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Traffic Flow, London

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 15 April 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

2.52 p.m.

The House has been very interested in the problems of overspill. I have a constituency interest, but this afternoon the Parliamentary Secretary overspilled into my time.

I rise to call attention to the need to give further consideration to speeding the flow of vehicles in London and vehicles entering and leaving London. This Easter there will probably be more vehicles on the road than ever before in the history of this country. Throughout the whole of 1954, increased supplies of vehicles will come forward and this, combined with the fall in the price of second-hand vehicles, will mean more cars, vans and buses on the roads than ever before. I am well aware that it will take some time to develop the major road schemes which are absolutely essential in the long run to deal with our traffic problems, but I fervently believe that we can do a good deal straight away to ease the situation and to set some matters right.

When we are short of resources, as we were in the early days of the war, it is doubly important to make the optimum use of them. I wish to draw attention to the needs for greater study and for operational research on traffic. Improved flow of traffic in the Greater London area save times, which saves travellers' money and prevents fares from going up. The London Transport Executive have already stated that if the buses in London could be speeded up by only one mile per hour they would have £1 million a year. Those who represent a Greater London constituency feel very sensitive about this problem of increased fares. Therefore, any money that can be saved by the London Transport Executive will be very well worth while. Better flow of traffic will lead to fewer accidents. Abrupt stopping and starting, and higgledy-piggledy traffic, cause accidents, and all parts of our economy suffer.

I wonder whether the problems of traffic flow in London are as close to the hearts of our police as they could be. Some of the police seem more interested in technical obstruction than in real traffic obstruction. I know of cases where people have been fined for parking in a cul-de-sac while other people who have parked their cars on main traffic arteries have got away scot-free. It is utter selfishness to park on a main traffic artery. I hope that my hon. Friend will ask the Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police whether greater attention cannot be given to obstruction on the main roads.

This position is only partly due to parking by private car owners. I know there are black sheep. I knew one driver who always brought a van to London because he found he could leave his van anywhere he liked and do whatever he wanted to do, and no one asked him the least question. If he left a private car in the same way there was more chance of his name being taken. There is a considerable amount of abuse with the parking of vans. Everyone who has driven in London will have seen vans parked while their drivers were obviously having a cup of tea, or were unloading the van with unconscionable slowness. This morning I saw a huge van parked just on the main crossing of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. The whole of the Oxford Street traffic going in one direction was reduced to a single line and I was able to observe what was going on. In about two minutes, a man came out and carried a tray into a shop and then he disappeared again for a further two minutes. When goods vehicles need to be parked outside premises perhaps help could be given from people in the shop to unload the van more quickly. If the police were more interested we could do something about this matter.

At various times I have consulted policemen on the beat, and I have even been to police stations, to point out that traffic lights are faulty, or to draw attention to serious obstruction. I have found it difficult to interest the police in traffic lights. They say, "It is not our job to look after traffic lights." Every week a new set of traffic lights is put in somewhere in London, and I wonder whether sufficient design study has been given to them.

If two lines of traffic are going in the same direction I do not see why the left-hand line should not be allowed to filter, and thus permit all the traffic to be speeded up. Advance signs should be erected so that cars going to the left could get into the left-hand lane of traffic. It seems that the Ministry of Transport is allergic to filter lights. There is a case in point at Staines, where we have one of the chief bottlenecks on the main trunk roads. For a long time the Ministry of Transport steadfastly refused to put in any filter arrows, but, eventually, this was done, with the result that the flow of traffic has been considerably improved.

I have never been able to understand why traffic going from left to right at the top of a "T" needs to be stopped completely by lights while the traffic is coming up the vertical part of the "T." Particularly is that the case when there are two lanes of traffic going along the top of the "T." I would ask the Minister to consider whether straight-through filter arrows could not be provided so as to avoid stopping the traffic flow.

May I return to the question of filter arrows on lights, and give an example at the beginning of the Barnet by-pass which leads to my constituency. The lights as one comes down from Highgate Hill were put in only a year ago. All north-bound traffic is stopped while the left-hand traffic could filter left. If my hon. Friend thinks that that is unfair to pedestrians I would ask him whether a switch could not be given to pedestrians so that the filtering traffic would be held up whilst the pedestrians are crossing.

Another way round this problem—other than filter lights—is the construction of slip roads where main roads cross other main roads. Near my constituency, the main road crosses the North Circular Road in many places, and I can see no reason why slip roads should not be constructed, thus allowing the traffic on the left to filter left without any difficulty at all. All these matters are minor points which could be attended to without the need for major capital construction schemes and major expenditure.

The question of pedestrian-operated lights is a problem with which those of us who have arterial roads running through our constituencies are beset. I notice that the Minister has authorised the installation of three sets of pedestrian traffic lights on the North Circular Road just to the west of the Welsh Harp and Staples Corner. Is the right hon. Gentleman studying the working of those lights? It seems to me that they give a long time cycle to pedestrians, with the result that they tend to create traffic blocks.

Only the other day, I noticed that there was almost half a mile of traffic in each direction, although it was night time when no pedestrians were crossing either way. Where there is a dual traffic way, would it not be more economical to allow pedestrians to cross half way and then to operate lights for the other carriage way, rather than to stop all traffic in both directions at the same time?

There are one or two glaring examples of traffic bottlenecks. The John Barnes corner in Finchley Road is one of them. Here pedestrian traffic lights have been put in and the refuge has been left in situ. The result of that bottleneck is that all traffic proceeding north—and this is a main way out of London—has to be reduced temporarily to single-line traffic. It seems to me that while pedestrian traffic lights are being installed, the refuge should be removed. Such traffic lights are either effective or they are not. If they are effective, then there is no need for a refuge in the middle of the road, because the light operates across the whole stream. Why, therefore, is there any need for an obstruction in the middle of the road when a pedestrian can walk right across the road when the lights are in his favour?

All over London one sees minor alterations to pavements and roadways which do not cost a lot of money. Can my hon. Friend say whether when these alterations are being made consideration is given to the improvement of traffic flow? I know of one or two glaring examples where the roadway sticks right out and obstructs traffic very badly. In many cases, the pavement is unnecessarily wide. While alterations were being made to the pavement improvements to the flow of traffic could, in many cases, have not been effected.

I realise that action does not rest only with the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. To some extent, action must rest with the motorist and with a slightly more unselfish viewpoint on the part of all motorists. I hope that in the new Highway Code, which, I understand, is at present in draft form, motorists will be encouraged to hug the left of the road. It is quite astonishing how many motorists drive in the centre of the road, thus preventing vehicles coming towards them from overtaking one another. We have all had the experience of trying to overtake the car in front and being prevented from doing so because the vehicle coming towards us stays in the middle of the road. Very often the driver of such a vehicle waves his hand and shouts. "Get over," whereas had he kept to the left, the traffic would have flowed much more safely and speedily.

As I do not wish to be merely destructive, I propose to make some constructive suggestions. I believe that all the examples I have given show the need for the most vigorous operational research into this problem. Public money is being expended on this matter at the road research laboratories, but I am not convinced that the good work which they are doing is receiving the attention it should. Nor am I convinced that the tempo of it is sufficiently high. Could my hon. Friend's Ministry not only make more use of the results of the road research laboratories, but put them to work at accelerated speed on many of these other problems?

Traffic is slowly coming to a halt in the Greater London area. Every day it is becoming more obstructed with more vehicles and more traffic queues. We cannot alter that state of affairs until we have improved our roads and provided proper parking facilities, but I believe that we could make very useful improvements by an intensive study of this problem and by paying attention to what that study reveals and taking speedy action on it.

3.6 p.m.

It is indeed a pleasure to be able for once to support an hon. Member of the party opposite on a transport matter. It is not often that we see eye to eye with one another on questions of policy but in regard to the problem of the flow of traffic in London we are all very much concerned at the present time. After all, it affects the comfort and the pocket of every Londoner.

I agree with pretty well everything that the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) has said, except that I do not share his inclination to censure the police in regard to the enforcement of the parking regulations, because that is one of the most difficult of all the traffic problems which confront them. They are really faced with an impossible task. The situation in London is such that the enforcement of the regulations dealing with "No Waiting," unilateral parking, and so on, is quite impossible. Therefore, anomalies are bound to arise in a situation so difficult to cope with and with a police force inadequate to deal with it.

I do not wish the police to be wronged in this matter. I realise that their task is very difficult. I only wish to draw attention to the need to pay greater attention to people obstructing traffic in the greatest degree. It is a question of priority.

I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has put it that way in order to get it straight on the record, because I do not think that any of us want to cast aspersions on the police in this matter.

I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something of what his Department is doing in the examination of this problem, and when we may expect to have proposals put before us. Last Monday I asked the Parliamentary Secretary a Question concerning the staggering of working hours. In reply, he said:
"This is one of a number of proposals which my right hon. Friend is considering to relieve congestion in London."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1954; Vol. 526, c. 792.]
That indicated that several matters were under consideration but that it would be some time before we had any result.

I think the House would welcome more information from the hon. Gentleman concerning what his Ministry is doing in this matter and to what extent it considers it a matter of urgency. There is no doubt that action is very badly needed. It is desirable that some programme should be produced by the Department to remove these obstacles to the free flow of traffic and that attention should be paid to the inadequate street system in London, to extensive and excessive parking and to congestion of traffic in the peak periods, not only on the streets, but also within the vehicles, to the discomfort of all who travel.

There is also, of course, the need for a very large programme of constructive work in regard to the electrification of suburban railways and the building of new tubes so that some of the traffic can be taken off the roads and transferred to other forms of transport. The situation is becoming impossible. It has deteriorated until it has reached an almost fantastic stage. Vehicles travelling through London today spend only two-thirds of their time doing effective work. For the remaining third they are stationary, but still burning fuel. There is also the wear and tear on the vehicles and the wasted manpower of the men driving them.

The situation, especially as it becomes worse, affects not only the cost of operating passenger vehicles but the cost of the transport of goods generally. It thereby affects the cost of living. It seems ridiculous that today one can travel more quickly on a bicycle in the country than one can travel across London in a motor vehicle. The average speed of London Transport vehicles, taking all their scheduled routes together, is under 11 miles per hour.

I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary a four-point programme which would contribute to the relief, or to the solution, of the very difficult problem confronting London today. The first point is, of course, road improvement and construction on a scale far vaster than is being undertaken at the present time. Second, the extension of the parking restrictions—severe as they are now—and their strict enforcement. Third, a reduction of the volume of traffic by two means—the transfer of traffic as far as possible from the roads to other forms of transport, such as new tubes and so on, and consideration of restriction on the traffic which enters and leaves London. The fourth point is the levelling out of peak periods by the staggering of working hours. I will enlarge briefly on each of the four points.

The road construction programme so far agreed by the Minister is quite inadequate to the needs of London. The previous Government may have been as much to blame as the present Administration, but it is shocking that since the war there have been no major schemes of road improvement or construction in the London area—except some in connection with the Festival of Britain. Figures given in HANSARD last Monday showed that in 1953–54 the total amount granted by the central Government to new construction or major improvement was in the case of the L.C.C. only £29,000; the City of London, £21,000; and the Middlesex County Council, £36,000. That is a total of £86,000 for the Greater London area. It is really a shocking reflection upon the priorities which we put on the different forms of capital investment that these amounts are so small.

The new programme which has been drawn up, and which is quite inadequate, does not include a large number of most urgent schemes. I am sure that each of us here this afternoon could quote instances from his own constituency where new construction or improvement is required. I have frequently raised the matter of the Great Cambridge Road. That has a dual carriageway as far as Edmonton, but through Edmonton and Enfield to the Hertfordshire border it is single carriageway. It was never completed. The Minister has now agreed to the construction of the second carriageway on the part running through Edmonton, but not through Enfield. I cannot understand why the scheme could not proceed as a whole during the coming year rather than in two separate sections.

When travelling down this road the other day I was shocked to find that, just prior to the construction of the second carriageway, new lighting has been put in. Although new lighting is essential, to go to the expense of erecting new concrete standards and all that goes with them and which will have to come down when the road is widened, seems a waste of money. I would far rather there had been a delay in the erection of the lamp standards and the new dual carriageway more quickly built.

In the House I have frequently raised the question of the level crossings in my constituency, particularly that at Brimsdown, over which most of the workers employed in that industrial area have to travel daily and which all transport to it has to traverse. For many years schemes for a bridge there have been drawn up, but only recently deputations to the Minister received, unfortunately, no satisfaction whatever.

Those instances which I have given from my own constituency can, I know, be repeated by other hon. Members from theirs. I know that new works take a long time to complete, that the benefits derived from them are not immediately realised, and that they are costly and slow. None the less, a programme should be drawn up and progress accelerated if this problem of the flow of traffic is not to become far worse. As the hon. Member for Hendon, North has stated, we shall this Easter have more traffic on the roads than ever before. The problem will get worse and worse as the months and years go on. We must look ahead. We must be planning now the extension and widening of existing roads and the removal of bottlenecks, and the construction of new roads so as to cope with the increased traffic which will demand to roll along them.

My second point, parking, was also touched on by the hon. Member for Hendon, North. In spite of the increase in the number of yellow band areas and in unilateral parking, that problem has become far worse. One finds cars parked in many streets which were not so used before. It is rather unsightly to drive through the Royal Parks today. One finds cars parked in Birdcage Walk, and on the Mall and on the East carriageway of Hyde Park. As far as I am aware, no parking was allowed in the Royal Parks before the war, but their use for that purpose is increasing. It is most regrettable.

The only remedy so far suggested is the construction of more car parks and the building of underground parks, and that, we know, is very expensive. I doubt however, if by providing more car parking space we shall very much relieve the situation. The more space provided the greater number of cars will come into London. At present many drivers do not bring their vehicles into the centre of London because of lack of parking space. As soon as more space is created more cars will come in. That is no solution to the problem. We can create wider roads but, unless there is strict enforcement in regard to car parking, that will not be the answer. The Parliamentary Secretary has only to drive down the Embankment after the House adjourns this afternoon and he will see cars parked from Blackfriars Bridge to Charing Cross Bridge. This area, which was not previously regarded as a parking place, is now being so used because the Embankment has been widened. As soon as new construction or improvements take place, the advantages and the benefits are lost if as a result there is increased parking on those streets.

I suggest, therefore, that there should be far stricter enforcement of the law in this respect. The situation is much aggravated by deliveries from vans to which reference has been made. There should be greater restriction on the hours during which deliveries take place. Before the war there was a restriction, and only before or after certain hours were deliveries allowed. These restrictions seem to have lapsed, and something should now be done to restore them.

On the subject of keeping some of the traffic off the streets, I think that the case for electrification of the railways and for the building of new underground railways is unanswerable. Unless we look ahead and plan for a reduction in the traffic coming into and leaving London carrying workers and other travellers, and unless we make provision for them to travel on faster and more comfortable transport, which can only be brought by electrification of the suburban railways and construction of new underground railways, the problem will become increasingly worse. We shall be faced with worse restrictions than we now experience, and they will be restrictions which will unpalatable to Londoners.

It will be unpalatable if it becomes necessary, as I fear it will, to impose restrictions on the entry of private cars into London. If the present number of such cars increases, there will not be space on the streets for them either to move or park. There is no doubt that the entry of private cars into Central London is uneconomical and increases congestion considerably. A bus carries far more passengers compared with the space it occupies than does a car.

My final point relates to the staggering of working hours. Something was done in this respect during the war, and not without success. Today the position has become far worse than it was before the war because of the shorter working week and the fact that far more people are working during the same hours and on the same days—many have a five-day week of about 44 hours. That means that the actual peak period has been concentrated into a shorter space and it reaches its climax between 5.30 and 6.0 p.m. when a third of the workers in Central London leave their work.

If the peak period could be levelled out and spread over a longer period, so that some people arrive at work earlier and leave earlier and others arrive later and leave later, there would not be the necessity to have so many buses on the streets to add to the congestion and worsen the position. One-third of London Transport buses are used for peak periods only. Unless drastic action is taken, the situation will steadily deteriorate and congestion will increase; the speed of traffic will slow down and the cost of travel will rise. Then the Minister will be driven to take unpalatable action which I am sure he would not wish to do.

3.25 p.m.

I should like briefly to draw my hon. Friend's attention to one point which was not mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), and that is the question of one-way streets. I sometimes feel that the Ministry is rather allergic to one-way streets in that it is rather slow in bringing them into operation. Yet I cannot think of any one-way street system which has been brought into operation in Central London and which has ever been abandoned. They have all been found to be successful and have been continued.

I should like to refer to one suggestion which was made in the Griffith-Jones Report of a one-way system in Park Lane and the east carriage drive of Hyde Park. I should like to know whether that suggestion has been considered and whether any decision has been reached. It is worth while experimenting with one-way streets; if they do not succeed, they can always return to two-way working.

I should like the Minister to try a one-way street system in Jermyn Street, which is one of the most congested streets in the West End. I hardly ever turn down that street without finding a mass of cars parked on either side, leaving just enough room for one line of traffic to pass. Obviously, if there are two streams of traffic moving in opposite directions, there comes a point when they come to a standstill facing each other. We should complain seriously if British Railways ran express trains in opposite directions on the same line, but that is, in effect, what happens in a good many of our narrowest streets in Central London.

I know that one-way streets are regarded in some quarters as restrictions on the flow of traffic. I agree that they are restrictions in the sense that one cannot use them in the wrong direction, but surely they should be regarded as a means of speeding up the flow of traffic by preventing it from going in more than one direction. There are many other examples which one could quote, but the time is getting short, and I conclude by urging my hon. Friend to consider this problem seriously.

3.28 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation
(Mr. Hugh Molson)

In the few speeches which it has been possible to include in this short debate there have been two different lines of argument. There have been a number of individual cases raised, some concerning the constituencies of my hon. Friends and of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), and reference has also been made to general issues. I think it would be convenient to the House generally if I did not attempt to deal with the particular cases which have been raised but gave an undertaking that all these matters will be looked into by the Department.

I should begin by explaining where the responsibility for traffic and roads in Central London rests. Under a number of Acts dealing with local government, within the London County Council area the Metropolitan Boroughs are the highway authorities. Outside the London County Council area, the county councils, three county borough councils, various borough and urban district councils are all the highway authorities. They are responsible for the upkeep and improvement of the roads. They have also the same powers as similar authorities in other parts of the country have to make traffic orders and regulations under the Road Traffic Acts, but those powers are not normally used. It was recognised by this House just 30 years ago that because of this multiplicity of highway authorities within the London area it was desirable to have a single overriding authority to deal with traffic problems.

Accordingly, under the London Traffic Act, 1924, the Minister of Transport was made the traffic authority for an area extending in all directions for about 25 miles from Charing Cross. In order to assist the Minister, the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee was set up by the same Act The Minister is statutorily bound to consult that committee upon any traffic regulations or orders which he proposes to make under the London Traffic Act. As a matter of courtesy and convenience, he also consults this committee on many other proposals. It is because the Minister has and exercises these powers as the general traffic authority that the highway authorities in the Metropolitan area do not normally exercise their traffic regulating powers.

The House will appreciate that the dividing line between a highway authority and a traffic authority is a difficult one to draw. At the same time, it would be quite wrong to suggest that there is not a real and, on balance, a convenient distinction. There are many arguments, on grounds of convenience and economy, for leaving the local authorities responsible for the maintenance of their highways, and it naturally follows that with the highways there must go such road works as traffic lights, roundabouts, refuges in the middle of the roads, and so on. Nevertheless, for an area like the Metropolitan area, it is obviously far more convenient that there should be a single traffic authority capable of dealing with the problem as a whole.

Given goodwill and a spirit of co-operation, I think it can be said that the system which was created in 1924 does not work too badly, although there are many occasions when the Minister, as traffic authority, would like to have physical alterations made in order to improve the flow of traffic but has no power to initiate a scheme and cannot compel local authorities to spend their ratepayers' money upon improvements. Many local authorities take the view that improvements in the flow of traffic would chiefly benefit people coming from outside their own local areas.

Am I not right in thinking that the hon. Gentleman's Department makes a 50 percent, contribution to the upkeep and improvement of trunk roads? If it is to contribute financially, surely it should have some say about the regulation of traffic on these trunk roads?

I am not talking about trunk roads, in respect of which the Ministry pays the whole cost.

In addition, the Metropolitan Police have certain powers, under the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839. Very often, by agreement with the Ministry and the local authorities concerned, they put up temporary signs, such as those which impose "no waiting" restrictions, and if the outcome is satisfactory the temporary police regulation is replaced by a permanent regulation made by the Minister of Transport.

That describes the present responsibility for the traffic of London. I frankly admit that the existing state of traffic is unsatisfactory, and that it is becoming worse daily. This is the result of a great increase in the number of vehicles, especially cars parked for long periods by the kerb. The Road Research Laboratory has made two surveys, at intervals of 24 months. In September, 1951, the proportion of kerb parking space occupied by parked cars in certain streets in the West End of London was 53 percent. Twenty-four months later it had gone up to 75 per cent.

I also agree with the criticisms made by hon. Members that general traffic manners in London are shocking. Vans are frequently stopped to unload even in echelon formation. In Berkeley Street, under the very nose of the Ministry of Transport, I have seen cars parked three-deep. We are not very far from a complete blockage of traffic in London. The House will remember the conditions during the Coronation last summer. Contrary to general opinion, there was not a very large percentage increase in the number of vehicles in London during that time, but that comparatively small increase was enough to make movement almost impossible. It is, perhaps, worth while to mention that in Oxford Street, where my hon. Friend was this morning, the average speed of traffic at the present time is less than eight miles an hour.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East asked me to say what the Minister is doing about this problem. In the first place, my right hon. Friend started an experiment in January, 1953, with unilateral waiting on 31 lengths of street in London. As my right hon. Friend told the House in answer to a Question a few weeks ago after a survey, it is found that that scheme is working well. He is now discussing with local authorities and the Metropolitan Police how far the scope of those restrictions should be extended. I am afraid that, as is the case with all consultations, they are taking a long time. I am sure, however, that those restrictions have afforded a substantial measure of relief, and I hope that we shall be able to go forward on the same lines.

In the second place, the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee has recommended that the Minister should make an experiment in prohibiting waiting altogether on both sides of the street, including loading and unloading, at certain important intersections and on certain important lengths of streets during peak traffic times. This very drastic power, which he has not yet exercised, may well later have to be used on an even much larger scale than is proposed by the Traffic Advisory Committee.

If it is to be acceptable to public opinion I think we shall have to provide underground and overground garages in the centre of London.

Some hon. Members may have read the Report of the Working Party on Car Parking in the Inner Area of London, which has been published. It proposes die use of parking meters to provide some or all of the money needed for building these garages. While the Government have not yet reached any final conclusion upon this matter, it is under careful consideration at the present time.

I come to a third method that is under consideration. It is that of increasing the number of one-way streets. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), who, I was glad, was able to slip a few useful words into the debate, in that I believe that one-way streets do afford a very substantial alleviation of the traffic problem. The procedure in this case is very similar to what I have described in the case of unilateral waiting. I think it is likely that, with the concurrence of the local authorities and the Metropolitan Police, we shall be able to extend this system.

There was some criticism by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North of the Metropolitan Police. He felt that they do not prosecute drivers who are guilty of serious obstruction. I do not think that blame attaches to the Metropolitan Police at the present time. I feel that our restrictions and regulations are now so inadequate for dealing with the problem that one cannot reasonably ask more of the police. We have not enough parking places for vehicles. With so many other important duties, the police, I think, feel that it would be unreasonable to prosecute drivers for doing something when they do not know what else drivers could do. Until the law is in harmony with social and economic realities, it will never be respected and cannot be enforced. My right hon. Friend values very much the co-operation of the Commissioner of Police and of Mr. Dalton, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, who sits on my Road Safety Committee.

My hon. Friend referred to the work of the Road Research Laboratory and suggested that more should be done in the way of operational research. The cost of the Road Research Laboratory is borne on the estimates of the Depart- ment of Scientific and Industrial Research, and it is no concern or responsibility of my right hon. Friend. I am not quite sure what my hon. Friend means by operational research, but I think we should do better to avoid that word. The Ministry of Transport avails itself of the work done by the R.R.L., which observes and measures traffic. In fact, the statistics I have have given to the House this afternoon were obtained from the R.R.L., with which I am in close touch, and the new Regulations regarding tail lights and reflectors are partly based on their work.

The R.R.L. is at present investigating traffic lights with a view to ascertaining how they may be best timed in order to speed up traffic, but I must tell my hon. Friend that the Ministry of Transport has to take other things into account besides the speed of traffic. We have to consider the convenience and safety of pedestrians, and it is, therefore, not possible for us always to accept the advice given to us for the speeding up of traffic. That applies particularly in the case of filters to the left, which my hon. Friend advocated. We consider that hampers pedestrians and it is in many cases dangerous.

The purpose of the refuge in the middle of the road where traffic lights are placed is to give pedestrians a sense of security in crossing and to enable them to stop there if the lights change while they are in the middle of crossing the road.

My right hon. Friend is fully alive to the great and increasing congestion of traffic in the London area, and he is conscious of his responsibilities under the Road Traffic Act, 1924, but, as I have explained, he is not a dictator and he is obliged to carry with him both the local authorities and the Metropolitan Police.

I have indicated to the House a number of steps which might alleviate our difficulties. As I said in reply to a Question last week by the hon. Member for Enfield, East, we are also considering what steps should be taken to stagger hours of work around the rush hours. We are working at the present time on all these matters, and I hope we shall be able to make an early start.

There are two minutes to spare, and I wonder if the Minister will tell us something about pedestrian crossings. Has he considered whether the flashing beacon is still drawing the attention of the motorists as it was in the early months of its introduction? My own impression is that there are so many flashing signs—cars also have to flash before they turn and advertisements are continually flashing—that the impact on the motorist is much less acute. I wonder whether during the hours of darkness my hon. Friend would consider making the flashing lights pedestrian controlled so that they would only flash when a pedestrian wants to cross and so draw the attention of the motorist to the need to slow down and stop.

These flashing beacons follow on from the measures of the last Labour Government, when zebra crossings were started by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), who was the Minister of Transport, and I give him full credit for that. They have worked extremely well in the early stages. The purpose of having them flash was to enable a motorist to distinguish them from the sometimes similar lights in shop windows. If in recent months there has been an increase in the number of lights flashing, so that they are now becoming confusing, we will look into that matter.