There has been a lot in the news this week about traffic lights. Apparently we now have more than 25,000 sets in the UK.
25,000? Is that all? It certainly seems like a lot more than that.
The figures quoted say that there are over 6,000 in London of which only 783 have what they call ‘a full pedestrian crossing stage’ – when all the lights for vehicles are at red. I did a quick count of the lights in a half mile radius of my house in the sleepy little south coast town in which I live and found that there are 15 sets of lights of which 10 go to full red.
There are also 14 roundabouts in that same area!
My little town is well and truly gridlocked by all the various traffic calming measures which have been introduced over the years – traffic lights, roundabouts, reduced speed limits, road humps and road narrowing. And in many cases, I don’t have an issue with them. Some have been installed to improve safety and these are most welcome.
Some of the traffic lights however, are just ridiculous!
One of our larger roundabouts has three major roads and one minor road approaching it. The three major roads all have traffic lights at their junction with the roundabout. The minor road is allowed to enter it freely. Within twenty yards of entering the roundabout from each of the major roads, there is another set of traffic lights to control the flow around the roundabout!
If a driver is heading in the wrong direction and needs to use the roundabout to double back on their journey, they will have to negotiate three sets of traffic lights just to go round the roundabout. And if it isn’t their day, they will be stopped at each set of lights regardless of the time of day. These lights go through their routine no matter how much traffic is on the roads and no matter what the time of day. It could be 2am on an empty road and still the lights will change in sequence.
Just a little further on from this roundabout is a double set of lights (set about 200 yards apart) which causes more issues than it solves. The majority of traffic runs east and west but is interrupted by 4 smaller roads connecting with it from the north and south. The sequence here is that the traffic coming from the west heading east gets the first green light at the western set with a filter to allow traffic to head south. At the same time, the traffic coming from the east heading west gets the first green light at the eastern set with a filter to allow traffic to head north. This means that the traffic heading east gets through the western set but is stopped at the eastern set and the traffic heading west gets through the eastern set but is stopped at the western set.
With me so far?
The filters then turn red and the second green at the western set allows the east bound traffic to continue east whilst the second green at the eastern set allows the west bound traffic to continue west.
These greens now turn red. The traffic coming from the north and south at the western set then get a green light simultaneously whilst the traffic coming from the south at the eastern set also get their green light. However, because the western and eastern sets also have a red light preventing flow heading east or west out of the middle ‘no mans land’ section, the traffic coming from the north and south has no where to go.
Once their lights turn red, the traffic coming from the north at the eastern set get a green light. They also have no where to go as the junction is now full!
Now the sequence starts over, however all the traffic now heading west has no where to go because they are queuing up to get on the aforementioned roundabout!
Confused? Try driving through the lights at rush hour!
Meanwhile, back at a much simpler set of lights – one of those in the half mile radius of my house – I approached these very late at night the other night. I was one of only two cars around. The other car was a little ahead of me and we were both heading south. As the first car got to the lights, they changed from green in our favour to red. I therefore had to stop.
These lights have a four change sequence. Starting with the main traffic, again an east / west route, they have the green. When they turn red, a filter allows the west bound traffic to turn north and the east bound to turn south. The next change is to allow the north bound traffic to continue north or to turn east or west. The final change is to allow the south bound traffic to continue south or turn east or west.
I pulled up at the red light. There wasn’t any other car approaching from any other direction, but I had to sit there and watch the full sequence of changes.
The official body in charge of traffic lights say that the average red light time is between 50 and 60 seconds. That official body has clearly never visited my little town!
Taking their worse case 60 seconds red light wait as an example at the lights at which I was now sitting, each change in the sequence should last a maximum of 20 seconds. That’s 20 seconds for east / west, 20 seconds for the filters north and south and 20 seconds for the north bound before I get my green light.
I don’t think so! I’m not an impatient man, and even make a point of joining the longer queues at times, but there is no reason for the long wait at a junction when the road is completely void of all other traffic.
And during the day when there was actually some traffic on the roads, that would mean all the drivers needed to be Formula One standard in order to pull away from a standing start and get through the lights before they changed again.
Maybe it’s time for some of these lights to be removed!