Rephasing Traffic Lights

MQT on 2008-10-15
Session date: 
October 15, 2008
Question By: 
Richard Tracey
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


How soon does the Mayor expect to be able to introduce rephasing of traffic lights as promised in his manifesto? To take one example, the lights on the first two cross roads north of Oxford Circus both have 20 second phases when the lights are red in every direction. How soon can frustrated Londoners expect to have this situation improved?


Answer for Rephasing Traffic Lights

Answer for Rephasing Traffic Lights

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Thank you, Richard. Dick, you take one particular example which is the first two cross roads north of Oxford Circus. Both have 20 second phases, you say, when the lights are red in every direction and you ask how soon can frustrated Londoners expect to have this situation improved?

We are going ahead with our commitment to rephase traffic lights and over the next six years we are going to review all 6,000 signals at a rate of 1,000 sites per year. I think it is high time. Since July this year TfL has altered timings on about 156 traffic lights which, I am told, has given seconds back to the motorist. That may not sound particularly generous, giving seconds back to the motorist, but if you consider how traffic works and you consider the fluid dynamics of traffic and the effects you can have just by adjusting a traffic light for a few seconds, you can make a significant difference to traffic flow. We are certainly doing that.

On the particular point of the traffic lights north of Oxford Circus, those are borough traffic lights, they are Westminster's traffic lights, and we are consulting with them about what can be done.

Richard Tracey (AM): The influence of TfL over so many of these schemes really leads to the most unbelievable frustration of motorists and others. I suspect that very often this can lead to road rage itself. There are so many places, well known places - Trafalgar Square is one and Castelnau on the boundaries of my constituency and my colleague, Tony Arbour, where traffic lights are red far longer than they are green. This cannot be a good thing. Can we please promote some acceleration in the change of these lights?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes. Sometimes I wonder why the traffic lights are there at all.

Richard Tracey (AM): Well indeed. We could perhaps take some out.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): There are a great many cases where they have been put in for historical reasons that nobody can quite remember because something happened ages and ages ago and they have been whacked in by some council or other, and I do not think they are necessary very often. I think we can go back to a situation in which we allow the traffic to flow much more smoothly and allow people to exercise their common sense. We are certainly working towards that. I do not want to see an increase; I want to see a reduction in the number of traffic lights and I want to see a smoothing out of traffic flows by rephasing them.

Just while I am on this, do not forget the colossal impediment that is being caused to traffic in London by road works and do not forget that we have an opportunity to get the Government to join us in 14 boroughs in having a proper permit system which would enable us to hold the people who dig up the roads to account and to stop them from doing it for time unlimited leaving these great enigmatic untended holes in the road which do more than anything else to provoke the road rage you describe.

They are not just blocking private motor vehicles - road works - they block the buses as well and everybody who uses transport in London is being inconvenienced by them.

Brian Coleman (AM): Mr Mayor, the issue on traffic light rephasing is that, although many of these traffic lights may be the responsibility of London boroughs, all the traffic lights in London are operated by a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London under contract to a consortium of the 33 boroughs and, if you are a borough that wants to make changes to your traffic light phasing or traffic light arrangements, you virtually have to break the door down of this company's offices and force the officers to make any changes. So it is misleading to suggest that the power lies with the boroughs when in fact the power lies with this company. Frankly, what I have advocated for a number of years and I would like your views on, is that the 33 London boroughs, or as many boroughs who wish to join together in a consortium, actually put this business out to tender to companies other than the one that currently controls it. There are other companies. For example, Siemens do Hertfordshire's traffic lights, that are much more responsive to the client. So will you tell TfL to be responsive to their clients on traffic light management, which are the 33 London boroughs?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): It is a very interesting point, Brian. It seems to me there is a bit of blame passing going on between us in TfL and the boroughs. All I can say is that if your analysis is correct then we will certainly do what we can to make sure that this company gets its act together and either devolves its responsibilities back to someone who will deal with it or gets on with it more expeditiously themselves.

I have to say 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. I would not say hour after hour because that would be an exaggeration. But the thing was totally crackers and it needs to be addressed.

Roger Evans (AM): I was at the Institute of Civil Engineers last night for the launch of their transport manifesto which I commend to you to have a look at. I do not necessarily agree with everything in it but it is a well researched document. Whilst I was there I was talking to traffic engineers and the message I got was that there is no reason why we could not offer, say, a guaranteed minimum amount of time on green for lights in London. Is that something that you would consider going away and looking at?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Certainly I will go and look at that. At the moment I think it is 12 seconds is the guaranteed minimum time on red --

Roger Evans (AM): I think it is a bit less than that at Admiralty Arch.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I will look at that.

Roger Evans (AM): I think it is eight seconds there, but that is ridiculous. In eight seconds you can maybe get one car through and it encourages people to jump the lights. Obviously, if people knew that they had a guaranteed 30 seconds, say, on green then that would provide some reassurance.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I will certainly have a look at the manifesto that you describe. It sounds very interesting.