/ Motoring

Do traffic lights make you see red?

Traffic lights at night

How often do you get stuck at a set of traffic lights that resolutely stay red even though there isn’t anyone else around? If you find this aggravating, you’re not alone – maybe there’s too many traffic lights on our streets?

A recent investigation by the RAC Foundation has revealed that the number of traffic lights in the UK climbed by 30% to more than 25,000 in the eight years between 2000 and 2008.

It criticizes this increase, and calls for local authorities to see if they can replace them with alternatives that will have a less detrimental effect on traffic flow, such as mini roundabouts.

That sounds like a very sensible suggestion to me – and it ties in with recent developments by other European countries. The town of Drachten in Holland, for example, found that removing the usual plethora of road furniture makes drivers more aware, and so more caring of pedestrians and other road users.

And to stop the frustration of vehicles being held at red lights late at night, a trial of ‘flashing amber’ lights has been put forward. An amber light would indicate that you have to slow down and be cautious, but that you needn’t stop without reason.

Not all of the RAC Foundation’s suggestions were as well considered though – cutting the time pedestrians have to cross at traffic lights from ten to six seconds isn’t practical. I work in London where this has already been trialed, and can confirm that the shorter time isn’t always enough to traverse a major junction.

Perhaps an increased use of countdown indicators for pedestrian crossings could be trialed instead? Whatever the alternative, adding more traffic lights to our roads certainly isn’t the answer. What do you think? And do you have any alternatives to help traffic flow and cut needless congestion?

Should more traffic lights be removed from our streets?

Yes - there are too many (51%, 225 Votes)

Maybe - some areas could benefit (33%, 147 Votes)

No - this would cause chaos (16%, 73 Votes)

Total Voters: 445

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Hmm, I’m not so sure that Holland is the best example of how to run traffic lights.
Having lived there and driven pretty much everywhere in the country, no traffic lights are sequenced in any way. In fact, my journeys across Holland were often so long, I ended up believing that they deliberately sequence them poorly so as to either a) make everyone think that Holland is bigger than it is or b) encourage more people to use the ridiculously overcrowded train system.

In urban residential areas though they have it right. No markings, no street furniture, barely any signs, just watch out for those cyclists, which I think is the point. Holland have so many cyclists (because it is flat) that it makes sense to remove all the clutter making it less of a risk to them and encouraging motorists to take greater care.

In terms of traffic lights, just go and see the Germans. I lived in Duesseldorf and if timed correctly, you could go right across the city in rush hour without stopping. 2 reasons for this 1) trams are everywhere in Duss and so you barely need a car 2) all traffic lights on main roads are sequenced so that if you stick to a 30 – 40 kmh limit, you barely need to stop.

Think of the fuel and brake pad savings.

In England there is absolutely no thought put into designing the infrastructure for new developments, they just add some more traffic lights, some poorly designed junctions and think that it will all just work.

Kirkstall Road in Leeds is possibly the most poorly designed road in the country. From the Inner Ring road all the way to Horsforth there are traffic lights all the way, punctuated by the most speed cameras I have ever seen and constant fluctuations between 1 and 2 lanes.

Leeds City Councils answer? Lets put a bus lane in it!!!!

fat sam says:
10 March 2011

I agree with Dean, in England – our lights seem to be put up by overweight men in fluorescent jackets who haven’t got a clue about traffic management.

Whilst I wouldn’t advocate a complete removal of lights I would be in favour of more part-time signals. I know it’s only a few seconds of waiting (or several minutes in some cases) the thing I find irritating about these ‘late night’ lights is the waste of fuel and the quick calculation of where I’d be (closer to my bed) than being stuck at a junction that nobody else is using.

It’s the ‘elf ‘n’ safety brigade all over. Hopefully, with all these cuts in local authority spending someone will see sense and reduce the weighty traffic light budget and actually allow everyone to proceed using that logic we once used to be so proud of over here – common sense.

Sophie Gilbert says:
11 March 2011

I hope and pray that traffic lights are going to be put up in some bad junctions in Edinburgh. I’m fed up with taking my life in my own hands every time I have to negotiate those dangerous junctions. Also, the technology exists to have “demand-actuated” (what a horrendous compound) traffic lights. If properly designed and adjusted they work a treat. Maybe we should have more of them

I agree with Sophie.

Far too many junctions in London are virtual death traps because there are NO traffic lights. Light controlled junctions are far safer. I really get fed up with those appalling drivers who ignore the sequence anyway and cross at any colour. Frankly I’d sooner wait for a traffic light to change to green than hope drivers will actually stop – Many don’t as it is not compulsory. I’m more interested in road safety than traffic flow – and I used to drive along Marylebone Road in central London daily. I have to wonder if a reason for lower accidents rates is the increase in traffic lights.

I have no objection with sequenced lights as on Marylebone Road as they do allow traffic to flow.

Mini roundabouts are not only death traps at night – but CAUSE traffic jams at high traffic density. There are many around where I live in London. The problem is the vast numbers of bad drivers. most of whom drive OVER them not around them.

Traffic lights can work efficiently if set up correctly and sequenced with nearby lights. With mini-roundabouts, confident drivers often ignore the rules and create stressful situations, particularly for novice and old drivers. No wonder that there are many accidents at mini-roundabouts.

It is obvious that some traffic lights are better than others. Information should be collected and used to bring the poor lights up to standard.

They are not “confident drivers” they are BAD drivers.

I meant to write ‘over-confident’ drivers. Timid drivers also cause problems at mini-roundabouts. Negotiating a mini-roundabout relies far too much on predicting the actions of others.

Correct about timid drivers. Too many treat mini-roundabouts (all roundabouts, in fact) as T-junctions. The idea is to anticipate and merge, allowing traffic to flow instead of grinding to a halt as it does at lights. Once you’ve stopped, you need a far bigger gap before you can get going again – the main reason for queues on the approach to them.

I not only drive over mini roundabouts but have been known to drive completely the wrong way round some of them. Ouch, that’ll upset the Daily Mail-reading brigade! I assess the situation at the time using this in-built tool that I possess. It’s called Common Sense. I wouldn’t say I’m a bad driver, maybe impatient unless one’s definition of a bad driver is 20 years of claim-free and point-free driving.

Good for you. Mini-roundabouts are there to control traffic priorities and it often doesn’t matter a jot whether you go right, left or over the things.

Common sense has been phased out and has no role in modern society. That’s the rules and you should have read them!

To be serious, bad practices can be copied by those who may not not have the same skills and powers of observation.

Sorry – if you do not obey the Highway code you are a BAD driver. If you haven’t been caught or had an accident – you are called LUCKY – and you’ve got away with it for 20 years.- but certainly doesn’t make it right.

I have sixty four years accident free and point free – driving – in London at peak times – So I consider myself competent.. I always give way to those already on mini roundabouts and approaching from the right – I never ignore highway code signs and always keep within the boundaries of the road markings. Just like I obey the speed limits.

I do keep seeing idiots ignoring highway signs and conditions – and observed the crashes they cause. Doesn’t seem to happen when everybody obeys the Highway code – which is exactly what the highway code was introduced.to do.

Yes, I’m a bad driver. Bad for driving at 20mph in a school zone at 2am and soon after for cutting part of a mini-roundabout with not another soul for several miles.

I should look up to people like you, Richard. But I can honestly say, with hand on heart, I couldn’t give a flying f***!

Near me there’s a set of lights at a crossroads. One of the forks is to a pub. It has the same light phasing at 5am as it does at 5pm, so I have to wait for non-existent traffic exiting the pub at 5 in the morning. Infuriating! It suggests councils are fitting cheap timing equipment to switch the lights, instead of ‘intelligent’ systems that would take account of traffic flow and sense the cars queuing up. How much fuel is wasted sitting at lights that don’t need to be red??!!

This is as pointless as having a 20 mph speed limit outside schools operating in the middle of the night.

Actually all my local schools have speed bumps on the small local roads – which I agree with as it keeps local traffic to a slow speed – particularly as the roads are narrow and very full of parked cars during the day – more densely at night – so pedestrians are forced to cross the roads between the cars. Since the Sleeping Policeman were laid, traffic crashes have decreased

The same schools have Lollipop Ladies on the major roads so traffic is not inconvenienced.

I have to wonder why many car drivers seem to think that roads are only there for them to use,

As a driver, cyclist and a pedestrian I can honestly say that many pedestrians are worse than drivers. Pedestrian crossings are there for a reason. If pedestrians choose to play Frogger across a busy main road because they can’t be bothered to walk 20 yards to a crossing then perhaps they deserve to be hit?

But it’ll be the motorist who pays for this idiocy as the speed limit on a perfectly safe road now deemed unsafe by the actions of one idiotic pedestrian is lowered.

Sometimes I think the decision-makers don’t think laterally or logically when coming up with a solution.

There are far too many of the things and many’s the example I’ve seen of traffic flowing much better when they break down. They do enormous damage to the environment by forcing cars to brake hard, sit there pumping fumes into the atmosphere and burn loads of fuel accelerating away again. Worst of all, they follow a fixed pattern, regardless of time of day or night; it’s infuriating and wasteful to be forced to sit at red lights with no other car in sight. Why on earth don’t they switch to flashing amber at off-peak times and allow left-turn-on-red, as in other countries. Grrr!

One of the reasons why drivers are kept waiting at lights is to allow pedestrians to cross, and many do this irrespective of whether or not there is anyone waiting to cross. It should not be difficult to improve control systems to improve traffic lights to decrease delays for both motorists and pedestrians. Obviously lights need to respond immediately if no vehicles or pedestrians are detected. Priority should obviously be given to problem crossings.

If you have to brake hard when the light turns to red you are driving too fast. There is also no need for harsh acceleration when moving off. It’s not a race.

Alright, take out ‘hard’ if you must. The point is that traffic lights cause traffic to use brakes (brake dust into atmosphere) wait with engines running (fumes into atmosphere, money out of wallet), then accelerate away – gently, of course (more fumes, more money). That’s all very wasteful when there’s nothing coming the other way, no one waiting to cross.

Incidentally, it INFURIATES me when pedestrians walk up to a crossing, press the button, then look at the traffic and decide it’s safe to cross anyway. They disappear into the distance, the lights turn red and all the traffic grinds to a halt. Aaarghhh!

Traffic lights serve an important function for our safety. Unfortunately the ‘safety’ aspect includes a time when all lights are red and the road cannot be used. There is little ‘artificial intelligence’ in the majority of traffic light controllers and I often think that they are deliberately programmed to stop traffic when they see it coming. I get most annoyed when I slow down because of a red light ahead, it changes to green, I accelerate and it then changes back to red before I can cross the line! Money spent on better controllers would save a lot of wasted fuel.

I always felt lucky as the town I live in, Swindon, has a great number of roundabouts, including the Magic Roundabout, which I feel keeps the traffic moving, much better than traffic lights.

Imagine my dismay however, when the town built a northern expansion, only to have the major roads going through it disrupted by traffic light after traffic light!

What a backward step.

Phil says:
12 March 2011

Back in the early ’80s I used to have to drive through Slough on occasion and the traffic lights there were arranged such that if you drove at a steady 30 mph you got greens all the way. Contrast that with somewhere like Marylebone Road in London where the lights are not sequenced; it’s like a drag strip, especially late at night, as drivers try to get through as many junctions as possible before getting a red. The nearest junction to me on the M40 has a roundabout with traffic lights, fine at peak periods but at one o’clock in the morning?

That said on my current list of things to get excited about traffic lights don’t even register.

Traffic lights make me see red.
They waste everybody’s time and grind the country to a halt.
They waste fuel and pollute the air unless you drive a hybrid vehicle that switches off at standstill or like me turn off the ignition at most traffic lights.
They are necessary at peak times but for the remainder of the 24 hours they should be switched to a flashing light and treated as mini roundabouts, motorists slow and give way to the right.

Hector Macduff says:
13 March 2011

When the traffic lights failed outside a busy junction at my local supermarket recently the normal queues disappeared within minutes and there was a clear flow of traffic all afternoon. I suppose the problem is identifying which junctions and at what times of day a switch off would work.

Haggis says:
14 March 2011

About 6 or 7 years ago Watford Town Council installed traffic lights at the junction near Watford Railway station and the result was absolute chaos. Then 2 or 3 years ago they were removed, and surprise,suprise,traffic now flows smoothly, no hold-ups just as before the lights wre installed.
But give credit where credit is due, at least Watford recognised a mistake, even if it took a few years, and corrected it, unlike High Wycombe which has gone traffic light mad. After driving through High Wycombe for 23 years back and forth to my employment prior to the traffic light fiasco, I now avoid it any cost.

There are several basic problems with traffic lights in the UK. The system needs to be brought up to date by the dinosaurs in Whitehall who seem stuck in the 1930s.
1. The standard layout of lights at junctions is flawed and unsafe. There should be no repeater lights on the far side of junctions. Motorists should stop at the red light itself, as they do in France. That reduces confusion when there are several sets of junctions and pedestrian crossings close together and it greatly reduces the numbers of posts and signals. I have often seen motorists start off while their signal is still red because they have seen a signal at a pedestrisan crossing or at the next stage of a light-controlled roudabout turn to green. A crazy system.
2. To have to have sets of ights controlling traffic flows at large roundabouts illustrates the confused thinking of the authorities. If the flow of traffic is so high that lights are needed, then why have a huge roundabout taking up land? Roundabouts should enable traffic to flow freely, otherwise they are a waste of space.
3. Where there are roads with many sets of lights in series, as the Swindon writer states, the timing of the lights should enable groups of vehicles to continue at a steady speed at the speed limit without having to stop and start regularly, which wastes fuel and causes extra wear on vehicles.
4. Traffic lights can be programmed to be turned off or to go to a flashing amber at less busy times. Again, the French have it right.

A high proportion of the great increase in the number of traffic signals is probably due to the more prevalent installation of signal-controlled pedestrian crossings instead of Zebra crossings. The new Puffin type of pedestrian crossing installation overcomes many of the problems described in comments above: they are responsive to demand, switch out if no one is crossing or has finished crossing, and use the normal light sequence towards vehicles. A full description can be found in your copy of “Know Your Traffic Signs” [which every good driver will have studied, of course].

If you’ve come from the Cars email looking for the Japanese car brands Conversation, well there was a little bit of a link mix-up, but you can find that Convo right here: http://www.whichconversation.co.uk/transport-travel/which-car-survey-reliable-carmakers-japan/

Sorry about that!

Traffic-lights with the capability of recognizing traffic flow and then the ability to alter timing of light sequence should be installed .
Speed limits of 20mph should be observed at all times and not ,as suggested varied . I live in a street where there is a school and speeds of up to 60mph have been observed ,(some by parents dropping their children ).