[NOTEBOOK]These Traffic Lights Make You See Red

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[NOTEBOOK]These Traffic Lights Make You See Red

Only rarely do pedestrians show up to use a pedestrian crossing located on a quiet, sloping avenue on the side of Namsan, a hill in central Seoul. But, 365 days a year, regular as clockwork, the traffic lights there turn red. They stay red long enough to allow even the slowest of walkers time to get across. So, when nobody is crossing, the drivers start to crawl before the traffic light turns green.

The crossing became known among the "traffic paparazzi" - those in search of government rewards for catching traffic infractions on film. The government received so many photographs from the crossing that now it has hung a banner across the road before the crossing reading, "This place has a high rate of photo reports of illegal driving, so be careful."

Perhaps it would have been more effective for the government instead to recognize that there was a problem and install a manually operated traffic light button that can be used by pedestrians when they want to cross the road.

The road that runs east-west in front of the city hall in Anyang, Kyonggi province, is another example of a badly managed traffic flow system. Because there is no traffic control center nearby to regulate the traffic lights in the area, taking into account traffic flow, every intersection operates independently, resulting in traffic snarls and frustrated drivers. As one resident put it, "Every time I manage to cross two consecutive intersections in one go, I feel so lucky that I go buy a lottery ticket."

The traffic lights in Bundang, a new city to the south of Seoul, are set to change in coordination with other traffic lights along the main roads and the coordination is set for the same traffic speed. But as the coordinated speed is 70 kilometers an hours, the speed limit for the road, drivers are tempted to drive above the speed limit, upsetting the traffic flow and causing unnecessary traffic snarls.

The Board of Audit and Inspection released a report on the absurd situation of traffic flow in cities nationwide, including Seoul, after inspecting traffic light operations in February.

Here are some of its conclusions:

- In Seoul, in the middle of a system of coordinated traffic lights, there are traffic lights not regulated by the system, causing the entire traffic pattern to fall into disarray.

- Traffic measuring devices are not able to accurately count turning vehicles. Some devices failed even to correctly count cars moving straight ahead.

- Though there are some 13,000 computerized traffic configuration programs available to traffic controllers to suit different intersections and traffic flows, about 5,000 of these are never used.

- The pattern of traffic light changes is often the same Monday to Friday regardless of season, day of the week, time period and amount of traffic.

- The components used in traffic control systems are not standardized, causing a waste of money and compatibility problems among traffic control systems.

Due to these problems, traffic light configurations and inefficient traffic flow systems are a constant source of frustration to drivers. To standardize and synchronize traffic lights correctly, the Board of Inspection pointed out that old traffic lights would have to be replaced. The Seoul office of the National Police Agency said it would produce and enforce a manual of standards for traffic light systems - a little late, obviously.

The government must quickly impose this standardization nationwide.


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The writer is a senior staff writer on transport affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo


by Eum Sung-jick

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