Traffic signal switch-off trial

Bristol City Council has announced that it is switching off traffic signals at two busy road junctions in an experiment to see whether they can operate safely and more effectively for pedestrians and cyclists as well as motorists.

This is an opportunity to test the idea of shared space through junction evaluation trials.

Two sites have been carefully selected from an initial list of seven due to each having low vehicle speeds with high visibility which particularly limits the risk to people on foot.

Union Street / Broadmead (the first pilot site)

Broad Quay / Prince St / Marsh  St (the second pilot site)

The roads will be closely monitored by CCTV throughout the trial which is programmed to commence in early March 2010. Each site will be monitored and assessed over a week involving a number of pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle surveys together with a qualitative assessment of pedestrian crossing movement.

The approaches to the site will be signed with advance warning signs, the signal heads will be switched off and bagged up. The junction will again be monitored during the following week where before and after comparisons will be made and a trial assessment report produced.

The report will include an assessment of the impact on traffic flows including the effect on bus, cycle and pedestrian
movements before and during the trial.

Cllr Jon Rogers - Cabinet Member for Transport and Sustainability
Cllr Jon Rogers – Cabinet Member for Transport and Sustainability

Local transport consultants Colin Buchanan have extensive experience carrying out similar trials in London and North Somerset and have been commissioned to monitor and report on the before-and-after conditions.

Councillor Jon Rogers, Bristol City Council’s Executive Member for Transport and Sustainability said “We have a rare opportunity to test the concept of shared space in a busy urban UK setting. I hope we will see a positive effect on road user behaviour”.

If you have any feedback, you can add it to this site if you want to take part in the public conversation or download the leaflet and respond privately if you prefer.

Response from the council

Thank you for your comment.  As the pilot has now finished, we have closed this discussion.  Our Traffic Signals Manager, John Laite responds:

The Traffic Signal Evaluation Trail is now in assessment stage.  The two sets of traffic signals that were switched off as part of the trial have been returned to full operation.  Four weeks of video from three CCTV camera together with responses from pedestrian interviews are being assessed at present.  The results will be included in a final study report to be published by Bristol City Council.  The report will include a thorough review of the various issues involved in the trial, it will present analysis of the data which has been collected together with the findings from the consultants, Colin Buchanan.  The report will conclude with recommendations for t he future operation of the trial sites.

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22 thoughts on “Traffic signal switch-off trial

  1. I saw news of the forthcoming traffic light ‘switch off’ on TV news which, at one time, showed a yellow sign at the side of the road with your web address.
    I wonder if this experiment might be used as an opportunity to bring Britain into the 21st century in line with many European countries. As a squaddie I first went to Germany in 1961 where I noticed that at most, if not all, light controlled junctions there were also give way signs, and the universal ‘you have priority’ signs. I realised that these were installed to guide motorists if there was a power failure, but also I discovered that at times such as the early hours, the traffic lights were switched from their normal function such that ALL the amber lights were flashing, indicating to motorists that the ‘priority’ and ‘give way’ signs should be observed. This would address Mr Wiltshire’s observation regarding off-peak times.
    Of course Britain has yet to catch up on the ‘you have priority’ sign, which is usually a diamond shape, and I feel that this would be a chance to introduce it. Also in these times of hardship, in the unlikely event that Britain still has a factory capable of turning out road signs, it could provide much needed employment.
    I realise that introduction of a new sign would involve central government. I well remember when Barbara Castle was transport minister; it was suggested to her that vehicles should be fitted with some safety measure as in Germany, I think it may have been high intensity rear lamps for use in fog. She replied that she would never take on board ideas from Germany as they had higher accident figures than Britain. Needless to say central government still houses dinosaurs with similar attitudes, but we DO now have high intensity rear fog lights which have probably helped to reduce accident statistics.

    • Thanks for the information and suggestions. We have asked if we could consider switching traffic lights to “flashing amber” off peak, but the Dept for Transport has suggested that they may be confused with zebra crossing or pelican crossings.

      Can anyone explain why that would matter? Surely all three situations mean you should proceed with caution?

  2. This is a good idea but I think the priority is to stop installing so many traffic lights in the first place.
    There are numerous examples across the city where road ‘improvements’ have seen tens of traffic lights installed and a significant diminution in traffic flow. I walk and cycle but in a city without proper public transport, you have to use your car – particularly in South Bristol. The forest of traffic lights installed at the top if Brislington Hill / West Town Lane have added 15 mins into my journey. There are numerous other examples e.g. Hartcliffe Way roundabout. Think of all the extra traffic pollution caused from idling cars! One gets the impression road traffic signal engineers have had a field day installing complicated lights and controls all linked into the road traffic control centre. Is this a self-serving job creation scheme?

    Another thing that should be piloted is switch-off at non-peak times. How many times have you waited at a traffic light, particularly on roundabouts, in the middle of the night or at weekends. Also, why the obsession with adding traffic lights to roundabouts? If the 4 lane roundabout around the Arc de Triomph can manage without traffic lights, why do we need them in Bristol?

    My big concern with this pilot is that shared space needs an ambiguous distinction between carriage way and pavement – an element of confusion to function correctly. Without this, cars will think they have priority and will be honking at cyclists and pedestrians trying to cross. Let’s see what happens, but I think physical alterations are necessary for safety.

    Finally, please get the balance right between lights / flow / safety. We need to drive in Bristol until that awful excuse of a bus company – Worst Bus – is driven out of the city and we can think about proper public transport like the Bristol Omnibus Company used to deliver.

  3. Your re organisation of the city centre has intensified the traffic flow channeling it into a smaller area and therefore causing a funneling and blocking structure. If you wish to ban cars just ban cars. Do not keep spending money on consultant when anyone with a grain of common sense (there must be some in the council) could asses this situation.

    You need improved local transport at flat rates (London and Birmingham do this) to encourage people out of there cars. Services that cover a wider area and run every5minutes at peak times. I regularly have 2 sometimes 3 buses pass my stop because they are full.

    The general lack of foresight or responsibility by all local councilors and it’s over burecratic staff will eventually choke the city.

    You are truly defunct of any ideas in this area. Let’s give everyone a bike as sustrans seems to be awash with cash let them organise a cycling city where there are no cars. Shame about all he hills the pensioners may struggle a bit and that Lycra can really chaff unless you’re a 30 something male.

  4. John Rippon doubts that an “unaccompanied disabled person in a wheelchair, will have much success crossing the road in safety when these lights are switched off.

    How the pilot affects disabled people is especially important. The RNIB are raising similar concerns.

    The experience elsewhere has been that the speed of traffic slows when drivers no longer feel they have automatic right of way.

    Will it happen in Bristol? We shall see.

    We are monitoring the junctions before and during switch off to see the effect on speeds, waiting times, safety, etc for ALL road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair users.

    • Jon

      The website you referred to starts with stating – “Would our roads be safer and less congested if we were free of traffic lights and free to filter? ”

      As I stated below, this is all about switching off traffic signals at junctions between cars. All you have done is switched off pedestrian lights not traffic lights. You appear to have missed the point entirely. How can a pedestrian filter their use of the road with a car.

      And i still don’t know what “corporate management and strategy” is – or is this it ?

      • harryT asks, “How can a pedestrian filter their use of the road with a car.

        Have a look at the film on There are a series of examples of pedestrians and cyclists filtering in turn, with cars, taxis and buses.

        What we don’t know is whether this will work with the Bristol driver, pedestrian and cyclist. The question is, do Bristol drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, need red lights to control their behaviour at such junctions, or might they recognise that their mutual benefit is served by a more cooperative approach.

        The example of the CabStand junction in Portishead shows that some cooperation might be possible, getting rid of waiting for all users of that junction.

  5. Thanks for all the comments. We will be looking closely not just at the trials themselves, but also public reaction and feedback.

    Ian Perry draws on European experience and suggests that “Giving pedestrians equal rights to the street, as those in vehicles, is a fantastic concept

    Leslie Luker feels traffic lights are “the only way the Public can control the traffic get across the road

    We shall see. If you are interested in some of the thinking behind the traffic light switch off trial, have a look at Martin Cassini’s web site – and watch the Jeremy Paxman, Newsnight video.

  6. I very much doubt if I, as an unaccompanied disabled person in a wheelchair, will have much success crossing the road in safety when these lights are switched off. I have no doubt that it will speed up the traffic flow: at the expense of slowing down the poor pedestrians!
    I thought the whole idea of Bristol Policy was to discourage motorists from coming into the city and encourage more people to walk/cycle and use public transport: did I misunderstand?

  7. Traffic light switch offs are intended for junctions between cars coming from different directions. It forces cars to sort out priority amongst themselves.

    BCC seems to be switching off two pedestrian crossing lights. This will favour no one but motorists. A pedestrian cannot risk walking in front of a car. It is equivalent to removing the pedestrian crossing.

    By the way, does anyone know what the Council’s “corporate management and strategy” budget is for and why it is more than £11,000,000 ?

  8. Even with good signage, I’m not sure if it will be obvious to car drivers that this is a ‘shared space’ as many of them seem to think that they have right of way even on zebra crossings.

    When the traffic does get busy I wouldn’t be suprised to see groups of pedestrians stuck on the pavement with car drivers beeping their horns at anyone who dares step out in front of them.

  9. Switching off traffic lights is a ridiculous idea as it is the only way the Public can control the traffic get across the road.

  10. By using my brain, I have normally managed to cross this road without need of the traffic lights. However, who has not had to wait at the side of the street, often in the cold and wet, whilst cars, with a lone person warm and dry inside, drive past? Giving pedestrians equal rights to the street, as those in vehicles, is a fantastic concept. I have experienced ‘shared space’ in the Netherlands and Germany and I am sure that it will be successful in Bristol.

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