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Cheltenham traffic signals in the spotlight

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: November 19, 2012

  • The St Margaret's Road, Cheltenham, traffic light switch-off trial

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EVERY motorist has waited at a red light, cursing the gods of traffic for taking what feels like an age to turn the signal green.

But, although it sometimes feels like the opposite, those responsible for traffic management in Cheltenham do want motorists to be punching the air in joy rather than shaking their fists in fury as they cruise smoothly along the road network.

There are traffic lights at 51 junctions and 69 pedestrian crossings in Cheltenham.

Scott Tompkins, the network manager for Gloucestershire County Council, said the type of lights placed at each junction and crossing depended on the traffic flow in those locations.


There are simple systems where the lights are on a timer, and more complex types where sensors monitor the flow of traffic to judge the length of time of a green or red signal.

He said: "There's a lot of work that goes into setting up a traffic signal. You look at traffic flows, speeds and queue lengths.

"Also, when you first put a traffic signal in, at peak times you look at queue lengths so you can tweak the time lengths of green lights and red lights."

An example of this is the lights around the town centre.

They are green for longer on roads going inwards in the morning and heading outwards in the evening.

This helps them move on rush hour traffic and help the influx of people who come into Cheltenham every day to work, then leave at the end of the day.

One of the most advanced traffic signal systems around is the Microprocessor Optimised Vehicle Actuation (Mova), which is used at the Arle Court roundabout, near GCHQ.

Mova monitors the length of traffic queues and flow of cars to adjust the length of time the lights are green.

Mr Tompkins said the process of changing a traffic signal system could begin with a motorist's complaint or a highways worker noticing a problem.

He said: "When we get a complaint about a light being green or red for too long, we tend to send an engineer to the site to look at the light.

"We would assess the traffic flow at the site and, if necessary, tweak the timing of the green and red lights."

The most recent example of their work is the three-week trial switch-off of traffic lights in St Margaret's Road, which today is entering its second week.

Planned by Cheltenham Development Taskforce, Gloucestershire County Council and Cheltenham Borough Council, the switch-off has the aim of easing congestion.

Lights have been turned off at the junctions with Dunalley Street and Monson Avenue, and a temporary crossing has been installed near the latter junction.

Jeremy Williamson, managing director for Cheltenham Development Taskforce, said: "We looked at traffic light switch-offs in Portishead in Bristol and Coventry, which have worked, when planning the trial. If it works – and it's too early to tell at the moment – it could become permanent.

"I have driven through the area several times in several different ways, and walked through there in several different ways, and it seems to be working."

Meanwhile official monitoring of the type, speed, and volume of vehicles travelling along St Margaret’s Road starts today.Chris Riley, local highway manager for Gloucestershire Highways, said the process of recording vehicles in the next stage of the lights switch-off would take place over the next two weeks.He said: “We will be monitoring St Margaret’s Road with CCTV, route timing and radar classifiers, that record vehicle numbers or volume, speed and type.“We’ll also be interested in anecdotal evidence,” he added.“It’s going to be interesting to see what people notice about the changes as well.”SIGNALS FACTFILE:Any location where vehicles on conflicting approaches are controlled by traffic signals.Traffic signals may work in isolation responding only to local traffic pedestrian conditions, or can be controlled from a central computerised system to enable coordination between a network of junctions in order to provide a “progression” during busy periods.Traffic lights also organise traffic efficiently as it passes through the borough. This reduces fuel consumption and delay and is beneficial to the environment.When the traffic lights are out of action, no one has right of way. The stop line becomes enforceable and every driver should exercise caution.

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  • tishwash  |  November 20 2012, 5:53PM

    @Dave_t10 I pay vehicle excise duty (which isn't what pays for the roads btw!) I decide to cycle (even in this weather) and this benefits you because I'm not an additional driver on the road getting in your way or causing tailbacks so please realise that the majority of cyclists are likely to be drivers too.

  • CrowDog  |  November 20 2012, 1:49PM

    Dave_t10- what is it with you donuts going on about road tax when you clearly no absoloutly nothing. Takeaway22- i agree with you, his comment is utterly pointless haha tishwash- funny enough i was trying this exact turn yesterday, waited for ages and then ended up nearly getting kncoked of when i finally went for it lol bike riders- thing is if you cant cope with the dangers of cars and trucks on the road, how about stop moaning and dont ride a bike ! there will always be dangers for bikes on the road and will always be stupid bike riders with no lights and so on....

  • Takeaway22  |  November 20 2012, 1:24PM

    Dave_t10 - Please understand, road tax does not exist which makes your comment total rubbish.

  • Flat-Broke Films Ltd  |  November 20 2012, 10:15AM

    Sets mean individual junctions not each pole carrying a traffic light-so start adding the real total of "sets" from Aldi to Maplins including ped crossing lights and the total is around 11 not 22! I agree however that some could be reduced, but how would pedestrians and side-road traffic gain safe access if they weren't given equal priority?

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  • Dave_t10  |  November 19 2012, 10:13PM

    Loving the comments from the cyclists moaning. When they pay road tax and insurance for their cycles their views will be valid. Until then they can be ignored - you can't complain about something you get for free.

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  • tishwash  |  November 19 2012, 6:45PM

    Try this, rush hour cycle up the side of the brewery and try and turn right at the junction with holiday inn on. Good luck !

  • charlie2times  |  November 19 2012, 6:20PM

    Yes, the experiment is good if you aren't a pedestrian or cyclist, or you don't want to turn right, a complete success then, and as for there being only 51 juctions with lights in cheltenham, um, i think that's a bit conservative. In the evening and at night lights are constantly changing to red on main roads, even when there is no traffic waiting on the side roads, which must be very annoying for car drivers who will use up more petrol, but life wasting for cyclists, as we can't get our time back by speeding up inbetween lights. We should be able to sue the council for wasting our time!!!

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  • Dave_t10  |  November 19 2012, 4:05PM

    "There are traffic lights at 51 junctions and 69 pedestrian crossings in Cheltenham." I'm gonna guess that means there are 120 lights in Cheltenham which explains some earlier commentaters getting confused. If Scott Tompkins thinks the signals are currently working, he should take a look at the A40 between Arle Court and PE Way. Even in the middle of the night, the lights on the A40 turn red even when there is nothing coming or approaching from other directions. The lights often seem to wait until the vehicle is almost on top of the lights before changing, making them brake sharply - just so the side road can go green for no traffic. The Brewery section is just a mess, at last they try reducing the number of lights, but they have put obstructions in the middle of the road, reducing the amount of car which can wait to turn without blocking the existing flow. And they have not turned off nearly enough lights for it to be properly effective. To top it off, they need to switch off the lights on roundabouts, the whole point of this concept is that it doesn't require lights. You may as well have had a junction if you wanted to use lights. Please switch them off, or at a minimum switch them off on off-peak periods.

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  • Walker100  |  November 19 2012, 4:02PM

    Good grief, what is wrong with NamChelt's comment that deserves to be red tagged? It's a fact.

  • NamChelt  |  November 19 2012, 12:32PM

    It might depend on what you call Cheltenham too. The traffic lights by Aldi on Tewkesbury Road are technically in Tewkesbury borough for example.

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