Silent and deadly

It looks as if the roadworks at the top-end of Milton Road are finally complete… the net result seeming to be that where previously there was a lane for traffic headed for Cowley Road, the Business Park, and the Park and Ride and a lane for heading into town, there is instead now but a single lane for all of this traffic. The dual-carriageway to the Science Park seems as unused as ever (I’ve never seen more than three vehicles between both lanes) – but now the queues down that single lane which carry all of the other traffic are enormous. By 10am each day, the queues go right back to the roundabout, so goodness only knows how bad it must be at 9am.

More to the point, it’s downright dangerous: this insane road layout encourages, almost ensures, that people will drive straight down the (empty) left-most Science Park lane, and then try to cut back into the traffic stream between two sets of lights. I guarantee that this will cause an accident sooner rather than later.

(And does the Science Park really need a five-lane feeder road up to a roundabout with only 2 other exists – both only a single lane in either direction)

To make matters worse, a single access route (via Cowley Road) has now spring no less than 3 additional ways in or out, leaving the road layout a confused mess. This is much worse for pedestrians. We’re told alternately to “Look left”, “Look right”, “Look both ways” (what, down a single lane?!).

What’s really annoying me, though, are the new pedestrian crossings. They’re a new design which, someone told me, are supposed to be safer. How this manifests itself is that the lights are positioned so that, as a pedestrian, it’s impossible to see the signals being shown to the drivers.

Not only is this condescending in the extreme but it is also, in my opinion, hugely unsafe. We’ll assume that, by now, no system would ever allow both pedestrians and drivers to get a green light at once… but what if the drivers’ light has failed. They’re going to continue regardless. Ideally, they’ll be on the lookout for pedestrians but – in the real world – they’ll be looking for cars. They’ll be acutely aware of the danger of driving over an area there vehicles’ path’s cross, and so will be so absorbed in looking out for (big) vehicles that I’ll bet they won’t see (little) people trying to dart in between them. Yes, it’s dangerous for pedestrians regardless – but crucially, with the new system, the pedestrian can’t see that a light has failed and so doesn’t know they they’re in danger.

I’ve already seen cases where the lights in the new button-boxes (which you press to cross) just don’t work – an area is supposed to glow red when activated and, in at least two cases, no change occurs when pressing the button. Is the light out (already?) or is the button not working?

It may well be psychological (given that the pedestrian now has no insight into the state of the system or the view of the driver) but the new layout seems to be very bad at … timing. After pressing the cross-button, traffic stops and it can be a good 30 seconds before the light goes green for the pedestrian. However, as those on foot can no longer see the state of the signal for those in a vehicle, the same also applies in reverse: The drivers can evidently not see the pedestrian signals from their position – and show definite signs of becoming agitated that they’ve had to stop, and now the dumb pedestrian is just standing there, looking slightly confused but definitely not crossing!

There also seems to be a pronounced tendency (especially on the part of cyclists) to dash over the crossing regardless of the state of the lights – and this is probably due to the period, again of about 30 seconds, between the pedestrian light going off and the traffic being again allowed through. Given that the cyclist can no longer see the signals for the vehicles, the predominant impulse seems to be to wing is so long as there are no red traffic signals – which, of course, there aren’t. I’ve seen a couple of near-misses already, and the new system’s not been in a week.

Then there’s the issue of visibility: The traditional pedestrian-crossing signals were at the same height as the traffic lights – and this is what people are used to. The new lights are just above waist-height: Great if you want to graffiti them, but utterly useless if there’s more than one person waiting to cross. Now, no only can you not see the signals drivers are getting, but you’ve got to stand at ninety degrees to the road you want to cross (or crane your neck) whilst attempting to both maintain your sight of the signal without blocking anyone else’s…

Even this wouldn’t be so bad, were is not the the strangest mis-feature of the new design: They’re totally silent! Goodness only knows how a partially-sighted or blind person would cope. I’m used to signals which emit a series of loud pips when it is safe to cross – but these do nothing. It’s eerie.