Friday, August 27, 2010

Counting Down

I first saw these traffic lights in Orchard Road, Singapore in 2008. The red seconds count down indicating how long you have to cross before the lights go red. Just over a month ago, I saw similar in Tokyo, where progressive red or green bars were used as an indicator. Both great ideas. Why not in Australia?

We now have such a device in my least favourite place in Melbourne, Camberwell Junction. I dislike the Junction so much that I am not going there to take a photo to show you. A red countdown second indicator has been installed for pedestrians crossing Riversdale and Camberwell Roads on the eastern side of Burke Road. VicRoads must perceive this to be a problem area.

But do VicRoads do it smart? In Singapore once the indicators shows zero seconds, that is it. The traffic light goes red at zero seconds. Oh no, not for Melbourne. Here a good bit of time still follows the display showing zero seconds before the traffic light turns red. Once people realise that there is still time to sprint across after the zero shows, that is exactly what they will do. Still four seconds showing? Still time to walk across after mentally adding the extra time. Zero does not mean zero. It makes the display worthless. VicRoads might argue it adds an extra measure of safety. Not how I see it. More likely a bit of mental game to further restrict pedestrians crossing that interrupts the flow of cars turning left, not that I have any tolerance of pedestrians illegally crossing either when they interfere with turning cars.

Elsewhere, the traffic light has just turned green and you press the button to bring up the walk signal and damn. You must wait until the next cycle. Grrr. Tough. I walk anyway, although not disrupting turning cars. I'll leave that for someone else to rant write thoughtfully about.


  1. Like the old clock face traffic lights.
    Is a great concept but people will screw with it.
    Nice to see in The Hun they're making hybrid cars noisy, at least jaywalking pedestrians will know when they're about to be mown down by one!

  2. oh just got sidetracked by your flkr stream on the right - your photo of the GembrookSweet Supply. how cool is that?

    Boynton blogger has a link in her current post, to a flkr of old old shot with tram, FJ and pedestrian at East Melb intersection which looks very very casual and dangerous. I wondered if the pedestrian survived. That corner now would be heavily painted, kerbed, apron-ed, and have traffic lights. go over there for a look.

  3. Anonymous4:46 pm

    re Crossing The Road -

    Great post Stopping at the robot at

    August 22, 2010

    Green light robot
    Thanks to those who wrote in answering my question about the pre-war usage 'robot', in this country, for what is now called a traffic light. Two readers referred me to an article by Joe Moran - 'Crossing the Road in Britain' - saying that 'Electric traffic lights, or "traffic control robots"... had been installed in British towns from 1927 onwards'. One also sent this link, under which you will find it said that 'Traffic Lights were originally called Robot Traffic Signals when first introduced in the 1930s'. Chris Brooke (whose email I quote from with his permission) writes as follows:

    From the OED:

    ***3. An automatic traffic light. Also more fully traffic robot. Now S. Afr.

    1929 Manitoba (Winnipeg) Free Press 17 Jan. 1/4 The shadow of the vehicle..awakens the robot to electronic action. 1931 Evening Standard 5 Aug. 2/1 (heading) Traffic 'Robots' in the City. 1958 Star (Johannesburg) 16 Dec. 6/7 Johannesburg drivers..want to turn right or left while pedestrians, with the robot in their favour, are crossing. 1979 M. MATSHOBA Call me not Man 141 We turned at the robots to ascend the highway. 2004 H. STRACHAN Make Skyf, Man! x. 104, I ran through this red light and..a police vehicle was behind me at the robot.***

    Note the pattern of citations: the second one, from the Evening Standard, is from the UK, from roughly the same period as the quote you cite, but the earlier one is from Canada, and then after that it's all South African (I think).

    The word 'robot' was popularized by Karel Capek in his 1920 play, RUR (= 'Rossum's Universal Robots'). So it looks as if within the decade the word had spread to the English-speaking world, and was being applied to traffic lights, before the English sensibly decided that a better name for them was, in fact, 'traffic lights'.

    (posted by Brownie)

  4. Here in Amsterdam some pedestrian & cyclist lights, in the city centre, have a countdown system just to warn them when it will turn green instead of red.

    Eventhou it's sometimes safer to cross the street when its red! ;)

  5. There's also a set in Kew Junction, but I think only when you are crossing High St on the Eastern side of the intersection.

  6. Sunny Breaks is a melbourne guy working in and blogging from Korea and if you follow the link you will see his photo of their insane footpath robots.
    worth the click.

  7. I didn't connect the two Jayne, but of course, yes, similar.

    Em Stacks, what great old photos. I think it is the other mentioned model, 148.

    That's interesting Brownie. Robots. You are too young but I remember the silent cops too.

    So Peter, put your foot in the stirrup and get ready to pedal forward. When we were in Amsterdam we were given dire warnings to watch out for stoned cyclists.

    Frank, I just knew my set would not have been the first. I wonder what VicRoads criteria is?

    Ann, we saw the same in Japan. The arm moves back and forth.

  8. What's with your strong anti-Camberwell Junction stance that I've seen mentioned before? The only reason I can think of for it is the local residents's moronic high opinions of the place and opposition to any development.

  9. My prejudice was set many years ago and of course it is a generalisation. Smug, confidently middle class teetotal bible bashers. It has changed since then but not for the better.

  10. All the cities I went to in the US last year had these. Even Auckland has them. What also impressed me in Auckland was that the green man did and animated walk that looked more like a Michael Jackson moonwalk when it was safe to cross.

  11. The Auckland ones sound very cool Ben.