Green Light Report

MQT on 2014-11-19
Session date: 
November 19, 2014
Question By: 
James Cleverly
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


My colleague Richard Tracey recently published the Green Light report, which makes the case for turning off many of London's traffic lights at night. Have you had an opportunity to read the report?


Answer for Green Light Report

Answer for Green Light Report

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Thank you, James.  I want you to know that of course we have studied Dick’s [Tracey AM] excellent suggestion.  I am very open-minded.  In boroughs, particularly in outer London where traffic may be lower late at night, boroughs have it within their existing powers to turn off traffic lights and it would be quite difficult to do in some places.  The risk is particularly on big roads that you will get a free-for-all and Enfield in particular is worried about encouraging drag racing, which they have a certain amount of already.  I know people would not want to see that.


Generally I have become a bit gloomy about the willingness of boroughs to do anything with traffic lights.  They talk a good game but when it actually comes to removing traffic lights what happens is that a massive local campaign is started, mainly by Liberal Democrats.


James Cleverly AM:  Not massive anymore.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  That is right.  At any rate, there is a Liberal Democrat campaigns to keep whatever oppressive instrument of the state they can find and so it becomes very difficult to remove traffic lights.  We have managed to remove about five, basically because everybody says that it would cause unacceptable risk of injury.  If boroughs want to do it, they will have our full encouragement.


James Cleverly AM:  I appreciate that.  Obviously the report is calling for something subtly but significantly different, which is not the removal of the traffic lights in totality.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No.


James Cleverly AM:  You will remember 2009 when my constituency suffered a very widespread and prolonged power outage shortly after I was elected.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Not because you were elected?


James Cleverly AM:  Correlation does not prove causality.  The traffic lights across the whole of North Bexley were out for a good three - and in some cases four - days.  At some of our most difficult junctions, there was an obvious improvement in traffic flow.  I am thinking particularly of a junction by Danson Park, which is a particularly difficult offset.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Danson?


James Cleverly AM:  Danson, a part which you know very well.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I know well.  I remember Danson.


James Cleverly AM:  The point we are making, Mr Mayor, is that in parts of London there are very modest traffic flows and you find the ridiculous situation of cars sitting at red lights when they have a completely open view of all the traffic that is not there and they have to sit there with their engines running, waiting for nothing to happen, until the light changes.  What we are suggesting is that TfL should use its modelling software to model the impact, which we have estimated could save a huge amount of time, a whole load of unnecessary pollutants and save money for Londoners in the periods of time when there are very, very low traffic volumes, often but not exclusively in outer London.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It is more likely to be a relevant approach in outer London areas where there are very low traffic volumes in the small hours.  The difficulty in the centre of town is that we are a 24-hour city now and people can be particularly vulnerable late at night for one reason or another.  I would be reluctant to see such a measure on the Transport for London Route Network (TLRN) because there would be considerable risk.


I accept the point you make about traffic flow when there are no lights.  The trouble is wherever we have tried to do this, making that fine libertarian argument, what happens is that there is an absolute backlash locally and people want that light because they are terrified that their grandmothers are going to get knocked down, or their children are going to get knocked down.  I am afraid against that sentiment it is very hard to fight.  It is easily whipped up.


James Cleverly AM:  Mr Mayor, I do appreciate that.  Obviously you are familiar that the report suggests that we are talking in the small hours of the morning, typically between 1.00am and 6.00am, and the number of grandparents and small children trying to cross roads at that stage, I would guess, would be fairly modest. 


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No, I mean London is changing.  It is a 24-hour city.  The other thing that is a great statistic, one of the great unsung achievements of TfL and the police in this city generally is the massive reduction that we are now seeing in killed or seriously injured (KSIs) on our roads of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users and that is big, big falls now.  That is incredible given the pace at which the city lives and the growth in population.  That is a prize.  I would not want to see that prize put at risk.  I am willing to see this idea trialled by boroughs if they want it.  We are unlikely to proceed with it systematically across London on the TLRN.  I have to be honest with you.


James Cleverly AM:  I am disappointed to hear that because we have seen this with shared space schemes, the evidence has shown that actually if you have the courage to trust road users and say, “You are expected to use your eyes.  You are expected to be conscious and careful of other road users”, with shared space schemes which have been promoted by your mayoralty, we have actually seen the evidence, whilst counterintuitive, is quite compelling that actually if you remove the need for divers to be observant and be considerate, they are more likely to be less observant and less considerate.  What we are saying is in the same philosophy of those shared space schemes we say to drivers, “You have the responsibility to be considerate of other road users”.  As I say, the evidence that I have seen in my own constituency in 2009 shows that actually drivers are considerate and they allow other road users to take their fair turn at junctions and crossing.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes.  I am not sure that that is true over a long period of time.  What happens is that frustrations build up and you do need traffic lights to keep traffic flowing smoothly.  What we are certainly doing is putting in more Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique (SCOOT) systems so the lights are sensitive to the volume of traffic coming down the road.  That, it seems to me, is a much more sensible approach.  If the traffic is very light then you might have much longer on green.  That is what we are doing in the small hours of the night.  That is probably the way we will go for the time being, giving motorists more time on green in the small hours is the approach we will follow.


James Cleverly AM:  Thank you, Mr Mayor.