Cross The Road More Quickly, Says Boris

By M@ Last edited 110 months ago
Cross The Road More Quickly, Says Boris

Run, Tufty, run...

The Mayor needs to speed up traffic if he's to halve the congestion zone next year without causing gridlock. His simple but controversial solution: shorten the durations at pedestrian up to six seconds. Here's what he told the London Assembly last year:

I was driving around Ealing one Sunday and I found the traffic lights absolutely insane. Insane. There was hardly any pedestrian traffic to speak of and we were being kept at red for minute after minute. The thing was totally crackers.

He's clearly not seen the Slow Down London project.

There is much to be said for the scheme, though. Cutting the time for crossing would help motorists, buses and cyclists get around faster. It could also lead to reduced emissions by keeping traffic flow at a more steady speed. Although pedestrians would have less time to cross, the Mayor proposes introducing countdown timers to give a better indication of when the lights will change. Such systems are already used successfully overseas but are yet to debut in the UK.

Of course, there are also obvious downsides: what will this mean for the visually impaired and those with small kids or mobility problems? Might this lead to a rise in jaywalking and accidents? Are we robbing a pedestrian Peter to pay a vehicular Paul?

The scheme needs to be implemented with subtlety, so that lights in pedestrian areas like the West End favour the pedestrian, whereas those in traffic bottlenecks give priority to traffic. The difficulty comes when the two coincide, such as at Kings Cross and Holborn.

We think it's worth a try. The countdown timers would certainly be a useful tool for pedestrians, and the timings can always be tweaked if it's found that the reduction is unhelpful. But we'd love to hear your thoughts on this controversial topic...

Image adapted from photo by Taxi Nerd in the Londonist Flickr stream.

Last Updated 11 March 2009


couldn't there be a button to press and a 'slow' button for people who are less able to sprint across the road?

I'm amazed there has been no development in the traffic lights for years, attaching a couple of cameras and a computer to figure out when to change the lights would speed things up a lot, especially at off peak hours when often there isn't a car waiting for the lights to change


I think countdown timers are a real winner. I've seen them used in both Singapore and San Francisco, and whilst they are two very different cities, the approach seems to work really well. On visits to both cities, I have found myself wondering "why don't they do something like that in London?"

In terms of tweaking the timings, I think this needs to be done carefully, with the needs of all road users taken into consideration. We've all got to share the roads, after all. But I'm sure it's possible to get more sensible timings than there are currently in some places.

(Although anything that helps focus the minds of the clueless dawdling masses in central London gets my vote.)