Christopher Hawtree

the pillowbook of Christopher Hawtree, writer and Green Party councillor for Central Hove

Illuminating Matters

Posted on | July 27, 2011 | No Comments


Who knows where life can lead? To spend half an hour, partly with a stopwatch, in going around a set of traffic-lights might appear the start of that slippery slope which leads one to don an anorak and stand at Clapham Junction with a notebook at the ready and an eye out for an unexpected engine plying the Littlehampton route.

In fact, there are few subjects that cannot acquire a certain fascination. Such was the case in a lunchtime’s watching lights go from green to amber and red in tandem with the sequencing of the red man continually turning green (no political significance implied there). A resident had been in touch wth a complaint about the new lights at the junction of Church Road, The Drive and Grand Avenue. He was not alone in voicng disquiet about this, and two Council road experts also came along.

Until the new set-up, which was financed, oddly enough, by Shoreham on account of its being used by the 700 bus, there had only been pedestrian lights across Grand Avenue, with a “cage” in the middle.

The new system means that there are pedestrian lights across all four roads, which means that there are six sets of lights because those across Grand Avenue and The Drive can require pedestrians to take those broad stretches in two stages.

The resident, when he arrived, was very apologetic. He explained that he now realsied, before writing his letter, he had pressed the button on the wrong pole, walked out in accordance with its turning green and almost been clobbered. I said that there was no need to apologise. We could see how that error arose, and some of the other pedestrian lights could be angled differently to avoid such confusion.

The main complaint is that the “green man” (or red man, if you insist) no longer appears on the other side of the road. That it should do so might seem logical, as it had to me. That is, however, lingering habit, cast of mind, while national evidence shows that most accidents at such lights have been caused by pedestrians walking out when the red man turned green although a vehicle could be “jumping” the lights. By having the green man on the same side as pedestrains means that they now have first to look in the direction from which the traffic had been coming.

This makes sense when you think about it, even if that means starting over in lessons on how to cross the road: forget evening classes in Spanish, leaflets are available on how to deal with puffin crossings

What’s more, there are two hidden aspects to all this. The green man is set to remain illuminated for a certain amount of time before the flow returns in the traffic’s favour. Should any pedestrian begin crossing at that point, then sensors, up high, detect the movement, and allow the green man to remain illuminated longer. This avoids the need for that pinging which can, understandably, annoy residents. That does not, though, incommode the blind. Beneath each red/green man there is out of sight, paradoxically enough, something for the blind. Feel there, and you will sense what seems to be a triangular lug. When the green man lights up, that begins turning, a fingertip massage to alert the blind that it is safe to cross.

Unless of course a vehicle is jumping the lights. But one cannot design or legislate for every human vagary under the sun. Indeed, as we stood by one of the junctions, a man absorbed in his earphones evidently decided not to bother with the illuminated route across but headed straight out to one side of it, and fell over a kerb, but happily avoiding another case of death by iPod.

Try it, get used to it, and it works – but there would be worldwide outrage if any such thing appeared at Abbey Road. That is surely a protected species of Zebra.


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    Christopher Hawtree is the Green Party Councillor for Central Hove but items are posted here in a personal capacity as an individual.

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