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Leave It To The Drivers

There is a large and verdant merry-go-round on the outskirts of the town of Swindon, Wiltshire, called the Mannington Roundabout. It is a very busy intersection that plays host to a high level of traffic throughout much of the day.

In 2011 Swindon Borough Council decided to experiment with part-time traffic lights at this hectic junction at peak times. Interestingly, they are still there because the powers-that-be deemed the idea to be a success. Because I have to use this junction regularly whether I like it or not I can confidently state that this is not, at least, my experience.

The idea is that, at rush hours and the like, the lights spring into action to control traffic flow. When things quieten down, they switch off. It should work but curiously doesn’t. When the lights are on, the traffic bottles up. I suspect this is because no one can predict the traffic flow on any given feeder road at any given time; accordingly the change-timing can be inaccurate.

Drivers Know

When the lights are off, and this is the key, the drivers sort it out for themselves and it all seems to function very well.

This is because, contrary to the view of officialdom, not all motorists are stupid. We know how roundabouts work; we’ve been negotiating them for years and understand that we give way to the right, just as it should be.

The lights can come on or go off at will, sometimes catching unwary or novice drivers in no-man’s land. It is also human nature for the more impatient among us to want to press on, blocking lanes from the right when the lights change.

It is a complex system that needs to be coordinated exactly to allow for flow. The snag is, on one of the feeder roads, one that narrows because of an infuriating bus lane, there is another set of lights that can at busy times cause a tail back that extends back into the Mannington roundabout. This blocks circulating traffic with the inevitable resulting in-coming queues.

The point of this rather long but necessary explanation is to highlight the issue of government, both local and national, who, in their efforts to sort out one perceived problem, create another. This happens all the time.

Drivers Do It For Themselves

Those with longer memories, to cite just one example, will remember the infamous M4 motorway bus lane into London. Introduced by the oafish and bullying politician John Prescott in 1999, it was seen from the outset to be a mistake and so it proved. Still took years to get rid of it though.

It is schemes like this that get on motorists nerves purely because they seem so unnecessary. When there is a traffic jam we all get a bit hot under the collar but in time we resolve it. If someone is holding up flow on a main road the error of their ways is swiftly pointed out to them. Road users today rarely see a traffic cop because they are too busy checking our social media, so drivers have to sort it out for themselves. The thing is, it usually works.

Authorities need to prioritise. We are told there is no money for pothole repair yet there seems to be ready cash for often pointless schemes. In 2015 in Derby, one man got so fed up with a pothole outside his house that he bought the materials to fix it himself. He then repaired others in the street. It may not have been the neatest or most permanent of jobs but it worked and crucially it cost him only seven quid. He was reprimanded about doing the job the council had signally failed to do despite being aware. The neighbours were delighted. The trouble is we seem to have to do it ourselves quite often these days, one way or another. Geoff Maxted