/ Motoring

Stop cluttering our streets with traffic lights

Traffic lights against cloudy sky

Transport for London (TfL) has angered safety campaigners with its proposal to remove 145 sets of traffic lights across the capital. But de-cluttering our streets can actually cut congestion and save lives.

We’ve all been there – stuck waiting at a red light when the road ahead is clear. Sitting at a red light wastes time, causes traffic tailbacks and increases pollution from car exhaust emissions.

Yet TfL’s eminently sensible plan to remove 145 traffic lights across London was met with howls of protest.

Jenny Jones of the Green Party protested: ‘This is all part of the Mayor’s agenda for speeding up traffic. It is not that I want traffic to move slowly, but I do want it to be safe and you can’t have both.’ Really Jenny? I beg to differ.

“You don’t have to put on the red light”

Most traffic lights operate on a simple timer system that takes no account of traffic flow. Or, in the case of pelican crossings, when a button is pressed.

This antiquated means of controlling road users has been with us since 1868, when the first traffic light was installed in London’s Parliament Square. But the best solution for modern cities is getting rid of most traffic lights and ‘street furniture’ altogether. People of Britain: it’s time to de-clutter our streets!

At present, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are divided into separate areas – roads, cycle lanes and pavements respectively. We’re bombarded by a plethora of signs and signals telling us what to do at every stage of our journey.

This creates an ‘us and them’ mentality, causing people to act in a self-interested way that impedes overall traffic flow and causes accidents. Equally, it means we all go about our business on ‘auto pilot’, not paying proper attention to our surroundings.

Making contact with others

By removing traffic lights and other street furniture, road users must rely on common sense rather than blindly following signs. The lack of traditional boundaries forces us to engage our brains and make eye contact with others to signal our intentions.

But don’t take my word for it. The concept of ‘shared space’, where vehicles and pedestrians are free to mix without excessive regulation, has already proven successful in some cities.

The town of Drachten in Holland removed most of its street furniture back in 2003. Accidents and traffic congestion were both cut dramatically as a result. When Kensington High Street in London dispensed with kerbs, signs and other clutter, pedestrian casualties dropped by 40%.

Let’s ditch traffic lights and embrace ‘shared space’

I’m not saying that we should remove every street sign or traffic light. But I do believe that shared spaces can work in urban areas.

Town planners should credit people with some common sense and have the courage to ignore the knee-jerk reactions of safety campaigners who automatically oppose anything that could improve traffic flow.

Getting rid of clutter can make Britain’s streets safer, faster-moving and more attractive. It’s a win-win situation.

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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Comments
Profile photo of Ben Ross
Member

How about pedestrianising the whole of central London, with licensed access for work vehicles that need to be there and disabled access? Nobody needs to drive in London for leisure (in fact, Londoners tend to think of people who drive through central London as slightly off their rocker). No congestion, no accidents.

Definitely win-win.

Profile photo of richard
Member

Totally and utterly disagree – the vast majority of drivers have no or little common-sense – no courtesy – no driving ability.

Witness what happens when traffic lights fail…… chaos

Without the clear directives that traffic lights give – there will be more accidents. Many traffic lights were installed in the first place because of traffic control – The standard of driving has fallen drastically accidents have risen – It is only deaths that have fallen – not due to better driving – but better cars.

It’s bad enough now that so many “drivers” drive through lights – do not stop at junctions – or worse roundabouts. causing accidents – Traffic lights should stay – as should speed cameras – that so many seem to want to go.

I drive through London for leisure – I live there – my friends live there – I get so tired of others telling me what I want – particularly it appears here.. I want traffic lights – whether they are time phased or computer controlled to improve through put – They should stay.

Member
Sophie Gilbert says:
30 September 2010

I absolutely agree with Richard!!! Crediting most drivers with common sense is naive in the extreme. And I want more traffic lights put in at dangerous junctions, not taken away. It has worked very well in Edinburgh where quite a few roundabouts now have traffic lights. They are at long last manageable junctions where you don’t fear for you life anymore every time you have to tackle them, and you don’t get peeped at anymore by the idiot behind you who wants you to commit suicide so that he can go through as you’re waiting to go.

Profile photo of richard
Member

Further to my first post. Near me there is a T junction with the major road on the bar and a slightly less major road the upright.. 50 years ago there were no traffic lights – less traffic – considerate drivers and no accidents – Then traffic density increased – driver competence decreased – accidents were frequent. So they installed traffic lights – no accidents since – though driver competence fell further (There are now over ONE MILLION uninsured drivers). And Ben Ross wants traffic lights removed?????

Then on the A406 there is a roundabout that used to be free flowing until driver’s competence and courtesy plummeted causing frequent crashes and consequent hold-ups. Then they installed traffic lights at the roundabout – and yellow boxes – accidents plummeted and through put increased. And you want traffic lights removed???

Nonsense – more traffic lights not less.

I can see we’re going to have a “CCTVs must be removed” conversation next. Yet where I live the instances of street crime, anti social behaviour and burglaries have plummeted – so streets are now much more safe to use at night. If you don’t commit a crime you don’t need to fear a CCTV camera.but I’m sure someone objects.

Profile photo of Ben Ross
Member

I don’t want traffic lights removed! That’s Tim Pitt, who wrote the article!

I want the traffic removed! Let’s have no cars in central London!

Profile photo of richard
Member

I certainly don’t want the traffic removed – I’m one of them!!

I certainly do NOT want to try to use some appalling public transport system when the amount of appalling behaviour in them is rising. Trying to get home late at night is ridiculous.

I want cars and taxis in Central London!!!

Member
pickle says:
1 October 2010

Removing all that clutter and lights will make drivers more careful about how they drive. They will have to be more observent and develop their driving skills. Driving is far too easy these days leading to slack road observation.
If I had my way I would remove synchromesh from all gearboxes – that would sort out the men from the boys!

Member
Sophie Gilbert says:
1 October 2010

Having no cars in city centres is perhaps a marvellous idea, but isn’t it utopian?

Profile photo of Richard Dilks
Member

My take on it is that there are some junctions in big cities where this would be madness – chaos would rule unless there was some sort of traffic control (which could be a roundabout).

But in other controlled situations, where traffic speeds are relatively low to start with, I’ve often wondered how this might turn out. Like Tim says, the Kensington experience is encouraging.

Perhaps it’s the same dynamic at work as with cyclists not wearing helmets being given a wider berth – we all take more genuine notice for one another on the road if we’re not just blindly obeying pre-set rules.

Traffic that can self-regulate well has to be more efficient than ‘stop here because 57 seconds have elapsed since someone was last stopped here’. But equally it’s got to be trialled sensibly.

And as for central London traffic my experiences is that diesel the problem, not private cars. There aren’t many of those within congestion charging hours anyway. But there are huge numbers of taxis, buses, coaches, delivery vans and lorries. All pumping out diesel, sometimes belchingly. Diesel exhaust has far more particulates than that from petrol engines and some of the taxis and buses in particular spew out vast clouds of it.

Some bits of London breached their annual allowance for bad air days by the end of June this year!

Member
Fat Sam, Gloucester says:
1 October 2010

I think it’s more a case of better use of ones where they do exist rather than widespread removal.

It’s so frustrating when you get to traffic lights set to a pre-determined timer and there’s no traffic coming out of a junction at all. There is one near me on a large roundabout that does operate at peak times only but doesn’t seem to understand the concept of weekends. More should be sensor-based, more should be switched off during off-peak times. We should also adopt the system used in many other countries such as France and Australia, i.e. in the UK, to be allowed to turn left when it’s clear.

Call me cynical, but I think the installation of traffic lights in many cases is influenced to a certain degree by the council trying to preserving jobs for their employees. We just want them to approach each problem junction with common sense and spend our money only where necessary and to be efficient in doing so. We don’t want accidents but at the same time we don’t want frustration.

We all accept that speeding is a major contributor to serious accidents. But has anyone ever thought that frustration may cause many of us to speed?

Profile photo of richard
Member

I don’t disagree with better control of traffic lights – but in all honesty If you are in a timed traffic light queue you know very well how long it will take before you get past.

Why should it be frustrating to wait one or two minutes?.

Do you drive an ambulance or a police car?

Member
Isidore says:
1 October 2010

Jenny Jones can always be relied on to put the cycling totalitarian viewpoint. Perhaps if cyclists observed traffic lights we could give her opinion on traffic lights more weight. On the issue of Shared Streets I am ambivalent. There are too many brain dead road users, especially pedestrians plugged into phones/ ipods, who do not interact even with each other and depend on motorists to look after their safety. Combined with cyclist jumping lights, I am surprised that pedestrian casualties are not even higher. Would shared streets help? Perhaps after many pedestrians had won Darwin Awards. But what about the disabled? No one has explained how they will cope with the Exhibition Road no man’s land.

Member
Trombone says:
1 October 2010

Too many traffic lights? Very likely, though removing any would have to be done with great care.
The real problem is too many road signs, many badly placed. The current solution to most traffic problems seems to be to flood the area with more signs, either aloft or on the road surface, and traffic lights. Reducing their number – and overhauling content and graphics – would remove a major cause of uncertainty at junctions and, consequently, improve safety for road users and pedestrians.

Member
Alan says:
2 October 2010

It is precisely the over-regulation and over-control of driving that has created the brain dead drivers that several previous posters are worried about. Too many traffic lights and other means of controlling drivers remove the need for drivers to be fully aware of what is going on around them. The majority of (especially younger) drivers in the UK are no longer able to judge situations quickly and so cannot make the correct decisions quickly. And the more regulation we have the less capable drivers become necessitating even more regulation. It’s a vicious circle!

Having experienced driving in a virtually unregulated environment (not in the UK), I know that drivers there are more capable of assessing situations quickly and taking appropriate safe action. It’s not only safer, and it’s more fun too.

Of course there are locations where traffic lights are necessary, usually on a part time basis, but there are many more places where they are not really helping matters and could safely be removed.

Any move that gives control AND RESPONSIBILITY back to drivers AND PEDESTRIANS has got to be a good thing.

Profile photo of richard
Member

Disagree – It is clear to me that too many drivers now spend far too much time not paying attention to road conditions – because they are using a mobile phone – fiddling with their radios – looking behind them and chatting to passenger in the back seat and so on – Many don’t obey traffic lights now – it will be worse in future.

Why if they are so responsible – are there over one million uninsured drivers NOW?? –

RESPONSIBILITY – don’t make me laugh!

Profile photo of mad1
Member

I am totally disagree with moving traffic lights in London. It would be dangerous for children and elderly people with people running or walking across the road with no traffic lights as they cant be bothered walking to the next sets of lights this will cause accidents or death.

Profile photo of fat sam
Member

From Richard:
“Why should it be frustrating to wait one or two minutes?”

In the same way as I don’t like waiting one or two minutes for a web page to load. To get round this, like most of the population, I use broadband to surf the net. I’m presuming you’re a dial-up type of guy. If not, then I think you’ve answered your own question.

Profile photo of richard
Member

Sorry – I’m a true 10 meg Broadband guy –

But this I operate THAT in my home – NOT on the streets of London in public – Traffic is already there and you should obey the flow – not create a problem through impatience.

Do you suffer from road rage too????

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

The cost of a traffic signal installation is very high and maintaining them is also costly so a periodic review of the borderline ones would be a good idea – for most installations the justification is self-evident and incontrovertible. Half the time I think I go through on the green phase and for the remainder I have to slow down or stop for around a minute on average so I am not over-concerned about the number of signal-controlled junctions. I agree with many correspondents about the paramountcy of road safety, the density of traffic and the need to give vehicles joining the traffic stream a safe opportunity to do so, the needs of pedestrians [especially the disabled], the bewildering array of signage, and the poor standard of driving prevalent today. If de-cluttering our streets is the objective then there are hundreds of installations which have signal post overload with three or more sets of signals facing drivers. Some countries put small repeater signals on the side of signal posts so that drivers who have pulled up too close to the high level signals can see the indications thus avoiding the need for a set of signals on the far side of the junction. The incremental replacement of all the Pelican pedestrian controlled signals by the new intelligent Puffin signals should cut the delays and frustrations caused by the ghost pedestrians. I frequently visit Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk which has just about every type of motoring hazard ever invented [sometimes in duplicate and with added lights!]; you could illustrate the entire Highway Code without ever leaving Bury St Edmunds and I find the concentration required to drive around for an hour visiting places utterly exhausting. I breathe a momentary sigh of relief when I come to a signal controlled junction as I can just do what the lights say [after looking out, of course, for the amber-gambler, the kamikaze pedestrian, and the wobbly cyclist coming up in my nearside mirror].

Member
Fat Sam, Glos says:
4 October 2010

Richard, I’m not sure why it matters whether you’re waiting in your own home or waiting in public. Waiting is waiting.

Clearly your experience is of the crowded and congested streets of the capital where traffic control is an obvious necessity. I can’t imagine a free-for-all there would be of use to anyone.

Fortunately, there are places like rural Gloucestershire that don’t suffer the same problems as you clearly experience. Sitting at a set of traffic lights here really is like having your teeth pulled, as all too often there is nothing else at a junction. However, it does give us a chance to look at the stunning scenery round here. In a soothing kind of way it helps keep the road rage to a minimum. Sitting high up in a rather nice 4×4 with a pleasant cabin also helps 🙂

And we have 10MB out here ‘in the sticks’ too 🙂

PS go on Richard, give this post a thumbs down too, why not!

Profile photo of richard
Member

May I point out this “conversation” was about Traffic Lights in LONDON

Not about rural Gloucestershire

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Although the Conversation was inspired by the turning off of traffic lights in London, the question is actually posed to streets all around the country. I do expect though that the situation will be very different depending on whether you’re in the city or the countryside.

Profile photo of richard
Member

This was how this conversation started –

Transport for London (TfL) has angered safety campaigners with its proposal to remove 145 sets of traffic lights across the capital. But de-cluttering our streets can actually cut congestion and save lives.

Then it went on to want TRAFFIC removed from the city of London

Leave my city alone!!!

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Well, I live in London too. And I find that many of the drivers don’t take proper notice of pedestrians and cyclists at traffic lights. When the lights go amber they all speed up to go forward as fast as possible, often not taking care to look for whether there are still passengers crossing. Amber should not mean ‘Go’.

I’ve found that Zebrea crossings are more effective and safer – driver’s look out for pedestrians, and there’s nothing stopping drivers from going forward when there isn’t anybody crossing (unlike traffic lights). This comment does, however, only refer to pedestrian crossings.

Profile photo of richard
Member

Well – I’ve found pedestrians not taking proper notice of car drivers – crossing the road as and when it suits them often 20 metres away from a zebra crossing – traffic light or island – Cyclists ride on the pavement in direct contravention of the law – they very often ignore traffic lights completely. Then they complain that the “car” drivers don’t take proper notice of “them!” LOL.

I’m all in favour of pedestrians or cyclists making proper use of crossings – but they don’t – And this is NOT a signal to remove traffic lights. I drive daily and believe .traffic lights IMPROVE safety not diminish it.

Keep traffic lights in London.

Member
Simone says:
5 October 2010

Is this good journalism comparing the experience of a town of 44,000 inhabitants (Drachten)with london, which is about 200 times bigger?

Member
Simone says:
5 October 2010

One more thing.

I went to the Netherlands in a few occasions and even in big cities the majority of people uses the public transport or bicycles.
I cannot remember seeing the same chaos as in Piccadilly Circus or Charing Cross Road in central Amsterdam or Rotterdam.

Member
Fat Sam, Glos says:
12 October 2010

Traffic lights failed completely on the normally busy Evesham Road/Wellington Road junction, Cheltenham this morning. Where there are usually lengthy tailbacks in all directions today it was practically empty with hardly anyone waiting. People just applied common sense and went when they could.

And for one split second (whilst I had time), I did think of our friend Richard, sat there in the big smoke, waiting an eon for the lights to turn green 😉

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Here’s a little video about Portishead’s lights-off trial in 2009. They went permanent due to the results. Journey terms feel by over half and there was no loss to pedestrian safety.

Profile photo of chris
Member

The new lights in our town broke down and the traffic moved faster, when fixed -everything crawled again, there was such an outcry they were turned off for good.

Sad thing is, the project cost £90,000 to install – someone at Bucks County Council should be flogged.

Member
Fat Sam, Glos says:
13 October 2010

£90k?! I think the installation of traffic lights, under the guise of ‘elf ‘n’ safety’, really is a ploy by council officials to justify keeping jobs for people. There are better things to spend money on. A public flogging would be one.

Member

My local council Ealing trialled removing a few sets of traffic lights (following a hissy fit from Boris Johnson) and found conditions for all road users and pedestrians to be improved. They’re now going to extend the scheme to a few more junctions, one of which is very near me so it should be fun to see ‘naked streets’ in action.

I think the fans of traffic lights in every situation rather overestimate TFL’s and the road planner’s competence.

I queried the benefits of a new set of lights on my commute which cause congestion in a position with very little cross traffic or pedestrian activity – here’s TFL’s reply:

‘These signals were installed as part of the planning agreement for the Grand Union Village development. Whilst the development is not fully complete yet, the signals have been commissioned and bought into operation, in order to deal with the rise in firstly construction traffic and secondly in both vehicular and pedestrian movements as the dwellings become occupied.’

Hmmmm!

Profile photo of tony h
Member

For sure, traffic lights are often essential when traffic density is high, and I’d advocate installing part-time lights on some large roundabouts, for example, which otherwise simply cease to function properly when traffic is continuous.

But I also think that traffic lights are only needed for a few hours per day at many junctions. Outside peak times traffic lights are often redundant and serve only to delay, frustrate and increase air and noise pollution when traffic stops then accelerates noisily away again, wasting fuel in the process.

It seems to me that switching lights to flashing amber in off-peak hours such as is done in continental Europe is one highly desirable way forward. The lights then merely indicate that users of one road have to give way while users of the other can proceed unimpeded and thus without wasting fuel or causing undue noise or other pollution.

Member
Frustrated Designer says:
27 December 2010

As someone involved in highway design, I recommend you all Google a chap called Hans Monderman.

Primarily, saying you can’t trust drivers is a little childish. The principle of shared space is that people are wary of their actions, and THIS IS PROVEN TO WORK IN THE UK, cutting congestion, improving flow and cutting accident rates (also see the rest of Europe: e.g. Denmark and Holland) so how can you possibly argue with it? The problem is that our streets are very car oriented in design, which is why we need to resort to authoritarian measures such as speed bumps and traffic lights.

Unfortunately people are afraid of change when they do not understand it, it’s obvious the detractors here are simply being reactionary. For more information, New Road in Brighton is a good example of a shared space in the UK, and there’s a town in the Netherlands called Drachten (I think) that was one of the earliest examples of the idea, and shows how going against the ‘conventional wisdom’ of rigid control and remembering our human nature can go a very very long way.

Member

The Shared Space idea needs to be ripped up, banned and forgotten about. Ive encountered a few of these and its absolutely horrific. Pedestrians just mill around paying zero attention to anyone, walk out in front of you, cyclists going in all directions, no organisation, absolute CHAOS. Theres nothing wrong with the tried and tested method of pavement for people, road for cars, crossings for people to cross road. Very simple. Very safe. I want unneccessary traffic lights removed but a massive NO to shared spaces. Its so annoying when people say ‘the problem is our towns are car focused’ why is it a problem? Why are cars a problem all of a sudden? Shared Space is the solution to a problem which doesnt exist.I feel this way as both a motorist and pedestrian. Shared spaces cost millions to impliment even small sections, and all we end up with is the same as we had before but with no organisation and you cant park. So alot of money for something a bit worse than what we had, but hey it looks nice so that makes it worth it. Total nonsense. As a pedestrian i feel safer with a proper pavement, cars dont mount pavements and murder people so i know im fine on one.

Im sick of the ‘it works in Holland’ argument being forced down our throats. Why are we being forced to become Dutch? Why cant we be British? If you love Holland so much then move to Holland! And just because something works somewhere else doesnt justify spending millions to do it here. Stoning works well in Iran but ‘it works there’ isnt good enough to use it here. Other arguments in favour include ‘its cut accidents’ yes, because it stops people going there, i could make Afghanistan completely safe by removing people. ‘People will manage alright’ is ‘managing’ really good enough for something which costs so much money? Surely if you’re going to spend that it needs to be BETTER than what we had before, not ‘just as safe’ or ‘alright’.

Removing excessive lights can help, just as installing them in some areas can help ease flow. Its nothing to do with ‘speeding traffic up’ its about stopping traffic less often to create smoother flow. People like Jones assume all motorists speed through town at 90mph looking to murder pedestrians and use their bones as trophies, when all we want to do is get to where we’re going as easily as possible. You cannot tell pedestrians they have the right to walk in front of moving vehicles, somebody will be killed. Too many pedestrians are on phones, on ipods, talking and generally ignorant to their surroundings already, letting them mill about in the way of cars is dangerous. 58% of Pedestrians KSE last year were confirmed by the Police and DfT to have ‘not looked’ before walking into the road. I understand perfectly how a shared space is meant to work so dont roll out the old chesnut of ‘you dont understand’ because i do understand. The point is its based on nobody having right of way, but unfortunately its pedestrians who dont realise this and they think they have right of way, when in fact nobody does, so they just wander out without looking. Roads and pavements for me, lets end this madness. These European planners have butchered enough of our towns already and as MASSIVE cost to the taxpayer in an endless crusade against the motorist.

Its making my blood boil that a sensible point about removing unrequired traffic lights has turned into promotion for the horrific idea of ‘shared spaces’ when thats not what Transport For London said whatsoever.