Tuesday 7 September 2010

Problem + Simple Technology = Solution

I'll say one thing for the tube strike - at least it's happening on a day when it's actually quite pleasant to walk!  And furthermore, if it wasn't for me having to walk back to St. Pancras yesterday evening I wouldn't have come across one of the best uses of technology that I've seen for a while...

Let me elaborate.

On the corner of High Holborn, at the junction with Kingsway and Southampton Row, there is a large and - what I would call eff-ing - busy crossroads.  There is lots of foot traffic heading in all directions, and with the entrance to Holborn tube station just on the corner there is always a crowd of people at busy times waiting to cross and often jumping out between the road traffic.  

View Larger Map

The crossroads is controlled by traffic lights but there is always the usual game of chicken at the switch-over as cars and bikes try to get away like they're in a drag race and pedestrians try to make it across before being being skittled.  In effect: 

Loads of traffic (including kamikaze bikes) + loads of pedestrians = mayhem.

That's the problem.  So what impressed me so much about the solution?  Well, its simplicity. A countdown timer on the traffic lights that indicates how long you have to cross the road and until the traffic is going to start moving again.  Simples init?

You can see details about the solution on the TFL Pedestrian Countdown at Traffic Lights page.  And credit where credit is due to TFL, it seems to work (at least when I used it).

Traffic signals

I guess it is another great example of the age-old adage that if you've got a problem, more often than not, the simple solution is usually the most effective.


  1. I came across this this morning, and worked like a UX dream! As I approached the road, saw numbers counting down.

    My instinct was 'that is counting down how long I have to cross the road', nothing else came to mind.

    Absolutely brilliant.

  2. We have had this in advanced civilisations like Hungary for decades.

  3. Ade - Unfortunately, backwaters like the UK are usually a few years behind the curve when it comes to sensible adaptations existing technology. I think it's Imperialist stubbornness.

    Carl - Bang on! It takes a bit of the fun and exhilaration out of a walk around London but why hasn't it been done sooner (a la Hungary)?