If they want to encourage people to walk, they should at least ensure it’s as easy as possible.
But in many cases, traffic lights are programmed to make it difficult – even where fixing it wouldn’t disadvantage motorists at all.
Here’s the T-junction at Centre Road and Eskay Road, Oakleigh South.
I’m walking along Centre Road, crossing Eskay Road. It’s a quiet street with virtually no traffic – so by default the traffic light is green for Centre Road traffic. But not for pedestrians.
Pressing the button has no immediate effect. The signals stay as they are… for over a minute.
80 seconds later, the green man suddenly pops up.
Governments spend millions trying to cut car commutes by a few minutes. Meanwhile, this deliberate decision by whoever programmed the traffic signals makes people wait 80 seconds for no reason.
I suspect the signals are programmed to wait and see if a car on Eskay Road triggers the sequence giving green for them, which would then provide a green man in the next cycle for Centre Road.
But because no car turns up, eventually it gives up and just gives the pedestrian the green man anyway.
This is absolutely appalling treatment of pedestrians. It almost begs them to walk against the lights. (Alternatively, I could walk 20 metres from the crossing and legally cross whenever it is safe. That of course would be a ridiculous outcome.)
By the way, this is next to where the Vicroads office used to be. Treating pedestrians like this is the perfect way to remind people coming on foot or from the bus (say, to apply for a driver’s licence) that they should have driven instead.
This is not a once-off scenario. Further west down Centre Road, I found an identical situation outside the Moorabbin Hospital (in East Bentleigh).
This one “only” made me needlessly wait 40 seconds for a green man.
Obviously outside a hospital you wouldn’t want people walking. It might benefit their health…
Okay, so maybe this is a problem with old installations.
Vicroads are doing some good stuff with priority for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport, but I’ve heard that there are issues with getting enough qualified staff to be able to re-program old traffic lights.
So brand new traffic lights would be much better, right?
Well, here’s a brand new set. Oakleigh Road and Grange Road in Ormond. Installed earlier this year. I’m walking along Grange Road, which gives traffic the green by default, and crossing Oakleigh Road.
This was always a hairy intersection for drivers going straight or turning right from Oakleigh Road. Ditto, pedestrians crossing Grange Road. So it will bring undoubted safety benefits.
But it has made things far worse for pedestrians walking along Grange Road.
The lights don’t wait for a while to provide a green man, as in the above examples.
Instead, they switch to giving a green to Oakleigh Road — which doesn’t have any traffic at the time — then switch back to green for Grange Road, with the green man.
Yes, these traffic lights prioritise non-existent traffic over pedestrians.
What should happen?
Why should I even need to press a “beg” button? Why don’t traffic lights provide an automatic green man?
It’s possible. It’s used in the CBD, and in some suburban shopping areas, as well in areas with large Jewish populations on the sabbath.
Okay, so sometimes the traffic sequence might be too short to easily provide a green man. But why can’t they at least provide it when it is long enough, particularly in situations as shown above where one road is the default to get the green for traffic.
Motorists usually don’t have to stop and “beg” and wait. In some cases they have to trigger a sensor in the road to get a right turn arrow or a green from a minor street (as above), but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Maybe there’s not the political will to give pedestrians higher priority than cars, especially in the suburbs. There should be, to encourage more walking, but there isn’t.
So how about at least not treating pedestrians with contempt?