Dutch traffic lights are intelligent, does that mean other traffic lights are stupid?

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: The two videos below cover traffic lights and how the setup of sequences can effect walking, cycling, and public transport.

The first is from Not Just Bikes and the second — which is more technical — is from Ontario Traffic Guy.

Here’s some key points and extra observations on these videos and related points:

More adaptive, dynamic and thus more efficient

Dutch traffic lights are set up to be far more adaptive and thus more efficient, for everybody, often including motorists, but far more so for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport than is the case here.

Extra buffer time increases the chances of red light running

Our system has too much buffer time (aka ‘all way red’ clearance) between when a motorist faces a red light and when the next traffic light phase goes green leads to motorists adopting their behaviour and running red lights more often.

(The Ontario Traffic Guy video talk about North America, but his comments on this is also true for Ireland and the UK too).

Sensors in advance of junctions

Sensors detect motorists and cyclists, not just waiting at the light but in advance of traffic lights — this helps the system be more reactive and adaptive to the volumes of cars or bicycles, and, where possible, allows extra free time or to switch to a green light quicker (including for pedestrians).

Don’t allow motorists to turn left on red

Some people come home from North America or parts of Europe and think it’s wonderful that motorists can turn our equivalent of left on red — in North America research shows this is less safe for people walking and cycling and the Dutch are moving away from it.

This should include turning left on amber as is being tried in Dublin for junctions with protected cycle lanes. This should be a last resort and only used where it can be made reasonably safe. It shouldn’t be used as a default or at all where there’s ample space to hold left-turning motorists at a red light to allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross first.


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The more dynamic traffic light system used in the Netherlands helps with implementing designs such as protected junctions.

Just to note: Some of the elements above do feature at some junctions in Ireland. For example, from personal experience, there’s a notable difference at low-traffic times in how reactive traffic lights are to bicycles in the DLRCC area compared to the Dublin City area. In many other places around Ireland, you’d be lucky for the traffic lights to even detect a bicycle.

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