Ready, steady… Stop! 1

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Turn left from Stanley Street into Annerley Road in Brisbane and you will encounter six traffic lights in just under 1km. There will soon be eight. The new Boggo Road development evidently merits two more. The ghosts of past inmates must be staring down from the walls wondering what buffoon designed this form of motorised stop-start hopscotch that’s being played out on a daily basis.

What is it with this city’s obsession with traffic lights? They seem to multiple at a greater rate of knots than the offspring of a family of rodents. Every few days another light will appear on a minor road junction that boasts one car every 23 light years. In the meantime, a long line of traffic sits fuming, (pun intended), at the lights, potential road rage becoming more and more likely by the second, while the occupants stare impatiently at the empty road ahead.

Heaven knows how much fuel is burnt every year in futile, unnecessary pit stops at lights that have the potential to cause accidents rather than prevent them.

I heard with amazement recently that lights on most main roads were not synchronised. Why? And why not?

There was a time when you could go from one end of Ann Street to other without stopping at a light. All you had to do was travel at the speed limit. These days the roar of daily stop-start traffic is punctuated by the strangled screams of parents whose children have become car sick and vomited over the shopping or the family pet. Of course they’re going to get car sick! Jerking along in first and second gear would give Craig Lowndes motion sickness! In fact I’m sure there are some Brisbane drivers who have yet to experience the heart-stopping exuberance of fourth gear.

Why this obsession with traffic lights? Can’t motorists drive through a couple of backstreets to meet up with a main road junction? Is this too hard or is it simply that some main roads or council bureaucrat lives on the off street and wants instant access to the main thoroughfare.

In Bangkok they built 23km of sky rail in less than two years. On Settlement Road at The Gap nearly two years was spent widening just over 100m of road. They then installed a traffic light before the road once again tapered back to one lane, before eventually becoming two lanes again 50m later. Obviously the designer of that little traffic planning masterpiece was a permanent pedestrian, or a cyclist; after all, they pay no attention to traffic lights anyway.

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Siem Reap in Cambodia recently. Siem Reap is a bustling, booming tourist town that feeds hundreds of thousands of tourists into Ankor Wat every year. It has two traffic lights. Two! Yet somehow the traffic moves smoothly. People give way and feed into flowing traffic without suffering a barrage of obscenity from a motorist who’s going to have to stop 50m up the road anyway.

What’s the answer?

Obviously we’re going to have to change our whole driving culture. Step one is to teach young drivers that just because you’re on the road doesn’t mean you own it. Step two is to pulverise, preferably painfully, at least two-thirds of the city’s traffic lights. There’ll be a few mishaps, but eventually a whole new driving culture will seep into even the most boganised revheads.

I think it’s worth a try. Not just for my personal sanity, but for the future wellbeing of the planet. (Okay that’s a little over the top but you get my drift.)

Now about being able to turn left on red lights…

Do the traffic lights in your town or city frustrate you? What other on-road frustrations have you encountered over the years?

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Michael Beatty

A former reporter-writer and host for a number of BBC Radio programmes including Scene and Heard (A rock magazine programme on Radio 1), Jack de Manio Precisely (Radio 2), First Night and Top of the Pops (BBC World Service.). Artists interviewed included Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, and Ingrid Bergman. Also wrote a regular column for Record Mirror and was a regular contributor to Disc and New Musical Express. Michael came to Australia with the Elton John tour and returned a month later to work as reporter and producer for ABC radio. Michael has also reported for This Day Tonight and Today Tonight, was state executive producer for Good Morning Australia and State Affair and has been a senior reporter for the 7:30 report, among many other achievements. During his career Michael has been under fire on the Thai- Burmese border, stoned and knifed in London’s Brixton riots, had chalk shot from his mouth by bush legend Larry Delhunty and once was persuaded to sit on the back of a 3.6 metre crocodile with The Barefoot Bushman. Over the years he has written and produced corporate films and videos for a variety of clients that include the Queensland Government and numerous hotels and resorts. He left Today Tonight at the end of 2002 and freelanced in South East Asia and China before agreeing to help out the RSPCA for six weeks in 2004. He’s still there!