Sydney’s first traffic light turns 80!


Pic: The Sydney Morning Herald

It still gets the green light from us after all these years…not bad for an 80-year-old, eh?

80 years ago today at precisely 11am Sydney’s first traffic light was switched on near the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) in Sydney’s CBD at the intersection of Market and Kent Streets.

Fast forward to 2013 and there are now 2,800 traffic lights spread across Sydney and more than 3,700 traffic lights across New South Wales.

Whether you’re a motorist, cyclist or pedestrian, traffic lights can feel like a help or hindrance to your journey. We know the frustrating feeling of constantly stopping at a seemingly endless stream of red lights in peak hour, but imagine the challenge of driving safely on the road without them.

Whether the focus is cars, buses, trucks, motorbikes, pedestrians, or bicycles, managing traffic lights is critical to managing Sydney’s traffic safely and efficiently.

We wanted to ensure traffic management in Sydney is efficient and after research into this issue, we developed the NRMA ‘Decongestion Strategy – 10 Ways to fix Sydney’s Traffic Headache’ that suggests improvements to traffic lights management. The Strategy, which has been welcomed by the NSW Government, includes new ways to help traffic lights react to changing traffic conditions.

Currently, traffic lights only detect vehicles prior to the stop line. This means, vehicles that creep over the stop line at red lights are not detected – and this also means you’ll be seeing red for longer. One of the suggestions put forward in the Strategy is to have advanced vehicle detectors that will wirelessly feed traffic lights with information on the number and type of vehicles approaching the lights. This traffic lights system would react better to changing traffic conditions and ease traffic congestion.

Traffic lights have come a long way and there’s still room for improvements, but there’s no denying the valuable role those three-coloured lights play in road safety.

These traffic lights tips get the green light from us:

Don’t drive through yellow lights

If the lights ahead turn yellow, stop safely. Driving through a yellow light is not only dangerous, it won’t get you far. More than likely you’ll be stopped by a red light at the next intersection.

Stop just before the white stop line – don’t creep over it

If you stop more than five metres before, or if you creep past the white stop line, the traffic lights may not detect your presence and, consequently, you may not get a green light.

On minor roads and right turn lanes

The traffic lights system in Sydney is adaptive, which means if there is a large gap in between cars, it could mistake that as the end of the traffic stream and switch to the red light. Aim to stay with the main group of vehicles.

What do you do to pass the time when stuck at a red light?

Do you have The NRMA‘s legendary Road Assist? Don’t get caught without it.

- Renew your NRMA Membership
- Join the NRMA
- Find more about Membership options

6 thoughts on “Sydney’s first traffic light turns 80!

  1. When stuck at a red light, I try to stay calm and count to 10 slowly.
    My car must have a device fitted somewhere ( which I can’t find ) which automatically turns traffic lights red on approach.
    All I would really like is my share of green ones !!

  2. The amount of traffic lights on Victoria Road in Sydney is excessive. Have the Roads Authority never heard of roundabouts, they work well on A roads in every other part of the world. Currently drivers travelling straight ahead on an Arterial road are subject to sometimes 5 sets of lights within 500 yards, which is madness.

  3. 2,800 traffic lights across Sydney? Is that a fact or a guess – Given Sydney has an area of over 12,000km2 you are suggesting there is, on average, only one traffic light every 2km. Not sure that sounds right.

  4. My father, Constable Jock Stewart, directed traffic in the Sydney CBD from 30th April, 1934 until 15th February, 1948 mainly on corners along George Street. As a little boy I was proud of my father being able to hold up so much traffic with one hand. Nowadays, I realise how difficult was his job in all kinds of weather, with impatient drivers and pedestrians and with sore feet. He eventually developed occupational hearing loss caused by the traffic noise. As traffic lights were introduced he and other traffic cops were pushed from one corner to another. There was one saving grace. He saw beautiful young lady one day – she became my Mum in 1937. They lived happily ever after.

  5. Since 1933 and the now ever rapid deployment of traffic light signals (TLS) using the Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic Light System (SCATS) through out Sydney has done nothing to assist the road users. The coordination of the traffic lights is in need of regular maintenance / monitoring by the Traffic Management Centre (TMC) through the now RMS, formerly the RTA. The monitoring of poorly performing intersections (controlled by traffic lights), due to over saturation of traffic, is done via the TMC, who can make adjustments to the particular under performing TLS coordinated sites remotely, to facilitate a better flow of congested traffic and return to TLS operations to the normal settings after the peak hour periods. It is not rocket science. Every peak hour morning and afternoon the TMC is well aware of the congestion issues. Admittedly, a better public transport system would also assist in relieving the over saturation of traffic on our roads. Again, not rocket science in determining how best to address the issue.

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