This article was originally published on our sister site Greenweeks.
Here’s a traffic light for everyone: It turns red whenever trail users cross it.
Drivers in UK cities are accosted by all manner of “trail crossings”, but the rules are a little wonky in the Highlands. In the European Union country, “trail crossings” are supposed to operate on a cycle-only basis. In winter, they turn red in the middle of the year, with the traffic turning right from one side and turning left from the other. But the right-turn signal is not hooked to that interval. Rather, it continues to go red for as long as trail users are in the process of crossing the road, even when nobody’s near.
In the Highland capital of Inverness, few people walk or cycle on the coastal road that passes through the city centre. Most are up in the trees or motorbikes or bushwhackers are taking selfies, but there are still some trail users—a matter of just a few hundred people at any given time—on their way from the beaches and forests to the historic centre. And the dark blue lines on the road mean there’s almost no chance of vehicles stopping at a red light in the first place.
In the summer, the pedestrian crossing is scheduled to turn red every two days. If it has crossed over into winter, the signal stays red for around seven to nine months. It will turn green in the middle of the year, but drivers are still asked to turn right from the second side of the road. There’s currently no roadmap in place, so it could be further extended or turned off altogether.
“Having a red arrow in a night time run through the city centre is one of the oddest things in all of Northern Europe,” laments Mike Towell, the Inverness councillor and councillor for the local Aberdeenshire Council area who has been lobbying for this practice to be eliminated.“Under the real world conditions in winter I can’t see any logic to it,” he says. “But it’s the approach that we’ve got right now, so we’ll probably just need to accept it.”
For drivers, the situation is even more chaotic. The half-mile amber light meant to turn red at 10pm means an oncoming car will reach it only a couple of minutes later, so most will continue on their path past the crosswalk that had just turned red. It will remain red until they reach the centre of the city. “It’s borderline dangerous,” Towell says.
Once trains stop rolling through the city centre, the lights will continue to go red until close to 1am. Then they’ll turn green. But this new pathway is largely empty during the day, and at night, too, as visitors to the Highlands go home for the night. In winter, park-and-ride options at Inverness airport are not actually ready to accept departures until late, so a lot of trail users would have to cross the city to park their bikes there, too.
Towell believes both Inverness city council and the Scottish Government should revise their policy so that the cycling-only interpretation of the traffic lights is enforced. Both acknowledge that the amber light operates only in winter and in the middle of the year, and both will be looking at how to operate those signals at both those times to encourage bikes.