Earlier this year, TfL started an experiment that saw traffic lights default status swap around to prioritise pedestrians instead of road vehicles.
At the moment, traffic lights with pedestrian crossings spend most of their time allowing road traffic to flow, and pedestrians are expected to press a button to request permission to cross the road.
The problem with this mode of working is that just as a lot of road users see traffic lights turning to red as a signal to accelerate through them — and some cyclists ignore them entirely — pedestrians can be just as bad.
Their research found that that 80% of pedestrians will cross within 30 seconds of arriving at a pedestrian crossing, irrespective of whether there is a green man shown to them. Worse, more than half of people cross within five seconds of arriving, so effectively do not wait for a green man at all. This matters because, in 2018, half of the people killed or seriously injured in road collisions in London were walking — so improving safety at road crossings could prevent a lot of accidents.
An experiment at three locations this spring and summer swapped the traffic light’s preference for road traffic around.
Instead of showing a green light to road traffic almost all the time, even when there isn’t any, they showed a green man for pedestrians, except when road vehicles are detected when they swapped to normal mode to let the road vehicles swish through.
The key finding from the trial was that defaulting to showing a red light to road traffic when the roads were empty and swapping to green only when vehicles approached did not significantly affect road congestion — but it does benefit pedestrians who no longer hang around waiting for the lights to change.
Although the trial predates the lockdown and social distancing, it has the added benefit of reducing the time pedestrians spend huddled together at traffic lights waiting for the green man to appear.
Following the trial of the Green Man Authority system at the Millennium Bridge and two sites near St Thomas Street (by Guy’s Hospital and at The Shard), TfL has begun the installation of the new technology at an additional 20 pedestrian crossings across London.
There’s minimal additional hardware required as traffic lights already know when road vehicles are approaching — it’s mainly a software change to keep the traffic lights at red except when a vehicle approaches. So long as the signals do not detect an approaching vehicle, a green man is automatically shown to pedestrians.
Subject to technical surveys, TfL is now installing the technology at the following locations:
Barking and Dagenham
- London Road Barking by James Street
- Gale Street by Becontree Station
City of London
- Long Lane by West Smithfield
- Woodcote Grove Road by Smitham Downs Road
- The Greenway by Merryfields
- Heston Road by Hogarth Gardens
Kensington and Chelsea
- Old Brompton Road by West Brompton Station
- Kingston Road by Rothesay Avenue
- Prince Regent by Alnwick Road
- Queens Road by Queens Crescent
- Castlenau by Newport Road
- Red Lion Street by Church Terrace
- Saint George’s Way by Ebley Close
- Tooley Street by Hays Lane
- Tooley Street by Duke Street Hill
- Green Wrythe Lane by Aultone Way
- Wrythe Lane by Muschamp Road
- Marsh Wall by Thames Quay Building
- Devons Road by Devons Road DLR
- Cavendish Square by Henrietta Place