New traffic light technology

New traffic light technology
28 Mar, 2012 1:00pm Julie Sinclair

New traffic light system adjusts itself depending on the number of people waiting, but could mean drivers wait longer for pedestrians

If you feel like you’ve been stuck at the traffic lights for longer than usual, it’s probably for a good reason. Clever new software being introduced at pedestrian crossings can now adjust itself depending on the number of people waiting.

The system is an evolution of existing technology that gauges car traffic volumes to dictate light sequences. It can detect the number of people waiting on the path and automatically keep lights red – and drivers waiting – for longer the more pedestrians there are.

The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), which developed the system with traffic software companies Peek and Siemens, claims it can be adjusted depending on how busy the junction is.

Andy Kirkham, adaptive traffic signals consultant at TRL, explained: “Usually, pedestrians get a fixed amount of time to cross, but this system will keep the lights red for longer to allow everyone to cross.”

Transport for London is already sold on the idea and has installed it at busy junctions such as Victoria Station. TRL says it expects another 50 local authorities across the UK to adopt it by the end of this year.

The technology has been designed to improve safety at crossings, and has already been shortlisted for an award at a major traffic technology expo in the Netherlands.

But drivers will be dismayed to learn that TRL is not stopping with pedestrians. Next on the agenda is cyclists. Kirkham  says they could soon be given priority at lights, too. That could mean separate traffic lights for cyclists, or simply more favourable sequences.

“We are looking at the cycle network from a cyclist’s point of view, and seeing whether there’s a way to allow them to cycle without stopping at lights,” Kirkham explained.

To achieve this, sequences could be primed to stay green if cyclists approach them at a set safe speed – a system that’s already in operation at some signals for cars.

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Does this technology take into account schoolchildren who just cross, irrespective of whether they have a green signal or not? I had the pleasure of having to sit while they crossed the road before, during and after the lights had changed and because cars couldn't move, the lights changed back to red meaning none of the waiting cars could drive on.
And, at the other end of the age scale, we have the impatient senior citizens who just launch themselves across the road whether the lights are with them, or not.

“We are looking at the cycle network from a cyclist’s point of view, and seeing whether there’s a way to allow them to cycle without stopping at lights,”

I see plenty of cyclists doing this already without the need for separate lights - they either just go through on red or decide that they're now a pedestrian and ride on the path.
If they want to be treated like other road users then they should be insured and abide by the rules and laws of the road.

A waste of all taxpayers money as I'm sure it won't be just cyclists paying for the extra sets of lights.

what plonker has decided to remove the green man across the road for pedestrians, once you walk into the road you have no idea of the state of the traffic lights

I have just returned to England after 5 years away and I don't know what to do at crossings. If I'm on the crossing, I can't see the 'man', if there's anyone else waiting to cross, I can't see the 'man' either. So I press the button and make my own judgement as to when it's safe to cross or not. I couldn't think of a more useless, pointless and potentially dangerous change - except perhaps swapping the colours. And I wouldn't put that past the idiots that decide these things.

It is surely time that computer intelligence was applied to traffic lights. In the Netherlands, lights are switched off at quiet times (normally overnight) without causing problems. However, they flash amber to let you know there is a junction and to take extra care.Fuel is saved because you do not have to stop to let non-existent traffic to cross in front of you. The pressure pads already in the road give the data needed on traffic density to trigger sensible operation.

Another idea found in parts of the Netherlands is the "groen golf" (green wave") where lights are synchronised. This is one of the most effective means of regulating vehicle speed, maximising fuel efficiency and reducing pollution in urban environments ever conceived. Current lights cause us to waste huge amounts of fuel and consequently, emit lots of extra CO2 because they all work independently of each other.

mikeo, it's been reported (see, for example, ) that the UK DfT have historically been opposed to green wave schemes because the fuel savings would actually be significant enough to seriously reduce Treasury revenue...