Bid to cut tram jams at city centre traffic lights

A taxi is halted at the junction of Waverley Bridge and Princes Street. Picture: Scott Louden
A taxi is halted at the junction of Waverley Bridge and Princes Street. Picture: Scott Louden
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A BID to ease congestion in the city centre is set to slash waiting times for drivers at red lights affected by the trams thanks to new traffic light management technology, transport chiefs have pledged.

The new system, called Selected Vehicle Priority in the Urban Environment (Spruce), has been rolled out across 21 city centre junctions linked to the tram line, with officials claiming that maximum waiting times will be cut from a maddening four minutes to a more manageable 110 seconds.

Drivers were left fuming following the launch of the line by long waits at red lights triggered by passing trams, which are given priority at junctions.

Traffic has been worst hit at the east end of Princes Street, where taxi drivers have reported long waits at the junction with Waverley Bridge and South St David Street.

Problems were uncovered with existing motion sensor technology that switches traffic signals as a tram approaches, with congestion on Princes Street holding up trams and throwing the system out.

The long waits have also seen city buses tailing back in both directions in front of the Balmoral Hotel, blocking access to Leith Street, North Bridge and South St David Street.

Tony Kenmuir, director of Central Taxis, said that cabbies had “no chance” of dropping passengers near Waverley during the worst congestion.

He said: “At the West End, when the trams first started, it was an absolute washout.

“The difference between two and four minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but it means a lot more traffic building up, and then it takes a couple of turns of the lights to start freeing it again and by then you’ve got another tram coming.

“The key issue for us is when the double-decker buses get backed up. They’ve got such a limited space to drop off between the Balmoral Hotel and the corner of Waverley Bridge, without much room to get around each other, that you can get really gridlocked at the top of Leith Street and Waverley Bridge.

“We’re very conscious of delays. If they’re going to improve it, that’s very welcome.”

The technology is still being fine-tuned, with delays expected to drop further at some city junctions. Spruce works by analysing the speed and frequency that trams move along the line, adjusting signals so that they cause less disruption.

Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said that road users should already be seeing the benefits of the new system.

She said: “Spruce has been rolled out on an incremental, junction-by-junction basis so that the system could be refined and tested as it took effect. We continue to keep a very close eye on signal performance across the 21 city centre junctions in the Spruce network.

“The progress of trams through signals is now far more reliable and pedestrians and motorists are not being kept waiting for unnecessarily long periods at junctions.”