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Revise stop light plan to avoid legal gridlock

Published:Wednesday | May 16, 2012 | 12:00 AM


I note with interest the article 'Stoplights to join crime fight' published in The Sunday Gleaner of May 13, 2012, in which head of the Police Traffic Division, Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis, outlined his proposal for modification of light signals at inter-sections at nights between the hours of 1 and 5 a.m.

His proposal is in response to crime statistics which showed high incidents of hold-ups and carjacking at some signalled intersections in certain crime-prone areas.

His proposal advocated for the lights to change from cycling through the standard red, amber and green to a flashing red light, and that motorists would be expected to cautiously enter the intersection, stopping only if necessary.

While laudable, it has several flaws, among which is the need for legislative changes to the Road Traffic Act. The flashing red light must be duly gazetted as a new road signal and promulgated accordingly. The real issue here is the time it will take to get this process to a stage where it is legally implementable.

The new signal can also cause some confusion among drivers, since it would not be globally recognised, thus visitors to the island would not know what to do when confronted with the flashing red light. The proposal will also likely carry a high implementation cost, as there would be the need for a public-awareness campaign.

This will further exacerbate the mobile nature of crime - crime will move to places of least resistance. Thus, the plan will always be following the movement of crime.

A better proposal, I believe, would be to simply adjust the timing of traffic lights so as to have shorter stop and go times during these hours. My observations of the signalling is that they currently work on two cycles - 'peak' and 'off-peak' times; on this is superimposed an adjustment for those instances when a major road intersects with a minor road, in which case the major road gets a longer green signal.

New 'low' cycle

Now the essence of the signal durations is simply to keep the intersections as clear as possible. Thus, streets with higher traffic volumes get a longer-duration green light (i.e., more cars can pass through each green cycle).

My proposal is to introduce another cycle that will cater for the time of night that was the focus of the article (1-5 a.m.). Thus, we would now have 'high' (formerly peak), 'normal' (formally off-peak) and the new cycle 'low'. This 'low' cycle would be set at a duration that will allow only two to three vehicles to pass for each green light signal.

By the same token, the red and yellow light signals would also be of a specific shorter and predictable duration. Thus, motorists travelling during this period on approaching a signalled intersection can adjust their speed to avoid coming to a complete stop or not having to stop for very long at the intersection.

This approach has several advantages over the initial proposal by SSP Lewis, in that while plans should achieve the goal of reducing the risk of carjacking and hold-ups at signalled intersections, this proposal offers the additional benefits:

1. It should not require any signifi-cant change to the current Road Traffic Act, if any. This can be very quickly implemented.

2. It opens up the possibility of scaling this to an islandwide standard implementation beyond just the designated crime-prone areas, thus covering for the mobility of criminal activities.

3. The international standard signals are maintained and, as such, are recognisable by both locals and visitors and they will know how to react to the signals.

4. It does not require any significant behaviour change for the driver in respect of the standard response to signalled intersections, though, admittedly, we must include a public education campaign.


Kingston 20