This article originally published in The Northern Daily Leader on 10 December 2011.
One of the dynamics which makes Australia a wonderful place to live, is that just about all of us, in one way or another, are immigrants. Whether your ancestors came on the First Fleet or a leaky boat from Vietnam, or jumped across the ditch from NZ, we all have diverse backgrounds, lucky enough to share a bit of living space on this big island we call home. Of course, being a multicultural nation does have its perils, not least in the confusion that can be caused by differing languages or phrases. Despite having lived in Australia for over a decade, I can still confuse someone by giving them driving directions which tells them to ‘turn left at the robot and right at the traffic circle’ (translated into Australian it means turn left at the traffic lights and right at the roundabout).
I was thinking about the different names for traffic lights as I was stuck on red at Tamworth’s newest set of traffic lights (at the intersection of Bridge Street and Belmore Street). As I waited for green, I wondered why we had swapped a perfectly good roundabout for a set of traffic lights. Did you know that a new set of traffic lights can cost $160,000? Research has also shown that roundabouts are much safer than traffic lights – converting an intersection with traffic lights to a roundabout reduces the overall number of crashes by 37%, and crashes involving an injury by 75%. Most accidents at roundabouts tend to be slower-moving and are usually side-swipes. This compares to traffic lights where accidents can occur at high speed and are often right-angled collisions; more dangerous for both drivers and passengers. And if you drive along Bridge Street regularly, you may be interested to know that roundabouts reduce traveling delays by up to 74% as compared to traffic lights.
Essentially roundabouts are cheaper to install and maintain, reduce accidents and help speed up the flow of traffic. One disadvantage however is with regards to pedestrian use, which can be solved by a pedestrian crossing (with lights) a short distance from the roundabout. Applying a cost-benefit analysis to the new lights on Bridge Street shows the following: for around $160,000 we are likely to see slower traffic and more accidents with greater severity. But on the plus side pedestrians can cross the road safely. I’m no anti-pedestrianite, but I think the costs more than outweigh the benefits. But what do I know? I still call traffic lights robots and think a schooner is a type of small ship.