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Traffic-light plague sweeps UK: Safety culture strangles Blighty

Stealthy 2005 gov rule favoured feet over wheels

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'It is time for the DfT to think again'

Yass and the RAC Foundation suggest the following measures:

  • The DfT should consider carrying out trials of flashing amber lights at times when there is little traffic, which would allow drivers to proceed with caution at junctions, as is common in countries such as France and Italy.
  • London trials of a reduction of the green-man phase (the invitation to cross) from 10 seconds to six seconds have increased traffic flow by six and a half per cent with no significant impact on safety. In the light of these findings, authorities should consider standardising the green man invitation to cross period at six seconds.
  • It is not widely understood that the full length of time that pedestrians have to cross is not just the green man period but also includes the time when the pedestrian sign is blank. There are other forms of pedestrian signals – Pedestrian User-Friendly Intelligent (puffin) and countdown, currently being trialed at eight sites in London – that avoid this problem.
  • The DfT should also allow for trialling of cyclists turning left at a red signal.
  • More use should be made of ‘smart’ traffic lights systems, such as SCOOT, which respond to changes in traffic and congestion by altering the timing of lights.
  • The most significant change in priorities over the past decade has been for the benefit of pedestrians, with a presumption – since 2005 – that at junctions there will be an all-round pedestrian stage, ie all vehicles are held at red while people cross. There should be a review of effectiveness of full pedestrian crossing stages and whether the benefits outweigh costs.
  • Local authorities should review the lights they have and consider whether some could be removed and replaced with alternatives such as mini-roundabouts and shared space schemes, though not at disproportionate cost to taxpayers.

Or in other words a combination of smarter technology and a stopline in front of the creeping safety culture which is slowly strangling the nation's transport infrastructure – in large part by covering the land in traffic lights and adjusting them to be ever more troublesome.

The head of the RAC Foundation, Professor Stephen Glaister, adds this in a statement accompanying the report:

“Depending when and where you are, traffic lights can ease your journey or be a source of frustration. It is plain that lights have an important role to play but with ever more congested streets they need to be very finely tuned to ensure they are not doing more harm than good – and that means they must react to changing traffic conditions.

“The Department for Transport is nervous of introducing flashing amber signals on the grounds of safety, but they do seem to work in other countries. It is time for the DfT to think again.”

The RAC Foundation document can be read in full here in pdf. ®

Full disclosure: The author of this article is a regular pedestrian, cyclist, motorist and bus passenger in London and elsewhere. This has led him to detest pedestrians, cyclists, ordinary motorists and those who drive for a living equally.

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