Traffic was sprinkled upon the bitumen this day as if the roads were a playset that came with only a few cars.
“If a Covid lockdown has any plus points at all, this might just be one of them” I mantra-ed (tee-hee) to myself as I sat waiting at the lights for the signal to change and the non-existent cars to pass from the other direction.
This forced meditative state had me thinking. About traffic lights. Strange that. But no stranger than (new) normal.
There’s not a lot of glamour to your average traffic light. Let’s agree on that.
To give them their due, however, these never-fail-never-wrong-electronic sentries may be seen as no less than one of the very pillars helping maintain society’s sometimes shaky grip on order and function; a device akin to a road-side referee, ensuring things are fair and flowing; not to mention taking the argument entirely out of it about whose turn it is.
That ‘who goes next’ function is vital because… well, we do know, given half a chance, humans can be fond of using their brains to argue. It’s ok to admit it. We’ve all got some of the debate gene in us. Some more than others.
Automated salvation has been helping us avoid killing each other for at least the last 110 years. All-seeing, all-knowing, as-simple-as-a-fish-breathing-underwater traffic lights to the rescue!
Wanna know something? How’s about a couple of somethings?
The world’s first traffic light was a manually operated gas-lit signal installed in London in 1868. It exploded less than a month later, due to a leak in one of the gas lines underneath the pavement.
The policeman operating it at the time was injured. No doubt he would have had a couple of choice words to say on these ‘new fangled devices’ at the end of his shift that day.
Melbourne was the first city in Australia to install traffic lights in 1928 on the intersection of Collins and Swanston Street.
The control of traffic lights made a big turn with the rise of computers in America in the 1950s.
Thanks to these electronic brains, the changing of lights made flow quicker courtesy of computerized detection. A pressure plate was placed at intersections so once a car was on the plate computers would know that a car was waiting at the red light.
The future? That’s all about the on-going tweaking and roll-out of ‘smart traffic lights’: systems that adapt to information received from a central computer about the position, speed and direction of vehicles. That spells reduced wait times for motorists. We can all raise a glass to that.
As to the age-old debate: Traffic Lights or Roundabouts – Which is better? – study after study has shown roundabouts are the safer option.
That may surprise some people as there is more human judgement involved in navigating a roundabout. This is in contrast to traffic lights, which largely remove the human decision-making element.
In addition to improving traffic flow, roundabouts have been shown to achieve (if you can believe the figure) up to a 37% reduction in collisions – compared to traffic lights where many people will try to ‘beat‘ a red light. Click HERE for more on that. Roundabouts are also cheaper to install and maintain.