The RAC Foundation has suggested there may be a case for allowing cyclists to turn left when traffic lights are red.
The recommendation that the Department for Transport should trial the idea is one of a number made on the back of a report the Foundation commissioned into the operation of traffic lights and their impact on congestion and safety.
Entitled Every Second Counts, and authored by Irving Yass, the report reveals that the number of sets of traffic lights in Britain rose by 30 per cent between 2000 and 2008, to more than 25,000.
During the same period in London, the numbers rose by about a quarter to more than 6,000 sets of lights.
The RAC Foundation report says that unpublished figures from the Department for Transport also show that by the end of 2008, 8,500 sets of lights were programmed to give priority to buses - 3,200 of them in the capital.
The report says traffic lights deliver economic and safety benefits, but not at every location and not all of the time. As for cyclists, it notes that:
"Collisions with heavy lorries account for more than half of cycling fatalities each year, many of them due to lorries turning left at traffic lights whose drivers are unaware of cyclists alongside them. This problem should not occur where there are advanced cycle stop lines that allow cyclists to wait ahead of lorries.
"Allowing cyclists to turn left through red traffic lights might help to prevent some of these accidents – though not in cases where the cyclist is going straight ahead.
"There are however concerns that there would be risks for both cyclists and pedestrians. Cyclists could be turning left into the path of traffic going through a green light, which would be particularly dangerous on high speed roads or where there are parked vehicles. And it is a fixed principle in the UK that no other traffic movements are allowed during a pedestrian stage.
"TfL says that recent trials of an equivalent measure in Bordeaux and Strasbourg are reported not to have created any problems however.
"DfT is planning a study of how junctions can be made safer and more convenient for cyclists, which will take account of overseas experience. Whatever the outcome however current traffic regulations would not permit a trial of allowing cyclists to turn left on red in the UK.
"DfT should amend the current regulations to allow highway authorities to trial innovative measures of this kind."
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:
“Depending when and where you are, traffic lights can ease your journey or be a source of frustration. It is plain that lights have an important role to play but with ever more congested streets they need to be very finely tuned to ensure they are not doing more harm than good - and that means they must react to changing traffic conditions.
“The Department for Transport is nervous of introducing flashing amber signals on the grounds of safety, but they do seem to work in other countries. It is time for the DfT to think again.”
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