14th July, Warszawa
Dear Mr Tusk,
Some of my friends were telling me that your country can’t afford to build new roads (Euro 2012 & all that) because your country is poor. Nobody ever helps you and the money coming from the EU is not enough. Apparently. So, I got to thinking about some great ideas on how you could cut expenditure in other areas and then divert it to projects that will really help. My first idea is about traffic lights.
I couldn’t help noticing that your country has some traffic lights. Admittedly not in the countryside (I’m told cows are colour blind, is that true?), but in all the cities and towns you can find these strange devices with three different coloured lights on them – red, amber (pomaranczowy) and green. I have placed a picture at the top of this letter because as you normally whoosh through town in your big black BMW surrounded by 24 security cars with lights flashing you might be forgiven for not noticing them or realising that normal people are supposed to pay attention to them.
I come from a country with a 140 year history of traffic management. The world’s first traffic signals were installed close to the houses of parliament in London in 1868. These were based on railway signals but even the red/green electric signals have been around for 80 years or more, thanks to your potential missile partners. It has to be said then, that these are not a new-fangled idea designed to confuse ordinary folk. They are the world’s best, tried and tested method of regulating traffic.
The idea is very simple. Red means stop, green means go and amber means get ready to do one or the other. I see Poland has adopted the four-state system that includes an amber light both ways, i.e. before the green and before the red. This might have been a good idea at the time but the thrust of this letter is that I don’t really think it’s working and this might give rise to a cost saving opportunity.
I’ve been here for a while now and, irrespective of whatever your traffic advisers are telling you, I can state categorically that the amber light is a complete waste of money! When being used to advise people to prepare to stop it is totally redundant. Nobody wants to stop. The light was green and it is a source of some anguish to think that they have to stop just so some other idiots can get where they are going faster! No no. It is the red light that means ‘get ready to stop’, not the amber. You only need to look at the number of accidents that happen at light controlled junctions to realise that stopping at a red light is more a question of whether the driver feels so inclined, than an imperative action.
Now, looking at the amber meaning “get ready to go”. I’m pretty sure that someone was engaged in a giant leg-pulling exercise here, or perhaps the four-state system was decided on an April 1st? Either way, people are treating it as the joke it is and don’t even start thinking about going until they see green. That means the traffic actually gets going about 20 seconds after the green light appears (what seems like 5 minutes after the amber light appeared) which all means that roughly 25% of the traffic that should have moved on, actually did. I’m not certain what is causing this delay. It could be that people are well aware of their own habits as regards red lights and therefore want a safety margin after the other traffic is supposed to have stopped. On the other hand, it could just be the old chestnut of “who’s got the right?”. If I move off on an amber light, would it be my fault if something happens? As I’m rather confused about this aspect of the law, I shall ignore the amber light and wait until I see a green light before engaging brain to be followed some time later by legs and arms. Everyone knows that green means go, that much is clear. I have a feeling that the UK is a three-state system with the light going directly from red to green without an amber. It is perhaps this that has made me over sensitive, according to the Polish value system, to the need to get moving immediately the red light is extinguished.
The conclusion therefore, Mr Tusk, is that the amber light should be done away with. The snail-like state of traffic-flow thanks to accidents caused by red-light jumpers and delays caused by green light procrastinators is not helped by this amber light in any way. Just install a two light system – red & green – people will stop at some point when the red light is on and will go eventually sometime after the green light appears. Everyone will be happy and you will save 33.3% on all future road traffic systems.
You might go even further by saving on electricity costs and switching all the lights off at the weekends. Nobody on the road at the weekend knows how to drive anyway, so having the lights off completely, especially in the summer months, is just plain common sense!