Delays at crossings in the United Kingdom

This is a response to David Hembrow’s post ‘Delays at traffic light controlled crossings’

Crossing roads in the UK as a pedestrian or as a cyclist is generally a pain! The roads really are aimed at the traffic traveling along it. Pedestrians are often forced to wait a substantial amount of time after they have pushed the button to cross the road and even then, you might not have much time to cross.

For example, the video below shows the traffic light sequence at hyde park corner, plenty of cyclists and pedestrians use this daily.

As we can see from the video, pedestrians and cyclists have 6 seconds on green to cross, 8 seconds of no light and 82 seconds of red light. Pushing the button actually has no effect at this junction as the phase is designated and is based on the traffic light sequence on constitution hill.

David Hembrow shows us what it could be like!

As David says in his post. The delay caused to motorists for this ‘priority’ to pedestrians and cyclists is actually very minimal.

I cycled the route for the up coming Barclays Cycle Superhighway Route 8 that will be launched in July. Work is being done on the route at the moment but it takes advantage of some already in place facilities. These facilities include several traffic light controlled crossings and the time you have to wait at these is very different to what cyclists and pedestrians expect in the Netherlands.

The first crossing is a 24 second wait. No so bad but could be better. The second crossing however is appalling, we waited nearly 50 seconds but nothing. And we both decided it was best if we cycled across the junction whilst no traffic was coming.

This act of crossing whilst traffic isn’t coming is actually very common in the United Kingdom. Because pedestrians are often forced to wait a large amount of time to wait. This actually has a repercussion on the traffic using the road. As the crossing request from the pedestrian is not cancelled, the lights will change at some point and there may not be anyone there to cross, so vehicles have to stop for nothing.

This also has an effect on cyclists when these types of crossings are involved with building off-road routes, they become a pain to use as they can take several times longer to travel a set distance when comparing it to using the road.

For example the Vauxhall Gyratory has an off-road cycle path that goes all the way round, but again pedestrians and cyclists are forced to wait long traffic light phases. I can cycle around the gyratory and leave the exit i want in under 30 seconds but using the off-road route takes over 5 minutes in the test run I did! [The video is 1min 47 seconds long and is sped up by a factor of 4.]

With crossings like these, off-road cycling routes are hardly appealing to cyclists. I personally know that I would, and do, prefer to cycle on the road where I can get to my destination in a reasonable time!

10 thoughts on “Delays at crossings in the United Kingdom

  1. Gaz,

    Surely all this will be sorted out when TfL do the re-phasing of lights they were planning arond London Bridge, etc.? I’m sure the valuable lessons learned there, from how a small additional inconvenience to pedestrians will significantly smooth traffic flow, will be lessons well learned for the rest of London? (sighs)


  2. Hyde Park Corner is a good example in other way as well. When you go from Hyde Park to Constitution Hill there’s logically just two crossings – Hyde Park to Wellington Arch to Constitution Hill. But instead of just two crossings with silly wait times you get four due to the way the lights are sequenced. You can see this masterpiece of design in action in the video – when the pedestrians get green light the cars behind the traffic island also get green light.

  3. Gaz, I think this demonstrates what is fundamentally different about British and Dutch cycling facilities. In the Netherlands, cycling facilities actually do facilitate cycling. In Britain on the other hand…

    When I lived there, I used to ride on the road most of the time too. Life’s too short to spend your time waiting for nothing while watching the ‘important people’ zooming by.

    However, this is not what a mass cycling culture is made of, as you can also tell from the number of people who cycle in Britain vs. the Netherlands.

    1. At present, changing how it works would probably completely grid traffic to a halt in central London. In suburbs and towns etc.. it could probably work. So in some situations this could work but i doubt it will work in others.
      We still have a long way to go but it’s interesting to see how the two differ and potentially where we will be in a decade or so.

  4. Down in Southampton I know about 5 sets of lights that, as a pedestrian, are a complete nonsense to cross. One outside the local Toys R Us is a joke, it waits until traffic has gone and then goes green, they’ve also removed the sound so blind people wont know when its safe to cross.

    What affect does this have on pedestrian safety? They lose their rag and try and nip through gaps in the moving traffic.

    One crossing on Middle Road/Bursledon Road takes about 3 minutes to activate for pedestrians.

    Town Planners need to realise, exactly as you said, that wait too long and people just go anyway and then the traffic does get held up.

  5. You didn’t mention the wonderful mess that is the lights at the top of Cherry Orchard Road in Croydon, very rarely do they manage to put a ped green light in when a tram is crossing which blocks the road 🙂

    As for the off-road cycle routes I can’t remember the last time I used one, why do I need to be moved off the road just because some short sighted urban planner stuck in some bike facilities at the last design meeting (or possibly the one after the office party……) just so they can say they have them?

    1. That whole area is just a mess. I’ve mentioned somewhere before that the tram system takes priority all the time, so it essentially messes up all the other traffic. I try to avoid that whole area as for a cyclist it is pretty much a death trap!

  6. Your video on Vauxhall gyratory is a revelation to me! It never occurred to me that the cycle path went all the round the damn thing until I saw your long, long journey around there. I agree with you that it makes much more sense to do it on the road – but I do hate those lanes coming off Albert Embankment and around towards Kennington Lane. No-one obeys the lanes.

    1. That wasn’t even the full route around, there is more!
      What you mention is a problem. You just have be very aware of everyone else and just let them do what they need to and keep your self safe!

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