Richard Tracey is the Conservative spokesman on transport on the London Assembly
During this year’s Party Conference, at the GLA Conservatives’ debate, a packed room of members (no lobbyists or guest speakers) squeezed into a small room in Birmingham’s Hyatt Regency Hotel to discuss policy. We asked our audience to tell us what’s wrong with London, and how we should fix it. The aim of the meeting was to bounce around innovative thinking and decide on an idea for a future report.
At GLA Conservatives HQ we do this constantly – publishing at least one policy report every month, proposing radical and costed ideas to improve London. Recent successful ideas include introducing driverless trains, converting empty garages into start-up business space and investing in wearable technology to protect frontline workers from violence. After an hour and a half of discussion, probing and argument, those in the room voted for turning off traffic lights at night. Just over four weeks later, we’ve done our research, crunched the numbers and published the report ‘Green Light’.
We found that every year Londoners waste over 170 million hours sitting in traffic, costing the Capital’s economy some £4bn. Whereas the left’s approach is to seek to punish motorists with higher taxes and charges until they are forced out of their vehicles, we recognise that many of these journeys in our city are unavoidable. So we should look at innovative ways of cutting congestion and making traffic flow more smoothly.
Traffic lights are of course vital for safely managing the flow of great volumes of traffic on busy roads during peak times, but studies show that during quiet periods, they cause delays while providing no safety benefits. London has over 6,000 of them and most drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians can relate to waiting at a red light late at night where the roads are empty. The solution is to turn off those traffic lights between midnight and 6am, ensuring motorists from all directions stop and use their discretion to give way to other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. This system has been shown to be safe, used successfully in Europe and America, and there have already been positive trials in parts of the UK. If we turned them off during the 6 quietest hours of the night we could save 53 minutes per junction per night. Implementing this at suitable junctions – not at pedestrian crossings or major junctions – could save over 2,000 hours of idling per year, which equals a savings in time and fuel of more than £10m.
Transport bosses should prioritise the value of Londoners’ time, especially when drivers spend 170 million hours a year sitting in traffic. This would also slash emissions and put an extra £40m in driver’s pockets by 2020. First, we urge Transport for London and London’s boroughs to assess road usage and traffic flow and, where it is deemed safe, to turn off London’s traffic lights overnight. Next they should assess whether all of their existing traffic lights are necessary. The status quo has created a scenario where it is much easier to make the case to introduce traffic lights than to remove them and, once they are in place, it is easier to leave them on for 24 hours a day.
Turning traffic lights off at night and trusting drivers is an idea whose time has come. An idea born out of the grassroots of the Conservative Party.