8 November 2015

Dickson Intersection "upgrade": yet another useless red turn arrow for Canberra

| Daniel
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(First off, I am aware that there have been ACT red arrow rants posted here before, but the most recent post was several years ago.)

Hi RiotACT,

As many of you Northsiders are probably already aware, after months of roadworks, the ACT Government has finally finished the signalization of the intersection of Antill St. and Badham St. in Dickson. The finished intersection was opened to traffic on October 28, but it has already become yet another annoying Canberra intersection that I will go out of my way to avoid.

The problem, is that the ACT Government never exactly publicly said why this intersection needed traffic signals at all. Intrigued, a few months ago I spoke to someone from RoadsACT, who told me that traffic lights were being installed for the following reasons:

  • To help pedestrians cross the road.
  • To improve safety for vehicles turning right out of Badham Street onto Antill Street.

Fair enough. There is already a signalized pedestrian crossing about 100m up the road, but it’s not exactly in the most convenient location for pedestrians going to/from the main shopping precinct on Woolley Street. It can also be quite difficult and dangerous for cars turning right out of Badham Street – there have been a few crashes due to misjudgments this way -, especially during peak hours when it is usually impossible to turn (I think right turns should be banned altogether, but that’s a separate debate). Feeling satisfied with this justification and response, I was looking forward to seeing the final work complete.

So what a nasty surprise I received when I drove to the Dickson shops on October 29. Turning right from Antill St. onto Badham St. at the new signals, at 9pm, with not an oncoming car in sight, I was stuck waiting for a red arrow to turn green, wasting time and fuel, where previously I was trusted to turn across the empty oncoming lanes.

This all begs the question; why?

This permanent red arrow for right turning traffic is a classic example of a solution to a problem that never existed. The signals were installed to help pedestrians cross the road and aid traffic turning out of Badham St., which has now been achieved. According to the RoadsACT person, the new traffic lights supposedly have nothing to do with improving safety for cars turning right onto Badham St. There was no poor crash history, no long delays for turning traffic (but now there will be), nothing to warrant this red arrow, which means that it was installed completely unnecessarily, without proper consideration, and seemingly by default.

Nothing has suddenly made this turning manoeuvre unsafe. In fact, due to the elimination of potential conflicts with cars leaving Dickson, better alignment and better visibility of the turning lane, safety has actually been improved. The red arrow is totally unnecessary.

There are numerous other places on Antill St and on higher speed arterial roads in Canberra that permit cars to turn freely across oncoming traffic, largely without any issue. A prime example is the Antill St. and Challis St. intersection less than 200 metres away, which actually has higher levels of oncoming traffic to give way to! In fact, during the morning peak, Westbound traffic on Antill St. regularly banks up well past this area, thus allowing multiple right turning cars to enter Dickson through the gap in traffic. With this red arrow at Badham St., this is no longer possible; right turning traffic will simply take more time away from westbound traffic during their own protected right turn phase.

Had this exact intersection been in ANY other state, I have zero doubts that the red arrow would disappear to allow filter turns.


Here, according to TAMS, “The ACT uses the same national standards to determine the use of arrow signals as other states in Australia.” This is very clearly untrue.

And “The reason we have so many red arrows is because of safety, and basically stems from the high quality road system in the ACT. Many of our arterial roads are multi-lane with a speed limit of 80kph. Research clearly shows that the higher the speed of the oncoming traffic and the wider the road that has to be crossed, the more difficult it is for a right turning driver to choose a safe gap in oncoming traffic.” This point is completely irrelevant. Antill St. has only two lanes each way and a speed limit of 60km/h. There are plenty of wider, higher speed roads with un-signalized intersections and turn movements, a detail which TAMS has conveniently omitted.

So, people of the RiotACT:

Why does almost every single set of traffic signals in the ACT not allow turns across oncoming traffic, except with an exclusive green arrow? Why is this the default option when it is clearly unwarranted? How can RoadsACT be so oblivious to the negative impact of this on traffic flow? Would allowing right turns during a solid green phase really be too much to ask, or would carnage ensue? Have we all been dumbed down so much, and are really we such clueless, incompetent drivers that the Government is forced to employ the full force of its nanny state approach to our road system? Are people in other states inherently safer drivers than we are? Why do NSW, VIC, QLD, WA, TAS, NT and SA road authorities either not install red arrows, or programme red arrows to vanish after a couple of seconds – trusting motorists to not kill themselves in the process – while the ACT Government does not, even on roads with low speed limits, excellent visibility, and hardly any oncoming traffic for 90% of the day?

And, perhaps most importantly, is there anything we can do about this? If I were to write a letter of complaint, to whom should I send it? (TAMS, RoadsACT, fixmystreet, etc.). Whether I am likely to receive a response or not, I would still be interested in expressing my disapproval. There are at least 10-15 other intersections that I use regularly where the red arrow could be permanently turned off safely, like Phillip Ave and Majura Ave, Mouat St. and Ginninderra Drive, Clunies Ross St. and Dickson Rd, Flemington Rd and Sanford St…

I’d like to hear what you all think.



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the road sensor to trigger the red arrow light to go green is supposed to be installed just as you enter the turn right lane, so in theory the arrow should turn green as you get to the intersection so you dont have to stop at all. They have one like this in gungahlin turning right from flemington into manning clarke. it doesnt really work properly unless you drive at a very slow pace, otherwise it never turns green before you reach the intersection.

You think this is interesting? Just wait until they install level crossings for the light rail all along Northbourne Ave.

The proposed light rail system is an 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. Just wait and see the Light Rail will be as empty as the ACTION buses.

This intersection is yet another example of the Government treating people as second class citizens if they dare to walk to their local bus stop or supermarket.

There are no pedestrian signals on the eastern side of the crossing, and no pedestrian call button on that centre island. To cross legally to Downer I had to wait on that island for five minutes, until the green signal was activated by a car arriving to turn right from Badham Street. Luckily for me, the turning driver gave way to me even though he had a green arrow.

The other option is to wait at the pedestrian signals across the end of Badham Street, and then wait again at the signals across Antill Street on the western side of the intersection.

The government says that it wants more of us to walk (and use public transport, which requires walking to and from bus stops). When will it provide intersections that allow us to cross roads without excessive delays?

Yes, about time for another red arrow rant fest! They are so annoying.

Personally I believe that these arrows and a number of other safety measures just shift the problems.

It is pretty clear that intersections and roadworks are designed in isolation, you can usually tell where the desinger’s page ended, as everything beyond that is “someone else’s problem”.

In the specific case of red arrows, if people driving around mostly only turn with red arrows, what happens when they get to a turn without them? They’re hopeless at judging the gaps of course! The designers of the specifically upgraded intersections get to pat themselves on the back because there are less crashes within the boundaries of their projects, but there are more serious crashes elsewhere as a result. I think it’s similar for slip lanes, lane markings, excessive signage, bike lanes, pedestrian crossings, traffic islands and a few other “safety improving” design “features”.

There were some very enlighening experiments in England and elsewhere showing that having a consistent minimum of these features improved road safety in a whole area significantly, as drivers had to actually pay attention.

Yes…..yes……and yes….. it is a stupid decision. It is just a continuation of the Nanny State that the ACT Government has created in Canberra.

Like so many planning and traffic decisions implemented by the ACT Government and their bureaucrats, you have to wonder how these things ever get that far. I can not wait until the number of MLAs/Ministers increases next year with consequent increase in the number of bureaucrats. I’m sure decision making will improve. In that regard, whats needed is quality, not quantity.

Suggest write to the Chief Minister – no wait – and to the real Chief Minister, Shane Rattenbury, about this. In any event, when the tram arrives, it won’t be an issue because there will just be so many less cars on the road……..

Good luck.

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