Coming from Southampton it's not often I hand out any praise in the direction of Portsmouth, but for once I have to admire them for getting things right. The city has requested permission from the Department for Transport to switch off it's red and green traffic lights at night, leaving them on flashing amber indicating proceed with caution.
What a great idea that is. But will the DfT allow a scheme which - hands up in horror - necessitates drivers to think for themselves and make a judgement on their safety and that of other drivers? Let's hope so.
Earlier this week I travelled back from Lyndhurst to the Eastern side of Southampton at around 11pm in the evening. I decided to use the Totton/M271/M27 route, forgetting that the M271 was closed at night for repairs. No problem, just follow the A35 past the docks (after all it was late at night so not going to hit much traffic) and over the Itchen Bridge. Reaching said bridge I realised I had again forgotten that that was also closed for repairs, so another diversion past the stadium and along the A3024 route.
Had the M271 been open the 12 mile journey from it's start to Jct 8 of the M27 would have taken around 12 minutes to complete. Instead the shorter 10 mile journey through town took just over 30 minutes in virtually no traffic, having passed through a staggering 26 sets of traffic lights. Approximately two thirds of these were red, causing me to stop and wait. Yet at only 1 of those sets would the traffic using the opposing green lights have caused me to stop, at all others a simple slowing down to check would have been sufficient. At many of them I sat, waiting and waiting for them to change green whilst not a single car crossed my path. Not only does this delay journeys unnecessarily, in a time when we are constantly reminded to save energy and reduce our carbon footprints, I was wasting fuel whilst needlessly sat stationary for a combined total of over 10 minutes of the short journey.
I hope Portsmouth's experiment proves successful and is tried out around the country, maybe even extended to all time's outside rush hour, not just late at night. After all every knows that whenever any lights are out due to electrical failure the traffic runs more smoothly when drivers are forced to use their own judgement. Everyone except the controllers of course.