Melbourne Traffic Madness: The Most Expensive Lights in the World?

There has been a lot of talk about Melbourne recently on this website on account of our one-week holiday in that city a couple of weeks ago.

We’ve had:

But the subject changed to the other end of the country on Wednesday when I talked about Darwin and An Australian Summer Holiday in Winter.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that I was finished with Melbourne for now, but that’s not so.

It’s competition timelights

In a few moments you will have the opportunity to view a short video. Pay great attention, because you could (yeah, right, sure, we believe you) win a holiday to Australia. I’m going to ask you the questions first so that you know what you need to look out for.

Question 1: How many policemen does it take to control this junction?

Note: To help you, the police are wearing bright green jackets which have the word “Police” written on the back in red.

To hinder you, some people who aren’t with the police are also wearing bright green jackets.

Question 2: I am not the only person making a video of this, who else is filming and why?

I am expecting a huge response to this competition, so I think it’s a good idea for me to have a tiebreaker:

Tiebreaker: In less than 50,000 words, explain what is happening.

The prize

The winners will (never in a million years) get an all expenses paid holiday in Australia for two people. Because…

Closing date for this competition is: Never.

Answers below in the comments please and good luck, you’ll need it…

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{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Tim Melb July 6, 2015, 5:33 am |

    Not sure if anyone is still looking at this but I’ll chime in for ‘it’s a training exercise’. Albeit I’m watching on my phone but most of these officers don’t have any hooks on their shoulders indicating that they are unconfirmed or probationary constables.
    About once a month this happens at 3 or 4 intersections throughout the cbd with between 6 and 15 officers at each.

    • BobinOz July 6, 2015, 8:36 pm |

      Well I’m still looking Tim, and yes you are correct, it was definitely a training exercise. Somebody else pointed it out and a few comments above here there is a link to the magazine article that talks about in depth.

      Cheers, Bob

  • djmcbell March 31, 2014, 5:35 pm |

    Yep, they’re applicable all the time. Saw some more spring up when I went for a walk on the weekend. Pretty much round the entirety of our area it’s gone to 20mph whether there’s a school nearby or not. Doesn’t stop the boy racers going along at 50 or 60 in the middle of the road (so as to avoid the speedbumps).

    Saw the Australian systems when I was over there last year and it does seem better. My wife always complains about us not having that system, but I tend to think that people over here just wouldn’t pay attention to it anyway. Heck, they don’t pay attention to the “always 20mph” zones here, or even to the new cameras that have appeared to stop people going through red lights (though I think they’re not working yet anyway – it’s only been a few months). They only seem to pay attention to speed cameras, which causes lots of sudden breaking, going through the painted area at the correct speed, then sudden acceleration.

    • BobinOz April 1, 2014, 1:36 pm |

      The last house I lived in the UK had a speed camera installed on the road right outside, about two years before I left. It was a pain in the neck. You would hear the boy racers screaming down the road, breaking, and if you are out in the street you could actually see them flipping the bird at the camera with their windows wound down before going past it at a safe speed, and then speeding off again into the distance.

      You can’t beat real policeman sometimes and that’s what we tend to have here enforcing the speed limits. Some people, mainly those who get speeding tickets, complain about the police not having something better to do, but actually, I don’t mind it. I think it’s sensible to keep the speed down on our roads.

      If you don’t want to pay the fine, slow down, it’s not hard.

      Cheers, Bob

  • djmcbell March 27, 2014, 10:17 pm |

    Here where I live in Yorkshire the council have just gone “20mph” mad. Everywhere that’s near a school has suddenly turned into a 20mph zone, and I don’t understand why they don’t just do what Australia does and have electronic “different speed limits around school times” signs – instead whole swathes of the city have suddenly become 20mph.

    What’s amusing is where they’ve gone overboard – at one junction (onto a 40mph dual carriageway) they’ve painted a big 20mph sign on the road, and also a “20mph zone ends – 30mph” sign at exactly the same spot (yes, facing the same way too, for traffic going onto the 40mph road). Another junction where two small side streets go onto a slightly larger street contains about three signs contradicting each other. Also amusing where they’ve got 20mph zones but, if you’re coming onto it from a side street, no indication that it’s a 20mph zone until you come to the end, leading to my wife thinking she’d got caught by a speed camera (I walked the route and got photographic evidence, though a few days later they put up tiny little 20mph signs the size of a small dessert plate).

    • BobinOz March 28, 2014, 2:51 pm |

      Sounds like madness to me?

      Are you also saying that these 20 mph zones apply at all times of the day and even at weekends and during school holidays? If so, that really is madness.

      As you probably know, here in Australia the zones are 40 km/h which is 25 mph, but that speed limit only applies when the kids are at school and even then only for a couple of hours or so twice a day around the start and the end of school time, so when children are actually going to or coming from school.

      That makes much more sense, doesn’t it?

  • BobinOz March 13, 2014, 5:19 pm |

    On YouTube somebody called Timahhh pointed me in the direction of an online magazine that explains it all.

    In an article in the magazine ‘Police Life’ (page 26 of the autumn 2014 edition) called Moving in the Right Direction, Melbourne East Police Stations Leading Senior Constable Arthur Makridis the course instructor said “we run a course on a fortnightly basis…” And “we throw our members into the deep end by placing them at the busiest intersections in Melbourne.

    Quite a few of you have said it was training, but I said I didn’t think so because some of the police involved looked very experienced, there was even an answer for that one…

    For experienced members it is a chance to get back to traditional police work.

    So, there we have it, it was training after all. Here’s a link to the article if you want to check out for yourself, again, it’s on page 26.

  • Alan March 1, 2014, 10:25 pm |

    Hi Bob,

    Love your site and posts!!!
    I’m still working on a plausible reason for the plethera of ‘constables’ at this junction.
    But in the mean time – at the end of the video the film shows a long line of police etc stood around –
    HOWEVER according to the next pan round, there are NO Police at, or controlling the junction!!!
    Worryingly the traffic etc seems to be coping admirably though doesn’t it?
    Keep them coming – great info and entertainment – wish we were there!!!!!!!!

    • BobinOz March 3, 2014, 11:52 pm |

      Thanks Alan.

      Yes, that was the very next junction along and traffic was coping very smoothly indeed without any assistance whatsoever. In a way it is comforting that some junctions run okay without police intervention, there are a lot of junctions in Melbourne. Imagine the bill (if you’ll excuse the pun) for all that lot?

  • Chris February 21, 2014, 8:51 am |

    Dear Bob,
    This is great isn’t it? I’ve never seen quite so many of the boys and girls in blue (alright, green, white and blue) doing this, but I would concur with the majority that it was most probably a traffic direction training exercise. Occasionally the lights do go out. Usually when some careless tradie puts his Bobcat bucket through a cable. In this case it might have been deliberate though, just to give the team a go at keeping the busy junction from clogging up.
    You have missed something though 🙂 I thought I would get this in before one of my fellow Melbournians. It’s of the things that scared the bejesus out of me when I was learning about moving here. I thought: Redbacks, Pah! Tiger snakes, no worries. What I knew would do for me, living in Melbourne, was the infamous Hook Turn. I’m pretty sure this rule is in place at Collins and Elizabeth, and I don’t think you have them in Brissy. So for those not acquainted with our quaint system… It is a consequence of having a delightful and efficient tram system mixed with normal road traffic. The thing that’s scary is the counter-intuitive action you need to take if you want to turn right here. You indicate right, and then pull over to the left, directly in front of the traffic stopped at red in the road coming in from the left. See what I mean about counter-intuitive! When it’s clear to go, or usually when the lights in your direction go red. You can then make the right turn. In this way you avoid getting tangled with the trams.
    Heh it works, but it also requires more officers to look after the junction when things go wrong 🙂

    • BobinOz February 21, 2014, 2:38 pm |

      Hi Chris

      Well, I’m still not convinced about the training session thing, although I do still favour the theory offered by Kevin in part one, i.e. his first comment. But I do have to tip my hat to you for being the first person to mention that dreaded hook turn.

      So, congratulations for that!

      I do know about the hook turn, and I didn’t want to make it obvious in this video but if you look at it from 2:04s you will see a white car and a grey car pull up in front of the red light opposite them and move over to the left whilst indicating right. A perfect hook turn.

      This goes on at quite a few junctions, but mostly they don’t need so many policemen to operate it or any, usually just the lights will do.

      Yes, the hook turn, definitely scarier than redbacks!

      Cheers, Bob

  • AG February 19, 2014, 3:45 pm |

    I´m pretty sure the policeman is recording the scene because he comes from overseas and their family is so excited he works as a policeman in Oz that he´s gonna send them a video of his competences. “Mom is gonna get crazy when she watchs the video what little John is doing at the Land of Plenty… she is so proud of him…

    • BobinOz February 19, 2014, 5:46 pm |

      Just when I thought Kevin had possibly nailed it, along comes AG with another just as plausible theory. I’m going to see if I can verify this, I’m going to Google “Mom goes crazy as she watches a video of little John who recently migrated to Australia and is now working in Melbourne on some traffic lights” to see what comes up.

      I’ll be back in a bit…

  • Kevin February 19, 2014, 5:56 am |

    Hi Bob,
    Love your blog – been reading it for a couple years now. I’m an Aussie by descent, but have lived in the US my whole life. Planning a move with my kids and your site has been a treasure trove of excellent information.

    Anyway, I don’t ever comment on blogs, but I love a good competition. 😉 If by chance I’m even remotely close, keep in mind that I have never been to Oz, and haven’t googled this subject or done anything but watch your video. Here’s my answer:

    There are 15 police officers on this junction per shift. 3 officers per corner, handling the flow for crossing traffic, left & right turn traffic, and pedestrian traffic. There are (possibly) two officers filming from behind the intersection of each one-way outlet (filming from the point-of-view of the drivers headed into the intersection), filming the flow of traffic for the current “green light traffic”.


    Because this is quite possibly a problem intersection in dire need of a new traffic signaling system. The film is going to be used by the department of transportation (DOT here in the US) for research on how to make a signaling system that increases traffic flow, safety, and minimal smashes. 🙂

    It seems to me that the police work being done here in the intersection could be funded by such a department for the sake of such R&D (research and development). Due to the ever-growing population of the Great Country of Australia, this is wise planning for such an intersection in such a big city.

    • BobinOz February 19, 2014, 5:41 pm |

      This is an excellent answer Kevin, I like the amount of thought you have put into this. You may well be onto something here, but I can’t say anything more than that at the moment, as you know we still have a fair way to go before the closing date of this competition 🙂

      If you are right, then what is going on here really isn’t as mad as it seems, in fact, it would actually be quite clever.

      I wonder if I can get the Melbourne police to chime in here? Are there any Melbourne police spokespersons reading this?

      • Kevin February 19, 2014, 6:00 pm |

        I did find this:

        Not sure if this is the same street corner, but if it is, maybe it’s related.

        • BobinOz February 20, 2014, 8:51 pm |

          I think this one might be a red herring Kevin, that’s further down the street if I recall. Can anyone confirm this?

        • Ivan February 21, 2014, 2:56 pm |

          Yes they are talking about Elizabeth Street becoming a mall between Flinders St & Flinders Lane, the next intersection north is Elizabeth & Collins Sts where the police action video was made.

          • BobinOz February 24, 2014, 12:21 pm |

            So, probably unrelated then?

  • Alvin February 18, 2014, 10:30 pm |

    On a normal day, you won’t be able to find any policeman around that intersection. It is at the Collins street/ Elizabeth street interesection. AFAIK it was due to a union members matching towards CBD, etc. Last time police barricaded at the Swanston street.

    • BobinOz February 19, 2014, 4:52 pm |

      A very interesting theory Alvin, but I’ve just spent at least 40 seconds searching Google for union leaders marching through Melbourne CBD in January 2014 and found nothing.

      If Google doesn’t know about it, it doesn’t exist 🙂 So, unless you can produce some kind of evidence, I can’t let you have it.

      Cheers, Bob

  • John February 12, 2014, 8:11 pm |

    Bob, it’s my guess it’s training or re-training officers to perform point duty in the event that the traffic lights fail in the future. I’ve seen it before, though not in such numbers.

    • BobinOz February 13, 2014, 9:41 pm |

      Yes, a few people have suggested it’s a training exercise, but those police didn’t much look like trainees to me though, most looked quite experienced. I suppose I cannot discount it as a possibility though, but what of the long line of policeman waiting down the road to take over? More trainees?

  • WA February 9, 2014, 9:03 pm |

    Hi Bob,

    These are simple questions!!

    18 Policemen are working on this project, one of them filming as well to show how complicated to control this junction without traffic light!!!

    Obviously, they are supporting their request of having traffic light at this junction.


    • BobinOz February 10, 2014, 2:22 pm |

      Not so fast WA!

      If (a big if I might add) there are 18 policeman working on this project, how many police women?

      See, not so simple 🙂

    • Ivan February 21, 2014, 2:17 pm |

      Good theory WA, but there are already lights at this intersection! There had to be a reason, maybe training or a field exercise, as one cop was filming it and it wasn’t happening at any other intersection. Perhaps we’ll never know!

  • Rupert February 8, 2014, 3:38 pm |

    A wasteful combination of cripplingly strong unions and fanatical Health and Safety legislation. Come to Australia folks – plenty of well-paid jobs where you stand around doing nothing and if your employer goes bust, the tax-payer will bail you out (see Holden etc). What’s not to like?

    • BobinOz February 10, 2014, 2:15 pm |

      Definitely no holiday for you Rupert, sounds like you are already here anyway.

      You mention health and safety, funny thing is with all these police operating at this junction, somebody crossed the road when he shouldn’t have done. One of the policeman shouted at him to stop but the guy kept walking and said “Well, I’m not going to stop now am I, I’m in the middle of the road!”

      Very funny.

  • Jeff Eisen February 8, 2014, 1:51 pm |

    Is it a police academy training session? Are the police learning to control intersections?

    • BobinOz February 10, 2014, 2:12 pm |

      Interesting theory, but I don’t think so. Most of these police looked very experienced to me. Sorry, no holiday for you.

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