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ACT Government fixation with traffic lights

By Roger Allnutt - 8 February 2017 30

Traffic lights Canberra

I read recently that back in the early 70s Canberra had only two sets of traffic lights but now there are well over 300 and increasing rapidly by the day.

Admittedly the population and hence the number of vehicles on the road have both increased substantially but do we really need so many lights. There used to be a number of quite adequate roundabouts (visitors often complained of going round in circles) but many of these have been replaced by lights. Are Canberra drivers so incompetent that they can’t safely negotiate a roundabout?

A major ‘aim’ of traffic lights apart from the question of safety at some intersections is to enhance an orderly flow of vehicles. To do this requires a degree of coordination between lights so that the flow is smooth and uninterrupted. Unfortunately in Canberra the opposite seems to be the norm. Even keeping to the designated speed limit it is usually the case that traffic will come to a halt at least every third or fourth light – this is a best case scenario.

One of the worst examples has been Northbourne Ave – before the current disruption being caused by the work for the light rail. Being the main thoroughfare you would expect that traffic on Northbourne Ave would have a degree of priority. My experience has been that any sole car or even pedestrian who approaches from a cross road instantly generates a change of lights. No wonder motorists on Northbourne Ave get frustrated and queues form – not to mention the waste of petrol for each stop and wear and tear on the engine. I can only imagine how frustrating it will be driving along Northbourne Ave when the tram is operational and has priority at each intersection. Imagine the rat running in nearby streets to avoid this situation.

Even more frustrating is the situation – quite common – where lights change even when there is no other vehicle in sight from the cross direction. I sometimes wonder whether the powers that be in Transport Canberra purchase the cheapest systems to operate the lights – a false economy give the vast amounts of taxpayers’ money spent on other aspects of transport in Canberra especially the never ending roadworks.

These problems are repeated throughout Canberra and are undoubtedly set to escalate. The latest addition to the traffic light ‘scene’ is the wondrous nine sets of lights at the intersection of the Barton Highway and William Slim Drive/Gundaroo Drive near Gold Creek. I gather locals are taking bets on the first major accident when motorists get totally confused by lane markings, turn indicators and the usual merging of lanes especially just after passing through the intersection.

What’s Your opinion?


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30 Responses to
ACT Government fixation with traffic lights
1
Rollersk8r 9:49 am
08 Feb 17
#

I think I have an answer for this! There are plenty of situations at roundabouts (mainly T-intersections) where traffic from a quieter/minor entry constantly gets right of way over the busier/main entries. Hard to explain – but a good example is Lady Denman and Cotter Road. There are now 2 sets of lights where there was previously just a roundabout – and prior to that there wasn’t even a roundabout.

I assume part of it is also basic risk management. After a certain number of crashes the intersection must get flagged for upgrading, which usually means lights.

The question I really want answered is why aren’t lights “smarter”. With all the technology available these days why can’t lights “see” what is coming, change in advance and constantly adapt to traffic flow? You can be literally the only car on the road waiting at the lights, yet you still have to stop and wait for a cycle to go through. We’re always quoted stats of how many billions are lost due to traffic – so why isn’t this a million dollar idea?

2
pink little birdie 10:34 am
08 Feb 17
#

Most traffic lights are on timed cycles during the peak periods. Major roads usually have timed cycles all the time.
Roundabouts simply don’t work during peak periods when the traffic is fairly heavy from a couple of directions like the Drakeford-Athlon- Isabella roundabout. Before the lights the morning peak had approach from the east and approach from the south trying to go through and east would always have priority over south, with south having to wait for the low traffic north to go block east. In the afternoon the west approach would block the north approach and had to wait for the lower traffic south approach.

3
pink little birdie 10:37 am
08 Feb 17
#

Also it depends on where the sensors are placed. If they are closer to the intersection during low traffic times you have to wait (small turning lanes)and if they are further away it’s usually fine (eg William Hovel to Coulter. It depends on the length of the slip lane as to where the sensors are placed

4
bruce_lord 11:33 am
08 Feb 17
#

The extra 5 sets of traffic lights between the Phillip dealerships and the Woden pool is crazy. I often take 10 minutes to go 700m in peak hour. This section used to regularly take 3 minutes before all the extra lights.

What’s worse is you get the traffic light cycles not synced and Empty gaps that get filled by other traffic meaning you can’t move again when your light goes green.

5
JC 12:43 pm
08 Feb 17
#

Some interesting comments here and on facebook.

Pink Little Birdie has hit the nail on the head during peak periods the lights are on essentially fixed cycles, which may shock some but are synchronised. But synchronised doesn’t mean everyone gets a green all the way to town. Outside of these times they are demand responsive.

As to the basic premise of the the OP’s question, the reason we now have so many lights is simply because we have a lot more traffic flow, and feeling my age here but so many people now seem to be in such a rush that intersections that in the past could have been simple giveway signs now need lights.

That said I don’t think our urban designers are helping matters with their suburb and road designs.

Take a look at Moncreif and the under construction suburb of Taylor in Gungahlin for a second.

With Monreif why does Mirrabai Drive go right through the centre of the suburb? It is a main road connecting another main road with the town centre. It should have went between Moncreif and Ngunnawal, with the bit of Marrabai just a feeder road for Moncreif. Eg no through traffic. End result is the section that goes through Moncreif has two sets of lights, which if that road was just a feeder for Moncreif they probably wouldn’t be needed due to lower traffic flows.

Secondly on Horse Park Drive Moncreif has 3 roads that lead to it. The road that is closest to Casey, think it is part of Slim Dusty CCT why does it need to go to Horse Park Drive? Why not be done with it and use the existing link to Marrabai Drive instead?

Thirdly, whilst it doesn’t have lights the section that has the display villiage has a road that leads to Mirrabai Drive. One which you cannot turn right out of, so again what is the point of it? IMO if Mirrabai drive bypassed Moncreif as I suggested above, then this estate could have been connected to the Moncreif feeder road, or a stub to the existing roundabout further east that leads to Ngunnawal.

Then there is Taylor. The bit under construction has 3 roads leading onto Horse Park Drive, no doubt future stages will have more intersections. Why so many?

The one closest to Casey, why. Why not feed the section of that estate that will use this road onto the loop road that is being constructed further down Horsepark Drive?

Anyway similar examples can be found all over town in new and old areas. But to me better design could reduce number of intersections on main roads and in turn reduce the number of lights needed on main roads.

6
JC 12:51 pm
08 Feb 17
#

bruce_lord said :

The extra 5 sets of traffic lights between the Phillip dealerships and the Woden pool is crazy. I often take 10 minutes to go 700m in peak hour. This section used to regularly take 3 minutes before all the extra lights.

What’s worse is you get the traffic light cycles not synced and Empty gaps that get filled by other traffic meaning you can’t move again when your light goes green.

You last sentence might answer your first question. If cars are entering and filling ‘gaps’, then they must be coming from somewhere. So in the past maybe those cars have been there but have been unable to get in, because all the gaps are filled with through traffic.

Refer to my post above re more traffic on the roads, it all has to be accomodated.

7
HiddenDragon 5:35 pm
08 Feb 17
#

“My experience has been that any sole car or even pedestrian who approaches from a cross road instantly generates a change of lights.”

This seems to be a feature of recently installed or upgraded traffic lights around the town. There may well be sense in not having regular changes at an intersection where a road with light and sporadic traffic meets a road with much heavier traffic, but it is difficult to see the reason for such a quick response – a wait of 30 or even 45 seconds (compared to what often seems like 5 or 10) for traffic on the side road would surely make more sense in terms of overall traffic flows.

8
MrPC 7:14 pm
08 Feb 17
#

Our traffic lights use the (seriously unfortunately named) SCATS system to connect with each other and with other traffic measuring system to prioritise high priority traffic flows (we don’t have many of them), manage and adapt green light duration to detected traffic volume, manage cycle changes and generally allow an arterial road network to do the job of a freeway network.

That system was designed in Sydney after the big freeway construction binge was cancelled. It’s now in use in most Australian cities and a few sporadic places overseas.

SCATS has a lot of advantages that most people will never notice unless you’re hyper-observant. If you’re sitting at the lights at the Airport on Pialligo Avenue westbound, waiting to go straight ahead towards the city, and there’s somebody trying to turn off Pialligo Avenue eastbound into Beltana Road southbound, then they get a green arrow before you get your green light. If nobody’s waiting, or if they drive over the induction loop in the turning lane a second too late, the system doesn’t waste time giving them a green arrow, and you get your green light 20 seconds sooner. It works pretty well like that. The roundabout that used to control that intersection was a complete menace during the morning peak. The former 737 bus from the City to BBP used to sit and wait for minutes upon minutes because there was a steady stream of traffic from Queanbeyan turning right onto Fairbairn Avenue that, due to roundabout rules, had priority over all eastbound traffic on Pialligo Avenue going straight ahead. The traffic lights force you to share.

The two big roundabouts on Parkes Way, at Corranderrk and Anzac, have the exact same problem. Traffic from Queanbeyan to the City gets priority, which means traffic from Tuggeranong or South Belconnen gets to sit and clog up Parkes Way every single morning without fail. Traffic lights would have avoided the need to add an extra lane along Parkes Way, some expensive works not long ago that achieved absolutely nothing.

My personal dream system is for traffic lights on all but our most major roads to deactivate themselves outside of peak hour, unless the induction loops detect either major traffic flow, or someone frozen unable to move without a light. The lights could flash orange for 22 hours a day that way. People would have to treat a 4 way intersection like a 4-way give way sign. People will have to look at other drivers, make eye contact, and negotiate the order of right of way. It will turn normal drivers from mindless zombies into friendly sociable accommodating people. It will turn bad drivers insane, and make them want to stay off the road. It’d be win-win.

9
Chris Mordd Richards 11:17 pm
08 Feb 17
#

Anyone from interstate: Too many roundabouts, should be traffic lights!!
Canberrans: Too many lights, should be more roundabouts instread!!

ROFL I love this city.

Seriously though, why can’t we use mid to long range LIDAR like the new driving assist tech cars are using right now to sense traffic approaching from a few hundred metres away and be able to adjust on the fly to suit traffic flows accordingly? It wouldn’t be cheap per se, but that expensive now?? Hmm, depends on what you would define as expensive, but at a rough guess I would say not prohibitively expensive considering the potential benefits. The programming surely wouldn’t be that difficult either, there are a lot of flexible modern languages that would probably suit better than the COBOL or C+ or whatever old code probably runs most of the lights, and why not throw part of a datacentre and AI learning system to analyse all lights in realtime and learn and adapt (with human approval and input of course) to better program individual sets of lights to different times of day and traffic flows. Hmm, anyone got a spare $5 mill they want to throw at a new start-up Traffic Light company? LOL

10
bryansworld 5:51 am
09 Feb 17
#

How do vehicles get “priority” on roundabouts? Is that the thing where cars take advantage of their greater relative speed to go through despite other cars waiting to enter the roundabout from other roads? Basically intimidation tactics.

11
Innovation 8:28 am
09 Feb 17
#

Why can’t we have more traffic light controlled roundabouts? Lights, on each entry to a roundabout would only flash yellow (ie proceed but give way to all traffic already on the roundabout) or be red (to pause dominant traffic and let other traffic have priority on the roundabout).

Traffic lights alone often result in regular periods when all vehicles are waiting their turn (eg, in between each green light or when lights are green for a non existent vehicle or pedestrian), or when only one or two cars are clearing an intersection. T2 and public transport even could have priority lanes to be allowed continuous or more regular entry into roundabouts when safe.

These roundabouts would work better for motorcyclists and cyclists too as they often can’t trip the sensors at some traffic lights and have to wait for heavier vehicles. (The main flaw would be the need for pedestrian crossings or red lights exiting a roundabout to allow pedestrians to cross those sections. Any delay or clogging of the roundabout would be temporary at worst and far better than the current system).

Instead the Government seems to be ripping up roundabouts or making a mess of traffic light controlled roundabouts like the Barton Highway.

And I haven’t seen the stats but, while I suspect there are more accidents on roundabouts, i doubt the degree of damage and injury is anywhere near as great as occurs at intersections.

12
crackerpants 10:00 am
09 Feb 17
#

JC said :

bruce_lord said :

The extra 5 sets of traffic lights between the Phillip dealerships and the Woden pool is crazy. I often take 10 minutes to go 700m in peak hour. This section used to regularly take 3 minutes before all the extra lights.

What’s worse is you get the traffic light cycles not synced and Empty gaps that get filled by other traffic meaning you can’t move again when your light goes green.

You last sentence might answer your first question. If cars are entering and filling ‘gaps’, then they must be coming from somewhere. So in the past maybe those cars have been there but have been unable to get in, because all the gaps are filled with through traffic.

Refer to my post above re more traffic on the roads, it all has to be accomodated.

Traffic has definitely increased along that stretch, and the two new sets of lights are helpful for turning right across the median strip in and out of the Furzer St area. Safety along that stretch, however, was significantly compromised by the lack of mowing in summer, and a little routine urban maintenance might have saved the expense of traffic lights.

There is a little extra traffic at the moment due to Launceston St being blocked off (for new lights!!), and with the Cotter Rd also undergoing major works at the same time, both main routes out of Weston Creek are struggling. I am waiting from a reply from Meegan Fitzharris’s office as to why both major works were scheduled to be done at the same time (apart from “HERE Southsiders, have all your roadworks at once!”)

As for traffic lights as a general principle, Canberrans have enormous difficulty using roundabouts, with very few using their indicators correctly, if at all. Traffic lights work well, I appreciate that the cross-traffic has every right to get to where they’re going as I do, and in my opinion could be improved significantly by a) drivers responding promptly to signals, rather than holding everyone up because they’ve been sneakily texting in their lap and b) fitting Toyota Camrys with accelerators.

13
pink little birdie 10:40 am
09 Feb 17
#

bryansworld said :

How do vehicles get “priority” on roundabouts? Is that the thing where cars take advantage of their greater relative speed to go through despite other cars waiting to enter the roundabout from other roads? Basically intimidation tactics.

Round abouts are give way to the right. So if there are 2 consecutive sides of a roundabout that are busy and the other 2 are less busy the right most busy entry gets priority and the gaps for the 2nd busy entry
are far smaller as they rely on the 1st busy lane being held up by sporadic traffic from the less busy side.
Barton highway had this issue for people coming out of Gunghalin in the morning and coming from Belconnen in the afternoon. Isabella and drakeford had this issue too for people going north in the morning and south at night.

14
Maya123 10:42 am
09 Feb 17
#

Innovation said :

Instead the Government seems to be ripping up roundabouts or making a mess of traffic light controlled roundabouts like the Barton Highway.

I went thought that a few days ago; the first time since it was finished and I found it an improvement to have lights there.

15
Spiral 1:10 pm
09 Feb 17
#

pink little birdie said :

Round abouts are give way to the right.

Apparently not.

The ACT Government’s manual states:

“A driver entering a roundabout must give way to any vehicle in the roundabout.”

Presumably this is to stop idiots ploughing into a large slow vehicle such as a big truck, however it seems that it could be interpreted that if a vehicle to your left enters the roundabout a split second before you and you hit them, you are at fault not them.

It isn’t that they didn’t give way to their right, but that you didn’t give way to them as they got into the roundabout before you.

However I suspect they will not be able to prove they were there first so in practical terms, yes, give way to your right.

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