TRAFFIC lights have been switched off in a Scottish town to help improve the urban environment.
The move follows a hard-fought campaign by residents fed up with lengthy tailbacks and queueing cars belching fumes in Blairgowrie, Perthshire.
The main problem with the lights was the lengthy tailbacks. Drivers could be waiting at lights for five minutes or maybe longer.Bob Ellis
Perth and Kinross Council has taken the unusual step of pulling the switch on traffic lights in the centre of Blairgowrie and hopes it will end longstanding congestion misery in the town.
The system was shut down at 10am on Wednesday and traffic flow is being monitored by community councillors.
The two-week pilot scheme could be halted if any safety issues emerge but if it is deemed to be a success, the lights are likely to be turned off for good.
The trial is believed to be the first of its kind in Scotland, and townspeople said today that the initial results had been encouraging.
Throughout the trial, vehicles travelling along the A93, which leads to Braemar and the ski slopes, will have priority, and drivers must give way to vehicles at junctions where the traffic lights would have been.
Temporary pedestrian crossings have been installed and a 20mph speed limit has also been introduced.
Council officers will gather feedback throughout the trial, before deciding a long-term strategy for the town.
A similar traffic lights experiment was carried out at Portishead, near Bristol, in 2009.
Like at Blairgowrie, the lights had been blamed for causing congestion and lengthy tailbacks, sparking protests from locals.
Residents hailed the scheme a success and said queues disappeared throughout the trial period.
In 2011, North Somerset Council announced it would remove the lights and put them in storage.
If the Blairgowrie project is as successful, the lights could be taken down and used elsewhere.
The signals, at Wellmeadow, Blairgowrie, were put in place more than 10 years ago, supposedly to increase safety. The layout was revised about a year ago.
Blairgowrie and Rattray Community Council has been in talks with Perth and Kinross Council about a traffic management review for several years.
The group said it received repeat complaints about the lights from residents, businesses and commuters.
The first day of the Blairgowrie experiment was largely trouble free, although police said there was a minor collision between a Citroen car and white Mercedes van just after midday. No one was injured.
Morag Young, chairwoman of Blairgowrie and Rattray Community Council, said: “We need to remind motorists that, while everyone is getting used to the changes, they have to pay extra attention.”
Councillor Bob Ellis, who has campaigned against the town centre traffic lights for several years, said: “It’s been a long time coming, but it’s good to see the lights finally being switched off.
“I don’t anticipate we’ll have any major problems. There has been a few times in the past when Blairgowrie lost its lights because of power cuts. Whenever that happened, there were no issues or accidents. Traffic flowed through just the way it’s meant to do.
“The main problem with the lights was the lengthy tailbacks. Drivers could be waiting at lights for five minutes or maybe longer.
“You would regularly see a line of cars all the way to Rattray (the neighbouring town), about three-quarters of a mile long.
“It seems to be working well.”
David Bailey, spokesman for a local group that campaigned for the end of the lights, said: “We want to identify any issues that need to be raised with the council before the end of the trial.
“What we have seen so far is very encouraging. It is not a given that this is going to work, but we are pretty confident that it will.”