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Road Rage (Part 4)

Traffic LightIt’s half an hour later down at city hall, and the same doofus’s that planned the tightest slip roads in existence are still talking:

“So … traffic lights – how shall we do them then?”

“Well … we could erect them by the side of the road, on poles as we do with all our other road signs, and as hundreds of other countries do world over”.

“What! Don’t be a dumbass! Let’s string them up on wire, high up in the air in the middle of the junction instead, where they can get blown around in the wind. And let’s just have ONE light, rather than a couple which would obviously be too helpful to drivers”

“Oh – Ok then! And shall we just have Red for ‘stop’, Amber for ‘warning’ and Green for ‘go’ like everyone else?”

“What! You’re still being a dumbass! Let’s have a complicated system whereby … “

And at this point, I’m not sure how the conversation goes, because I still don’t think I’ve completely fathomed out what half of the traffic light signals mean here. But here goes:

Red – Means stop. Obviously. Well except of course when you’re turning right, because you can turn right on a red, unless of course that is there is a tiny battered sign hanging up in the air next to the light that says you can’t, or perhaps you can but only between (say) 7 and 9 am in the morning, but that sign is impossible to read unless you’re at the front of the traffic queue [line].

Amber – Well actually let’s call them yellow (’cause that’s what the Americans do), and let’s get your head around the fact that they’re not used in conjuction with Red and Green lights at junctions – instead, you only ever get a flashing yellow light at a junction where they recommend you take caution and yield to other drivers. There is no “Red to yellow to Green” sequence, just Red to Green.

They don’t have pelican crossings of course (see crossings, yesterday), so there are no flashing amber [yellow] lights at crossing either.

Then … just to really confuse you – there are junctions which have flashing RED lights. Except that they’re part time signals and are only ‘on’ at certain times. And what do they mean? It means you have to stop at the junction – exactly the same as a ‘STOP’ sign. In which case – why not just have a stop sign? Yet another inconsistency!

Green however is the same. Go green, go! Thank heavens – because the rest of their signals are confusing, a little illogical to me, but mainly just different.

But I do have some nice things to say about the roads here. But not until the final part tomorrow.

13 responses to “Road Rage (Part 4)”

  1. geofftech says:

    And before you all think that Leigh is doofus too and hasn’t tried to explain all these things to me .. she HAS .. but I just like being an obstinate englishman sometimes who likes to winge about such things.

    oh, and their lights do of course go from Green -> Yellow -> Red just like ours do. But they don’t use yellow when going back from Red to Green. It’s weird.

  2. scottb says:

    Whilst in Britain I found the green -> yellow -> red sequence very strange. I don’t see it as
    being a necessity, but would be helpful. When stopped at an intersection here, a lot of people
    crane their necks to see the lights governing the cross traffic to see when they get an amber
    light, meaning that your light will turn green shortly. That way you get the essential(?) half
    second jump on the other cars.

    BTW, our traffic lights are mounted in pairs on sturdy steel arms that come over the road. Lovely.

  3. Andrew says:

    Scott, in Britain the lights go Red > Red and Amber > Green. You are not supposed to go on ‘Red and Amber’, it is there to tell you that you can go soon. Safer that way. Quite how many people understand this is a different matter…

    Interestingly, in France traffic lights also go directly from Red to Green…

  4. geofftech says:

    Except on a pelican crossing, where they go Red -> Flashing Amber -> Green.

    But Scott’s right, i’ve been known to crane my neck at junctions to see the other cars lights and gain that extra half second.

  5. #4 But at puffin crossings there’s no flashing yellow either, just a brief regular steady red+yellow before the green. They’re like pelicans crossing except they have smart pedestrian-sensors so they hold the traffic on the red until the pedestrians have actually crossed the road.

    Toucan crossings are like Puffins, with pedestrian sensors and no flashing yellow… but bicycles can use them alongside pedestrians. For fuller explanations see: (I’ve never seen the acronyms given before)

  6. Kristy says:

    My understanding of the flashing Red is that it’s used for times of the day when the intersection might be busier. I’ve seen them go off at night to allow “faster” driving times, I guess you could say, for when there’s less traffic on the road. I guess having a stop sign there all the time wouldn’ be so beneficial. Similarly, I’ve seen the flashing Red and Yellow at an intersection to dictate who should yield but doesn’t have to stop (yellow) and who should stop. In that case, why not just put up a stop sign for the Red light and nothing for the yellow because there’s never going to be a time when both of those signals are going off at the same time – someone will always need a sign there.

  7. Surely the point of the flashing red is so that the junction can operate in different ways at different times of the day?

  8. jaq says:

    In contrast, traffic lights in London work like this:

    Green – go

    Amber – go

    Red – go, if it’s only just changed to red as you reach it. Stop if you didn’t see it changing to red.

    Red and Amber – go

  9. geofftech says:

    My thanks to Scott (who comments here now and then) for emailing me the following picture. When visiting England from Canada, he took this picture from a top of a bus because he couldn’t believe how many traffic lights were at this junction!

    But yes, this is a scene from England, and is more what I’m used to …

  10. Shepherds Bush, innit?
    Of course, by having more than one set of lights, you create redundancy that allows a failsafe condition.

  11. TowerBlockTina says:

    Does anyone remember when you could jump on the black rubber strips lying in front of the Traffic Lights,(in England)and make them change from red to green? Great fun after a drunken night out,in a deserted street for the passenger to leap out of the car and jump up and down to make the lights change. If you didn’t you could be stuck there for ages. The weight of the car wheels on the strips were supposed to make them change, but it didn’t always work.

  12. jj says:

    red means stop.
    flashing red means stop, check for traffic, then go when clear.
    yellow means prepare to stop.
    flashing yellow means slow, watch for cross-traffic.
    green means go.

    while i like the UK system of traffic lights, i think they would probably be too complicated for the average American motorist, who can’t even find their turn signal switch.

  13. Chz says:

    I’m surprised that you’ve not mentioned that in North America most 4-way intersections have 2-phase lights, as opposed to the usual 3-phase in the UK. What I mean is that pedestrians cross with traffic in the US, whereas in the UK pedestrians frequently have their own traffic phase where no vehicular traffics is allowed through the intersection.

    This has two effects that I’ve noticed:
    1 – Makes it difficult for peds to get creamed by turning cars
    2 – Having to wait for the third light phase makes it more likely that peds will ignore the lights entirely and go on to get creamed by turning cars

    Wait ’till you see the horizontal traffic lights some states and provinces use…

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