Let there be lights? Traffic lights mooted for town full of roundabouts

Blenheim’s claim to fame, other than being the sunniest town in New Zealand, could soon be dashed.

A push to replace a pedestrian crossing with “pedestrian signals”, also known as traffic lights, could rob Blenheim of another prestigious title; New Zealand’s largest town without traffic lights.

The lights would allow traffic to flow freely down State Highway 6, also know as Nelson St, until a pedestrian pushed the button.

But New Zealand Transport Agency network system manager Frank Porter said this would “not cause an instant red light”.

“The lights will be programmed to balance delays between those wanting to cross and traffic,” Porter said.

Marlborough deputy mayor Terry Sloan said the lights were the “start of something big for Blenheim”.

“We might be moving forwards like other flashy places in New Zealand,” Sloan said.

A report to the Marlborough District Council said the lights would actually cut 38 seconds off a drive along Nelson St at peak times, as the existing courtesy crossing brought traffic to a more regular standstill.

The crossing was used by students at Marlborough Girls’ College and Bohally Intermediate School, on McLauchlan St.

About half of all students either walked or cycled to and from school, with the majority using the existing crossings on Nelson St and McLauchlan St.

Marlborough Girls’ College principal Mary-Jeanne Lynch said she looked forward to seeing the pedestrian signals in action.

“Having anything on State Highway 6 that improves the safety for students and other road users would be great,” Lynch said.

Marlborough Girls’ College students Aaliyah Watene, 15, and Renee Agnew, 15, said it was “stupid” that Blenheim did not already have traffic lights.

“Instead, we have so many roundabouts,” Agnew said.

“Having traffic lights would probably help a lot with road safety,” Watene said.

The introduction of 40kmh school speed zones on Nelson St and McLauchlan St had slowed drivers to the point where they often stopped for children, the report said.

Some children had started expecting drivers to stop, increasing the risk of children getting hit, or rear-end collisions.

Marlborough Girls’ College students Jacinta Bell-Hegans, 14, and Lava Tikeri, 14, said their friends often used the Nelson St crossing.

“People pull out on them without looking and the traffic is getting busier and busier each year,” Bell-Hegans said.

“It might be a bit of a pain to wait for the lights to switch to cross over, but I think it would help keep kids safe,” Tikeri said.

Although safety was acknowledged as a concern, the main reason for the lights was to ease traffic congestion, the report said.

The lights would take six to nine months to install and cost between $150,000 and $200,000.

It was also recommended the McLauchlan St crossing was raised to form a pedestrian platform.

This would reinforce a slow speed environment, focus drivers on the pedestrians who were crossing and encourage drivers to yield to pedestrians.

The platform was expected to cost $20,000 and could be supplied from the council’s minor improvements budget.

If funds were not available, it was proposed the existing central island on Nelson St be widened for $15,000.

A traffic lights how-to for Marlburians:

Red: A red signal means stop.

Amber: Lights will soon turn red. So stop, unless you are so close to the intersection that you can’t stop safely.

Green: A green signal means you can go, provided it is safe.

*Source: Highway Code

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