Anyone who knows Dublin knows that we have a really big traffic problem. Attempting to move around Dublin by car can be frustrating at absolutely any time – I was recently caught in a traffic jam at 2 am. Journeys that should take 15 minutes can take nearly two hours. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that Dublin’s streets were designed for very different modes of transport and they simply cannot accommodate the traffic volumes we now have. The relatively inadequate state of public transport doesn’t help.
But one key contributor – and moreover one that would be comparatively easy to address – is the traffic light system. Dublin came relatively late to traffic lights: in the 1960s there were virtually none, and major junctions were either managed by a Garda (policeman) on point duty, or else not at all. As late as the early 1980s one of the busiest – at O’Connell Bridge – was still controlled in this way.
When traffic lights were introduced, they were totally uncoordinated. You could crawl along a street or road and find that at every intersection the light would be on red, no matter how you drove. Now that Dublin’s traffic lights are computerised and controlled centrally, this has not changed significantly; it is very hard to see any synchronisation of lights.
In addition, the settings at some junctions are plain crazy. Let me provide one example. Where the North Circular Road crosses Sherrard Street and Belvedere Road, the light turns green for Lower Sherrard Street once in each cycle, but stays on green for longer than for the other roads; in fact, Lower Sherrard Street is the least important of all those roads crossing here, as it is essentially a cul-de-sac and usually has no traffic waiting to exit at all. In the meantime, while the lights are on green for them in the hope that someone may come, the much busier North Circular Road and Belvedere Road are kept waiting with significant traffic build-up. I mention this example because it is all too typical.
Furthermore, Dublin is the only city I know that has pedestrian lights that turn red, amber and green. This means that the cycle of a pedestrian light is long, and as they are also almost never synchronised with nearby traffic lights, the disruption they cause is huge. And then there is the oddity of the filter lights – there are far too few of them, and where they exist they are often hugely confusing as they are often placed directly below the (normal) green lights, so that when only the filter light is on green and the red light is on, the traffic light appears to be giving the motorist a choice between red and green.
Dublin traffic problems will not be solved overnight. But there are some things that could be improved relatively easily, and traffic lights are amongst these.