Cheltenham traffic signals in the spotlight
EVERY motorist has waited at a red light, cursing the gods of traffic for taking what feels like an age to turn the signal green.
But, although it sometimes feels like the opposite, those responsible for traffic management in Cheltenham do want motorists to be punching the air in joy rather than shaking their fists in fury as they cruise smoothly along the road network.
There are traffic lights at 51 junctions and 69 pedestrian crossings in Cheltenham.
Scott Tompkins, the network manager for Gloucestershire County Council, said the type of lights placed at each junction and crossing depended on the traffic flow in those locations.
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There are simple systems where the lights are on a timer, and more complex types where sensors monitor the flow of traffic to judge the length of time of a green or red signal.
He said: "There's a lot of work that goes into setting up a traffic signal. You look at traffic flows, speeds and queue lengths.
"Also, when you first put a traffic signal in, at peak times you look at queue lengths so you can tweak the time lengths of green lights and red lights."
An example of this is the lights around the town centre.
They are green for longer on roads going inwards in the morning and heading outwards in the evening.
This helps them move on rush hour traffic and help the influx of people who come into Cheltenham every day to work, then leave at the end of the day.
One of the most advanced traffic signal systems around is the Microprocessor Optimised Vehicle Actuation (Mova), which is used at the Arle Court roundabout, near GCHQ.
Mova monitors the length of traffic queues and flow of cars to adjust the length of time the lights are green.
Mr Tompkins said the process of changing a traffic signal system could begin with a motorist's complaint or a highways worker noticing a problem.
He said: "When we get a complaint about a light being green or red for too long, we tend to send an engineer to the site to look at the light.
"We would assess the traffic flow at the site and, if necessary, tweak the timing of the green and red lights."
The most recent example of their work is the three-week trial switch-off of traffic lights in St Margaret's Road, which today is entering its second week.
Planned by Cheltenham Development Taskforce, Gloucestershire County Council and Cheltenham Borough Council, the switch-off has the aim of easing congestion.
Lights have been turned off at the junctions with Dunalley Street and Monson Avenue, and a temporary crossing has been installed near the latter junction.
Jeremy Williamson, managing director for Cheltenham Development Taskforce, said: "We looked at traffic light switch-offs in Portishead in Bristol and Coventry, which have worked, when planning the trial. If it works – and it's too early to tell at the moment – it could become permanent.
"I have driven through the area several times in several different ways, and walked through there in several different ways, and it seems to be working."
Meanwhile official monitoring of the type, speed, and volume of vehicles travelling along St Margaret’s Road starts today.
Chris Riley, local highway manager for Gloucestershire Highways, said the process of recording vehicles in the next stage of the lights switch-off would take place over the next two weeks.
He said: “We will be monitoring St Margaret’s Road with CCTV, route timing and radar classifiers, that record vehicle numbers or volume, speed and type.
“We’ll also be interested in anecdotal evidence,” he added.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what people notice about the changes as well.”
Any location where vehicles on conflicting approaches are controlled by traffic signals.
Traffic signals may work in isolation responding only to local traffic pedestrian conditions, or can be controlled from a central computerised system to enable coordination between a network of junctions in order to provide a “progression” during busy periods.
Traffic lights also organise traffic efficiently as it passes through the borough. This reduces fuel consumption and delay and is beneficial to the environment.
When the traffic lights are out of action, no one has right of way. The stop line becomes enforceable and every driver should exercise caution.