Lonely Planet Writer

Traffic lights to be installed at ground level in Sydney as a safety measure

In an age of selfie-obsessed Snapchatters, traffic lights are going to be embedded in the ground at five key crossings on a six-month trial basis in Sydney to help prevent accidents. If you plan to visit the state capital of New South Wales from December,  you might notice the new safety measures, which will be placed in the central business district at a cost of A$250,000. The in-ground traffic lights will shine red to indicate when it’s dangerous for pedestrians to cross the road, and can already be found in action in two German cities, Cologne and Augsburg.

Harbour Bridge, Sydney
The in-ground traffic light system is planned for Sydney. Image by Shaneil Shekhar

According to Bernard Carlton, executive director of the NSW Centre for Road Safety, 61 pedestrians were killed on NSW roads in 2015. While it is not known if being on a smartphone was a factor in these deaths, he explained that distracted pedestrians listening to music are four times more likely to take risks when crossing a road. Presumably something similar might apply to tourists, who are always in search of the perfect angle to take a shot or looking at maps.

Researchers at the University of Queensland found that texting while walking put people off balance and made them less likely to walk in a straight line. “We’re looking at every opportunity to make the environment safer for pedestrians,” said Carlton.

The new measure is one of several introduced in the state government’s Towards Zero campaign, which aims to to reduce the road death toll. So far this year, 164 people have died on NSW roads, marking an increase of 38 on the same period last year. According to the campaign, the NSW road toll isn’t acceptable, no matter how small it gets, and it calls on government, law enforcement, business, communities, families, and individuals to work together to push the number of deaths on New South Wales roads downwards towards zero.

View from the Triangle Tower in Cologne, where the inground traffic light system is already in service.
View from the Triangle Tower in Cologne, where the in-ground traffic light system is already in service. Image by Uwe Müller

In a statement, the NSW roads minister, Duncan Gay, said: “I can invest billions into making our road network safer and continue to deliver our road safety programs, but I cannot control drivers, riders or pedestrians from making bad choices. People need to make smarter choices and think about all the other innocent road users around them.”

The Gold Coast City Council will be looking at the Sydney initiative with interest, as they are also considering trialling the technology in the Queensland city.