I’ve come across a strange collation that is probably more conjecture than science, but that I think is interesting anyway.
Countries that have low levels of cycling have traffic signals with repeater lights, and those with more cycling do not have repeater lights.
Really? As I said, there’s no scientific data behind this bold claim, just the observations of a transport geek, but maybe there’s something in it.
So what is a repeater light?
In the UK, traffic lights appear next to a stop line. This stop line is a thick solid white line that stretches across the carriageway and that can only be legally crossed when a green light is shown at one end of the line. In some countries the lights themselves are the marker to stop at (I’m looking at you France), but here we make it nice and simple and have a big white line to show exactly where you have to stop.
This the best picture I have of UK traffic lights, as you can see the repeater lights opposite the junction allow vehicles to encroach into the junction.
Because of this line and the fact it is the stopping point, we can have something that other countries can not, extra traffic lights that are not where you have to stop but are just there to make sure you see the lights. These are repeater lights. They repeat the intention of a light at a stop line to add more impact and make sure we notice that stop light when we’re busy looking the other way.
The UK has repeater lights, so to does Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, the countries in North America (although sometimes they just hang a single light in the middle of the junction, but it’s still beyond the stop line), whereas the other countries of Europe (you know the ones, the ones with more than 2% cycle modal share) all have traffic lights only on the entrance to traffic controlled junctions.
And this the best picture I have of Dutch traffic lights. The lights are positioned a cars length in front of the stop line meaning you have to stop behind the line to be able to still see the lights.
So why could this correlation be? Who knows? It’s probably just a coincidence, however that’s not to say that there’s not something in repeater lights being a bad thing. Let’s look at the facts…
Repeater lights allow you to still see the lights even once you’re beyond the stop line. Whether you are motorist or cyclist, the repeater light allows you to happily stop within the pedestrian crossing (or ASL, although the less we talk about them the better) and still know when the lights have changed. My experience of driving in countries without repeater lights is that everyone (yes everyone without fail) stops behind the stop line, simply because if they run past it they then can’t see when to go, get beeped by the car behind and feel like a bit of a prat.
So perhaps my point is that it’s not the drivers/cyclists fault that they sometimes progress over the stop line, perhaps it’s the design of the lights themselves.
The 1960’s overzealous requirement to think for the motorist by filling their entire vision with red lights to such an extent that many don’t see the stop line at all, we’ve all seen the poor chap whose somehow managed to get confused and stopped at the repeater light on the exit of the junction much to the mirth and anger of his fellow travellers stuck behind him.
So perhaps it’s time for a change in rules. Now we have LED light technology which removes the possibility of bulb failure, we could do away with the confusing, ugly, cluttering repeater lights and make our traffic controller junctions just that little bit safer for everyone?