T junction lights

Even this brand new set of traffic lights prioritises non-existent traffic over pedestrians

This week a new set of traffic lights was switched on in my suburb – for those who know the area, on the corner of Jasper and Brewer Roads, replacing a Jasper Road pedestrian crossing a short distance south of there.

It’s a good move, because the intersection was pretty busy with traffic, with pedestrians along the main road (Jasper Road) crossing the side road (Brewer Road) having to run the gauntlet of four lanes of traffic.

And more than once I’ve walked past and seen the remnants of vehicles having had a prang.

But… given the design means pedestrians can only cross Jasper Road on the north side of the intersection, and given problems elsewhere with lights at intersections of busy and quiet roads, I was curious to see how long the waiting times for are pedestrians.

The good news: I didn’t have to wait very long for the second crossing (across the main road).

The bad news: I did have to wait a while for the first (across the side road). In fact pedestrians crossing the side road have to wait for the lights to give a green to traffic from that street, then change back again. This took 55 seconds.

Back when before the lights were installed, I could have crossed as soon as it was safe, in this case more-or-less instantly.

When I tried the crossing at a quieter time, in the evening, just as at Oakleigh Road further north, it gave a green to non-existent traffic on the side road before giving me a green. At least it was faster.

Two possible fixes spring to mind:

  • Just show a green man all the time when possible, so pedestrians (at least walking along the main road) don’t need to press a button — but Vicroads has said this causes excessive noise for nearby residents due to the beeps. When I’ve asked if these could be quieter until the button is pressed, I’ve been told no.
  • Allow the green man to start after the start of the green traffic signal — but Vicroads has said they’re concerned that drivers making turns will fail to notice pedestrians starting to cross. (I wonder if there’s data to back this up?)

These types of excuses are frustrating.

Poor traffic light programming making pedestrians wait more time than necessary can encourage people to cross against the lights, and can even discourage walking in favour of driving.

No doubt there are intersections like this all over Victoria.

Still room for improvement in how they’re designed and programmed.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

15 replies on “T junction lights”

I agree somewhat with their second excuse. Drivers are somewhat like sheep in that as soon as one car goes others behind it tend to follow without really paying much attention. We have a crossing near us at a bit of a blind corner and I know that if I’m not actually out on the road as soon as the green man goes, cars turning left from behind me often go around the corner too fast and won’t stop for a pedestrian starting to cross.

The first excuse really does sound like an excuse though, these things would all be programmable.

Yes I’d agree Daniel. It’s not like there are other examples where it works much more efficiently – like where you still need to push the button but with no traffic on the side road it becomes green instantly.

More generally at quieter times traffic lights for both cars and pedestrians need to be more responsive to the actual traffic conditions. It’s frustrating to have to wait 30/60 seconds or more when there is no traffic coming in any direction.

The second point is one of continued frustration for me. I see it at so many intersections around Melbourne, with pedestrians having to wait an entire cycle before getting their green man, despite plenty of cycle time left

I wonder if they just need to start putting in red left turn arrows, which could be set off when the Ped button is pressed, hold left turns for a second or two whilst the green man is provided, then continue on the cycle?

Simple solution for the sake of a red lantern. They already have the green arrow for left turns so the latern board wouldn’t need to be changed

I can’t help but wonder if there’s been some kind of back-to-the-1980s push within Vicroads this year. Traffic lights in Sydney Road were famously programmed a couple of years ago to provide for ‘phase insertion’ (or whatever it’s called) that allows you to trigger a green man instantly if you hit the beg button early enough in the cycle. But in recent months this appears to have been switched off – and worse, some intersections appear to be reverting to the old practice of giving pedestrians only 10 seconds of green time regardless of how long the actual phase is.

I don’t buy the excuses. About the only time drivers are legally obliged to give way to pedestrians is when turning from one road to another where there are people crossing the road they’re turning into. Drivers are supposed to be alert to this whether the intersection has traffic lights or not. If we can teach ourselves not to follow other cars through an amber light we can learn not to blindly follow others round a corner when there are people trying to cross the road.

This habit of treating people on foot as the deviant exception to ‘normal’ operation of the traffic system needs to be left in the past.

As a cyclist, your main photo made me laugh. Great to see there is a painted box on Jasper Road to let cyclists know where to wait for the lights. The only problem is that the rest of Jasper Road has no provision for cyclists whatsoever. Road-users face either two traffic lanes or one traffic lane and a parking lane. I wouldn’t ride on Jasper Road in a million years!

There are intersections like this right across Australia. It’s standard practice – a bad practice.

Without a pedestrian crossing, turning traffic at an intersection is required to give way to pedestrians crossing the road. The problem is that too many drivers are ignorant of that rule and Murphy’s Law dictates that you’ll be run over by one of the ignorant ones.

VicRoads has a term for allowing a green man to start after the start of the green traffic signal. It is called ‘late introduction’. Here is what the VicRoads Traffic Engineering Manual has to say about it.

“If there are no conflicting vehicular traffic movements with a pedestrian movement (e.g. the left turn movement has a slip lane and the right turn movement is fully controlled), then the pedestrian movement may be permitted to have a late introduction.

Late introduction permits the pedestrian movement to introduce anytime within an adjacent leading right-turn phase, and/or anytime within the adjacent through phase up to the required clearance time
(implemented within SCATS). Typically, a late introduction within an adjacent through phase is only permitted when the pedestrian movement runs in the primary through phase. This is to prevent the
pedestrian movement from unnecessarily extending a minor phase.

If there are vehicular traffic movements that conflict with a pedestrian movement (e.g. there is no left turn slip lane and/or the right turn is not fully controlled), late introduction of a pedestrian movement is typically
not permitted. Otherwise, there may be an increased likelihood of a pedestrian-vehicle conflict if a pedestrian movement starts unexpectedly during a phase. However, if late introduction is expected to be highly beneficial under this circumstance, then the following should be considered in the assessment:

• the volume and type of pedestrians
• if the pedestrian crossing is within a Pedestrian Priority Area (as per the Road Use Hierarchy under SmartRoads)
• the volume and design speed of opposing vehicular traffic
• whether the pedestrian movement is part of a combined pedestrian/ bicycle path, and if so, the expected volume of cyclists.

If late introduction is not permitted, the pedestrian movement must run at the beginning of the adjacent through movement, whether that is at the start of the adjacent leading right turn phase, or the start of the
adjacent through phase (if the adjacent leading right turn phase does not run). Otherwise, it must wait until the following cycle. While this would noticeably increase delays for pedestrians, it would make the
operation of the intersection safer.

Late introduction should be permitted whenever it is safe to do so, on a risk management basis as described above, in order to encourage sustainable transport modes and to reduce the potential for pedestrians to cross against the steady red Don’t Walk display. However, where late introduction is not permitted, the operational design (Controller Operation Specification) and controller personality (EPROM) should be designed so that if the site is resting in the primary through phase (e.g. late night/early morning) and there is a demand for a pedestrian movement that runs in the primary through phase, then the controller should demand a side road phase, subsequently returning to the pivot phase in order to service the pedestrian movement. This avoids left and right turning traffic being caught unawares of a pedestrian movement suddenly changing to green whilst in the motion of turning.”

So based on this it appears that VicRoads have followed their own rules regarding the timing of the pedestrian crossing, even to the point of running a ‘ghost’ side road phase. Although it is interesting that the guideline does appear to allow for exceptions.

Thanks @Ross, some great info there. (I really must learn the traffic engineer jargon.)

I suspect what we’re seeing here is a mix of them not wanting to change from their usual practices too much, and risk aversion.

Great point from @TrafficBob – the installed lights already include arrows for turning vehicles – though not red arrows. Perhaps they should be included in this type of installation so it’s possible for a late introduction pedestrian movement to trigger red arrows to prevent turns.

If they really wanted to get smart, they could flash the amber left/right turn arrows when the pedestrian phase on the side road is activated. This would be more effective than the white text signs currently used.

Meanwhile up the road at Grange Rd / Princes Hwy, there are no pedestrian crossings across Princes Hwy at all. To top it off, the nearest intersection where you can cross Princes Hwy with pedestrian signals (400 metres away at Burke Rd / Sir John Monash Drive) has no crossing on the near side, meaning up to three sets of lights instead of one.

The perks of being the only place in the world with audible pedestrian lights, and seemingly the only place in the world where beg buttons are ubiquitous.

@Kurt Are you sure? In the UK audible pedestrian signals and beg buttons are perfectly unremarkable, or certainly used to be from memory (a quick web search suggests they might be going out of favour though).

They make pedestrians wait the full cycle of lights for a beg button, but then put them in conflict with turning traffic. To add insult to likely injury, they think only two crossings is enough. In the case of crossing the through road with no side road traffic, is it really too much to ask for an all way stop with both crossings given a walk signal?

Another hopeless example I saw today was the pedestrian crossing between Flinders Street station and Federation square. More than 100 people queued up to cross, unable to do so for the sake of 3 to 4 cars. The crossing failed to give enough “walk” time for all queued pedestrians on the Flinders Street side to even enter the crossing, nor enough time for those crossing to exit into Federation Square. In addition, there was insufficient time allocated to clear the tram platforms, making alighting from or borading trams a difficult push through the crowded platform.

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