London gets UK's first low level traffic lights for cyclists

Notorious Bow roundabout sees cycle-specific lights installed, with further installations and trials in London in the works
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London has taken a step closer to cycling continental-style with the installation of the UK's first low level traffic signals specifically designed to help cyclists.

Low level cycle signals have been common in certain parts of Europe for years, but have never been approved for use in the UK. During off-street trials, which were carried out in partnership with the Department for Transport (DfT) last year, more than 80 per cent of cyclists favoured low-level signals, which repeat the signal displayed on main traffic lights at the eye level of cyclists.

The lights have now been installed onto the early-start traffic signals at the notorious Bow roundabout, but TfL has applied to the DfT for permission to trial the signals elsewhere in London. The move is part of London Mayor Boris Johnson's £913m 'Vision for Cycling' (though how that amount will be affected by the recent underspend on cycling is unclear).

Here's the usual round of quotes, starting with Boris himself: “Innovative measures such as this are just one of a number of new safety initiatives we’ve been pushing for as part of my vision for cycling. We look forward to continuing to work with the government on many more measures to help make cycling even safer, more attractive and convenient for Londoners.”

Leon Daniels, MD of Surface Transport at TfL, said: “These low level cycle signals are the first fruits from our extensive off-street cycling innovation trials and will be a fantastic addition to London’s roads. Throughout 2014 we will be working to improve more junctions with these signals as well as continuing to redesign the capital’s roads to make them safer for all road users, especially cyclists.”

British Cycling’s campaigns manager, Martin Key, said: “We are pleased to see low level traffic lights being brought into use at Bow Roundabout. They have been used successfully across Europe and make it easier for cyclists to know when it is safe for them to ride through the junction. These lights and other cycle friendly measures should be available to use not only in London but across the whole country over the next couple of years. Anything that can be done to improve the experience of cycling on busy roads can only be a positive move and it’s fantastic to see Transport for London leading the way.”

Matt Winfield, deputy director for Sustrans London, said: “It’s great to see the wheels turning on new and innovative cycling infrastructure. Low level lights offer a range of advantages for cyclists, of which improved safety is paramount. Investing in cycling infrastructure provides great value for money and offers the fastest turn around for expanding the provision of urban transport. We now need to build on this success and get the green light on other important developments such as ‘Cycle Zebras’ and ‘Early Green-Phases’ as soon as we can so that cyclists can clear junctions swiftly and avoid mixing with heavy goods vehicles.”

The London Cycling Campaign has sounded a note of caution, restating its support for the use of cyclist-specific low-level traffic lights, but eminding the authorities that use of these lights alone can't make a dangerous junction safe, particularly in the case of Bow roundabout.

LCC chief executive Ashok Sinha said: "We support the principle of Dutch-style low-level traffic lights for cyclists, which are a useful addition to the tools that junction designers can use, but these lights alone aren't enough to make a dangerous junction safe.

"The presence of low-level traffic lights or otherwise doesn't remedy the major flaw at Bow roundabout: that many cyclists can't progress safely across the junction without motor traffic catching up with them, and potentially putting them in grave danger by turning across their path."

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