Wednesday, 11 May 2011

I hate . . . Traffic Lights

Like a lot of you, quite a lot of my driving is through towns and cities. Driving back across recently, the traffic was really light - 5:30 PM on on a Sunday, so not that surprising.

troll traffic lights
Troll Traffic Lights
However, it took 25 minutes to cover 3½ miles. That's an average speed of 8.4 miles per hour. I was not driving like a granny, stopping at every McDonalds, or even courteously letting everyone out every junction.

The primary cause for my extreme slowness is the proliferation of traffic light. There's lights for pedestrian crossings, lights for junctions, lights for roundabouts, lights to slow you down for more lights. And every single one turned to red as I approached.

Who designs these light systems? We are capable of huge feats of engineering, but the ability to set up some simple lights so they change in a reasonable sequence is beyond the abilities of the civil engineers who plan traffic. Instead of setting the lights so that cars on the main roads can drive smoothly through, they seem deliberately to force you to stop for each one.

Now, There may be an argument for using lights to reduce traffic speeds - but what is the first thing you do when pulling away from a light that's held you up for no reason at all? That's right, accelerate harder, which is why they often put speed cameras a few hundred yards past a traffic light. They also hugely increase pollution, as the amount of fuel needed to accelerate is far more than that to maintain a steady speed, and the vehicle generates a lot more noise as well, which must annoy local residents.
So I've a little suggestion, based on a recent experience. Just turn them off.

A while ago, a set of lights on a very buy roundabout failed during rush hour. It's one of the main routes out of the city and on to the motorway, and the lights controlled all but one of the entrances, as well as points on the roundabout as well, so you would expect there to be chaos. On the contrary - traffic was flowing well, with cars entering and exiting smoothly on all access roads. In the few minutes I was waiting, traffic seemed to be flowing much faster for everyone - my journey to work was 5 minutes faster than usual. I suspect for quite a few sets of lights, disabling them permanently would improve traffic flow.

At night, it's especially annoying to be sat at a set of lights, waiting for non-existent cars on the other road, so we can turn them off too.

Pedestrian crossing may be one exception, but home many times have you been sat at a pedestrian crossing with no-one on it - because the person who pressed the button used a gap in the traffic and has long gone, while the motorists are sat waiting.

Have a look at traffic lights for this country. How about the 'flashing amber' used in the States, where you can proceed but have to give way to vehicles or pedestrians? Or making many more lights time dependant? Or even just adding some smarter sensors and controls that maximise traffic flow by only cycling lights for the minimum period?

I'm sure there are better options; save petrol, save time, and save me from shouting at inanimate road furniture...