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Are there too many traffic lights in Suffolk?

PUBLISHED: 09:40 14 June 2016 | UPDATED: 09:40 14 June 2016

Ipswich traffic lights

Ipswich traffic lights

Suffolk motorists have criticised the county’s “awful” strategy on traffic lights after new figures showed a sharp rise in their number.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper, Suffolk County Council (SCC) reported an 11% increase in traffic lights between 2010-2015, which drivers claim has worsened congestion.

Nearly half of the 31 new systems introduced over the period were in the Ipswich area, where there has been fierce opposition to the county council’s travel strategy.

Drivers commenting on the figures yesterday called for lights to be switched off with some saying they had made negotiating the town centre so difficult they no longer visited.

Highways bosses said safety was their “highest priority” when deciding traffic policy, adding that schemes were regularly reviewed to meet the community’s needs.

Graphic showing changes in traffic lights in Suffolk and EssexGraphic showing changes in traffic lights in Suffolk and Essex

However Angela Reilly, commenting on Facebook, said driving along Franciscan Way in Ipswich had become more dangerous because of the introduction of traffic lights. “It’s awful now,” she added. “The roundabouts worked much better.”

Darren Cox said he had stopped visiting the town centre because of congestion.“It’s easier to buy things online rather than sit waiting for ages at the lights,” he added.

Over the six-year period covered by the FOI response, Ipswich saw 13 new traffic lights introduced with further schemes in nearby Kesgrave and Blakenham.

The lights at Ropes Drive, Kesgrave, became so unpopular that county councillors Robert Whiting and Christopher Hudson arranged for a trial switch off-last October. A study found congestion reduced as a result of the trial leading to the lights’ permanent removal.

“The experience from Kesgrave is the fewer lights the better,” Mr Hudson said. “Traffic flow has improved enormously with their removal. I would like to see that experiment pushed out across the rest of the county.”

Susan Clements, Kesgrave town clerk, said the lights had made driving “complicated and frustrating” and welcomed their removal.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said their removal showed how they “can sometimes cause congestion, rather than solve it.”

He claimed SCC’s travel plans for the town had not delivered the “promised benefits” and called for a traffic study to be carried out “so that we can then decide what more is needed to ease journey times around Ipswich.”

Leader of Ipswich Borough Council David Ellesmere also criticised SCC’s Travel Ipswich programme. “This system has never worked properly and the experience of most people is that it has just made congestion worse,” he added. “The county council needs to sort this out as a matter of urgency.”

James Finch, who is responsible for highways at SCC, said traffic lights were used to provide safe crossing as part of a variety of measures. “Our first and highest priority is safety,” he added “This underpins all of the work we do. We want all road users, including pedestrians, to be able to move around the area they live, work and visit safely. There is no particular preference for their use.” Mr Finch said the council regularly reviewed traffic management schemes and made changes to suit the needs of the community, highlighting the recent example in Kesgrave.

In Essex, where there was an 8% rise in the number of traffic lights over the six year period, a county council spokesman said the increase was due to changes in the road network to cope with new developments and increased traffic. He said traffic lights could now be varied and controlled remotely to respond to traffic built up at particular times.

The British Infrastructure Group of MPs published a report last month that found there was an “overwhelming case for the removal of huge numbers of traffic control measures”. It said excessive numbers of traffic lights cost the country £16 billion a year.

Commenting on the report, AA president Edmund King said it “graphically highlights the press roads, business and drivers in the UK face. “Our roads are our biggest and most used transport system, yet we fail to nurture and exploit it to full potential,” he added.


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