Red light spells anger…

Taking Mrs C and number two son to work this morning, I drove out of our little ‘town’ (it’s a village really, but we get told off for calling it that…) to find yet another set of temporary traffic lights had sprung up on the main road – this set neatly straddling the pedestrian crossing to the local High School, which made for some interesting working out by the traffic…

1404traffic04Now I know that as the weather improves now is the time we are likely to see more roadworks, as the council tries to make good the ravages of the winter and fill in all the resultant potholes before the prime tourist months, but we seem to get epidemics of these lights. You’ll go for weeks without any, and then bang, three or four sets on one stretch of road – they seem to breed…

I’m reminded that some 15 years ago I was writing on this very subject, in the ‘Sideways Glance’ comment column of the Surrey local newspaper I edited – I was seeing red about seeing red. I recall I said; “This week I am not glancing sideways, I am staring straight ahead at what appears to be an ever-growing epidemic of temporary traffic lights – Trafficlightus Temporarnus.”

Well the first thing I will say is the way roadworks are done in Wales is generally a huge improvement on what passes for repairs in Surrey where i used to live. Back then whichever utility needed the road dug up would come along, dig a hole, make whatever repair they needed, slap some tarmac over the top and go away, leaving a nice hump or bump for traffic to negotiate. Then more often than not just days later another utility mob would come along and do the same thing – in the same spot…

Here in mid Wales they do things somewhat differently. The temporary lights arrive, while the affected bit of road is ripped up – not just one spot, they take a huge slice out. And passing by the works, you have to travel slowly, as the lights control a ‘convoy system’, traffic headed by one of the workers in a van or on a quad-bike travelling at a suitably slow speed.

While this is going on the road surface is put back properly – and I mean properly. While works are underway the convoy system is a mild pain in the butt for thos eof us wanting to be somewhere else, but once it’s finished the result is a top-quality surface with no lumps and bumps – it’s really good.

1404traffic03It made me laugh a couple of Springs ago when following a really harsh winter some locals were complaining about the resultant pot holes – “Why doesn’t the council do something?” and the like. But these potholes were on a back lane, and when I saw them – well they looked just like what is considered normal on Surrey A roads that take much more traffic. How the other half live eh?

Generally I find Welsh road workers far more considerate than Surrey ones. For example even in our rural location they seem quite happy to work late at night when the traffic is almost non-existent. I was seriously impressed when travelling home very late one night I discovered the road being ripped up close to where we lived and made a mental note to add 10 minutes to the work run the following morning. When we passed by next morning not only were the road works finished but the white lines had been repainted…

There’s still one aspect, however, that no-one seems to be able to get right – all the various utilities talking to each other. One set of lights on a road is followed by three more as four separate organisations decide to do their work at once. We had to have a water main replaced in the village at the start of the year, which meant a complex and quite tight diversion route for a couple of weeks. So of course Highways decided to do some resurfacing at the same time, on the diversion route – no matter where you went you couldn’t avoid the dreaded traffic lights.

In that column 15 years ago I alluded to the very regular occasions when temporary traffic lights go wrong; “Usually it’s when there’s absolutely no-one responsible around. You sit for what seems like hours staring at a red light, knowing full well that if you chance driving through you will either get an angry broadside from a person coming the other way or worse meet a police car…”

I then described one such occasion; “I could see people working in the hole, and traffic queued at the other end, but my light refused to change. Eventually I carefully drove down the road and stopping by a workman told him in a friendly, informative sort of way that his traffic light appeared to have stuck. “I know” he replied in a tone that suggested I was making the most stupid statement ever. I was so shocked I drove sheepishly away!”

1404traffic01Well it happened again a few weeks ago, just outside Welshpool. I could see the blokes sitting in a van so I carefully made my way past the red light, pulled up alongside the van and told them their lights had broken, at which point they laughed at me…

Well I wasn’t sheepish this time – we didn’t have Twitter in the old days. I discovered the traffic light suppliers had a Twitter feed, and I had a moan on Twitter – big mistake…

Within half an hour I had a phone call from a manager at the company concerned, wanting full details. More phone calls followed, along with e-mails and lots more, costing me rather more time than the traffic light had, while they followed up my ‘complaint’. It wasn’t a complaint, it was a frustrated me letting off steam! On reflection, I should have kept quiet…

One comment on “Red light spells anger…

  1. Having worked at East Midlands Electricity. I can tell you that the problem with utilities is that sometimes they can’t control when or where they dig the road up. If your (and just your) electricity supply fails, the company will (more likely than not) HAVE to dig the road up outside your house to cure it. Would you want to wait until the work could be planned and coordinated with other utilities? I think not!

    Another problem (the results of which you refer to in your post above) is that the local authority often places restrictions on when roads can be dug up – in your former stamping ground, works can only be done on main routes between “after the morning rush” and “before the evening rush” and on tourist routes (like the road through your small town) work can’t be done at weekends and in some cases, not at all in the tourist season (say, May – October) – all apart from emergency works, which sometimes have to be done overnight to avoid congestion but then upset sleeping residents. You just can’t win!

    Hopefully the Street Works Act has improved the quality of reinstatement – you’re now not allowed to “just chuck some tarmac in and hope for the best” – there are now quite high standards that have to be met. Now, when a road surface breaks down, it is more likely ice in the gap between old and new tarmac that causes the joint to break down ans cause potholes.


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