holding a toy panda aloft.
At exactly the same time, the Mayor of Weymouth, Mr. Wilfred Ward, pressed the button of his town’s Panda and saw the lights flash wildly out of sequence. Police had to take over traffic control.