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The Ecological and Economical Traffic Light Concept [relogik.com] by Damjan Stankovic is a Red Dot Design 2009 Award winner and consists of a simple yet, potentially highly practical visualization concept for everyday traffic lights that could reduce pollution and promote safer driving. There might already be quite some traffic light time counters around today, but few focus on informing the car drivers in a physically integrative and visually glanceable way like this proposed design concept.

Eko Light is specifically designed so it can be easily installed onto existing traffic light systems without much effort. It claims to bring forward following benefits:
- Less pollution, as drivers can turn their engines off and cut carbon emissions while waiting for the green light,
- Less fuel consumption, as turning off vehicle engines lowers fuel consumption in the long run,
- Less stress, since drivers know exactly how long to wait, and
- Safer driving, as all traffic participants are fully aware of how much time they have left before the light changes, reducing the chance for potential traffic accidents.

Via Gizmodo and @krees.




I really like it for the environmental reason - i.e. knowing if it's worth turning your engine off, but it falls down in a few areas I think - light timings are highly variable, from minutes to a few tens of seconds, so the scale would need to be an absolute scale/number, or just an indication if there was more than x seconds before a change. Maybe only have them on long duration lights.

I can't see how they would improve safety - more likely you would see an increase in t-bone accidents as people time their acceleration away from the lights, or, even worse continue at full bore when there's no queue knowing (hoping) that there will be a green for them.

For me, a simple "turn-off engine" icon would work well - I wonder if there is a sweet spot for all/most cars where turning off saves gas vs the pollution/increased petrol usage on start up.

Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 11:38 AM

Drivers may prepare to take off at great speed by anticipating the green and hit unwary pedestrians chancing a "no walk" sign.

Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 11:47 AM

Back in the day....Melbourne had analogue traffic lights that rotated a hand to indicate how much longer you had, Mashalite Traffic Signals.


Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 12:13 PM

In some cities I've seen years ago (it was probably 10 years ago, probably Austria) before the green light the yellow light turned on.

I always thought it was really a smart solution! I also always wondered why it wasn't the rule, since it has almost all the advantages of the solution above, while it doesn't require any additional hardware (excluding a slightly different timer).

Regarding this solution against the "yellow light" one:
pro: it shows the complete timing, useful since different semaphores have different timings;
con: it's probably too small to be seen from far away.

Still, I applaud this solution since it tries to innovate a field that is stuck since many years ago!

Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 12:28 PM

And it will be so useful for stoplight drag racing. See "christmas tree": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drag_racing#The_tree

Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 12:32 PM

@Ben: great find man! That's cool.

Yeah, i can def see the drag racing part @Walter.

Sounds nice to me tho. Most people can time lights anyway.

Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 2:12 PM

@Ben: Forgot to add it to the post, but information aesthetics posted about the Marshalite traffic light here: 56 comments and they are still coming in.

Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 3:00 PM

In reply to Foletto : in the UK, this has always been the case. The sequence is Red / Red & Amber (yellow) / Green / Amber / Red.

You learn to drive following lights - Red & Amber is the signal to put the clutch in and engage 1st gear. Then when the light turns green you pull away slowly, having checked the way is clear.

I have never understood why this simple technique is not applied elsewhere. In France lights go direct from Red to Green, and it's much more stressful as you often get beeped as soon as the light turns green...

Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 7:49 PM

I live in Bangalore all the traffic lights that have more than 30 seconds stop already have a count down clock. The clock works for both red and green lights so you can even know how much time you have before you have to stop.

Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 8:04 PM

@Simon, @Vinod:
Ok, so I guess it's more common than I thought it was. :D

Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 9:30 PM

I don't know in the rest of the world, but taken driving habits here in italy, people would probably start revving their engines like pilots in a Formula 1 race...

Not very healthy environmentally speaking and quite dangerous from a safety point of view. I'd still prefer the red light - green light version...


Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 9:38 PM

@SimonWhite - in today's society, it appears that in the UK "Red & Amber" means GO GO GO.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 1:43 AM

Switzerland asks drivers to turn off their car while stopped at a traffic light, and the yellow light before the green is to signify that it is time to start the engine, and two seconds later the light turns green.

What most people found though was that their battery can't give them the cranking amps required to turn the car back on every single time, so car batteries would be destroyed and would have to be replaced. The lead in a single car battery is much worse than the amount of carbon dioxide that is put into the environment by letting the car idle. So in general eventhough it says "Motor abstallen" most people don't turn their engines off because of the extra wear and tear on the starter motor and on the battery.

See http://www.eco-drive.ch/download/motor_abstellen_rotlicht.pdf for more information.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 3:31 AM
Bert JW Regeer

I like the clock countdown idea as it still leaves the matter in the hand of the driver. Studies have shown that for any wait longer than 13 seconds, I might be incorrect on number, engine shut-off would save on gas/pollution + engine wear. Also we need the future cars/newer cars. I think electric/hybrid engine would help as ideally they're off when at a stop sign; don't honk from behind if they're slow to go on green as they're using battery to go.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 3:39 AM

Started in China first: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/10/how-china-is-innovating-faster-than-the-west.php

Wouldn't it make more sense to have a LED sign that changes colour and puts up the words (for the colour blind).

You could animate them too, have them pulsating etc..., it would make them more noticeable.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 4:06 AM

Turn off the engine? Do they really think people will do this? Of course they won't. It's idiotic. And while it's nice to know how much time is left on a red light, it doesn't really add any information the driver needs. It's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. The idea that it will somehow reduce carbon emissions is a fantasy.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 4:50 AM

I really like this idea, but nobody is going to turn off their engines.

We need public more transportation and more bike riding in urban centers. Our city managers need to make this happen.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 4:58 AM

Too bad we probably won't see anything like this on the streets for 10 years at least. Bureaucrats will hold us back without doubt...

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 4:59 AM

Turn off your engine at a light? Are you serious? haha, what a joke.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 5:12 AM

This will be great for drag racing. Also, starting an engine is brutal on a car. It's not worth the 15 seconds you save burning two oz of gas idling.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 5:30 AM
Kirk H

@ern, some cars already do this. I have a friend with a new BMW 3-series that turns off the (diesel) engine if you let the clutch out in neutral, and then restarts again instantly when you depress the clutch ready to engage a gear. The idea is that the engine turns off whenever you stop in traffic. It seems to work well so far, but I'm concerned that as the car gets older it will start up with the judder and a clank that is so familiar with aged diesels, which will rather ruin the whole thing for me...

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 5:33 AM

Alex said:
"but it falls down in a few areas I think - light timings are highly variable, from minutes to a few tens of seconds, so the scale would need to be an absolute scale/number, or just an indication if there was more than x seconds before a change."

Wrong. The scale will work fine with whatever timing you use it for. You'll quickly understand by the speed of the declining progress meter about how much time there's left.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 5:34 AM

In Copenhagen (Denmark), they have progress for the green instead, for pedestrians. There it is an LED counter of seconds remaining.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 6:02 AM
Mikkel Michelsen

A similar traffic light were invented in Brazil in the 70's. It was put in use in my city in southern Brazil around 2000. It was removed 6 years later because increased the average speed in the road, people would not decelerate cause they would see in a distance that the sign was about to open. Also, they would speed up close to the intersection. Anyway, the effectiveness of this technology is related to the human factor of respect.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 6:06 AM
Mark Fiorani

In Ajman, part of the UAE the lights have a large seconds counter for red and green. It's very good for stopping people impatiently jumping the lights(a common problem here)

As for manually turning off the engine while waiting - ha! Not going to happen.

This is a great safety measure but claiming eco benefits is just bandwagon jumping

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 6:07 AM

A similar traffic light were invented in Brazil in the 70's. It was put in use in my city in southern Brazil around 2000. It was removed 6 years later because increased the average speed in the road, people would not decelerate cause they would see in a distance that the sign was about to open. Also, they would speed up close to the intersection. Anyway, the effectiveness of this technology is related to the human factor of respect.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 6:07 AM
Mark Fiorani

Based on the number of comments here that mention drag racing, I think it's safe to say this would NOT promote safe driving. In my city (San Francisco), at junctions/intersections where the pedestrian countdown is visible to drivers, this is already the case. Drivers either speed up when they see the time is about to expire, or they jump as soon as time expires for the cross traffic. It seems like an obvious flaw in this design concept, so I'm surprised it received the award. Besides, the traffic light already reflects a perfect economy of design. It does exactly what it needs to do, with utter simplicity.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 7:38 AM

In one of our local towns, they provide a digital countdown clock for pedestrians; the idea is that pedestrians can better gauge if they have enough time left on a green light to cross the whole street.

To expand on this idea, why not have a digital countdown clock for the GREEN light so both drivers and pedestrians have a better idea of how much time is left before the yellow or red light turns on?

I agree with those people who suggested that a countdown mechanism on the RED light seems to encourage jump-starts and increases the risk of T-bone accidents where a jackrabbit (car getting an early start on a red light turning green) hits a roadrunner (car trying to scream through an intersection on a green light turning yellow or red).

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 7:55 AM

Instead of wasting resources making a computerized and complex light filled with multiple LEDs, why not just flash the amber in a pattern that increases as the time grows shorter?

Sitting and staring at the red ight and the amber flashes, increasing in frequency until the red changes is an easy and simple solution that can be retrofitted to existing lights.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 8:18 AM

Perfect for drag-racing. Should cause quite a few accidents.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 8:58 AM

In Houston we have LEDs that count down on the cross walks showing how much time is left. These can be watched by drivers at the red light to see how much time they have.

This isn't all that innovative..

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 9:03 AM

When turning on a car, most pollution controls are not in effect, i.e. CO2 emissions are greater when starting up your car than when the engine is idle. For this to be a true ecological solution, the time the cars are stopped and with their engines off must be significant; otherwise, pollution levels will increment.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 9:14 AM

Less stress, and somewhat safer sure...but less pollution because drivers will turn their cars off? Are you serious?

This will not happen. It is absurd to think it will. No driver is going to turn his/her car off while waiting for the 15, 30, or even 60-second light except for a couple of fringe hippies. They'll just sit there idling, content in knowing how much longer they have to wait. The effect on carbon emissions will be negligible, but the effect on stress will be positive.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 9:18 AM

Fof is right. It takes more energy for the car to start up than for it to continuously run (I think.)

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 9:19 AM

I was going to say that China already has digit countdowns, but someone already beat me to it. But I will say that I actually prefer this clock-like progress bar more because knowing exactly how many seconds are left just ups the anxiety and impatience.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 9:51 AM
Gordon M.

Wow, thats amazing. How about that, long overdue!


Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 10:18 AM
JOhn WOods

@Edward McCain: Great solution... until an epileptic driver comes to a stop.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 10:40 AM
Matt B.

As mentioned by Fof and Spreadsheet above, a car will produce more gaseous emissions by the act of restarting the engine than it would do by just leaving the engine on for a while. The length of time the engine would have to be stopped for there to be a net reduction in emissions would have to be considerable, more than the length of time spent waiting at a light.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 10:43 AM

I guess the only real benefit I see in this is that it urges people to perfect upon not only traffic light technology but the tech that could coordinate with it to increase the efficiency of traffic. Most people will not stop their engines upon knowing the duration of a light but some will. Assuredly there will be people that speed up to a distant red as they can tell that it is about to change but that is no different than those that speed up through ambers or yellows.

I guess I just imagine a place where traffic is dictated by GPS and traffic density. Detours are created on the fly to ease overly auto-populated areas and drivers don't have to worry about stand-still traffic. All in all, I'd say creating communication between the traffic and those involved in driving is a great step to creating happy and safer driving.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 10:47 AM

Honestly, nobody is going to turn off their engine at a red light. People are naturally lazy and will not want to hassle with turning their cars off and on at every stop light. Its a nice idea in theory, but people are selfish and not naturally altruistic.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 11:21 AM

Its a great thing for those who like to drag race - its a countdown timer to the green light! Austin, TX had to remove their timers because of the drag racing problem.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 12:08 PM

Why not just install roundabouts/traffic circles... they have i believe have 1/16 of the amount of impact types. They are faster, barely cost anything to maintain, and are very simple to use?

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 1:05 PM

In malaysia, countdown timer is used. No problem with drag racing since normally, they also come with CCTV, and any place that needs a timer is usually not that far from police station.

Roundabouts almost always never work once the traffic reach a certain number of vehicles.

IMO, the best option is intelligent traffic light with detectors for more than a 100m. Once no car is detected passing within that range, the traffic light changes.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 2:29 PM

The comments here are just retarded. Everybody assumes that everybody ELSE (but of course, "NOT ME, NO SIREE") is a killer behind the steering wheel, and this assumption is cited as a reason NOT to adopt these fantastic lights. Of course, such an assumption is as far off from reality as it could possibly get. And chances are, the people making these retarded comments are the real idiots behind the wheel -- they just generalize their own idiocy to everybody else.

If you assume that everybody else is a murderer behind the steering wheel, then why the fuck do you drive in the first place?

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 3:32 PM

"Drivers may prepare to take off at great speed by anticipating the green and hit unwary pedestrians chancing a "no walk" sign."

The blame there lies with the pedestrian. If a pedestrian "chances" the no walk and gets hit by a driver taking a LEGAL green, well, it's their own fault for taking that chance.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 4:32 PM

Awesome.... I hope OLD GEEZERs would be able to see it.
I have seen Green and Red Light digital countdowns at large intersection in Sofia, BG but this seems like a more efficient design... and hence it gets a honorable mention on my FaceBook page.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 5:43 PM
Steve Z

this is a usability failure.
at first the idea seems clever, but after 2nd thought, how the hell do we know *for how long exactly* do we have to wait?
because the rotating light is relative to the waiting time.

why not just use a timing clock - like in malacca, malaysia.
its obvious, right?
you can see it from afar as well.

sometimes the obvious is not so obvious.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 5:52 PM

Here we have traffic lights accompanied by a timer countdown that shows how many seconds left until the light changes. Serves similar purpose. This one is difficult for people who are little hard of vision.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 7:04 PM

This reminds me of something I've been seeing around Japan - progress bars which let pedestrians know how long it will be until the "WALK" sign is displayed. I really like the implementation here.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 11:26 PM

Amazing idea for traffic light

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 11:50 PM

Can you say STREET RACING?

Thu 03 Dec 2009 at 1:21 AM
Denis Savoie

very nice idea, but useless with modern traffic lights: due to active and dynamic traffic control systems you can't predict how long a light stays red. this value is dependent on a lot of variables, like cars approaching the lights (the nice sensors in the street that tell the system if there are cars or not), status of other nearby traffic lights (green wave) and human interaction (traffic regulation due to camera surveillance or approaching public transport vehicles with remote controls and so on). so a timer is useless since changes due to dynamic traffic regulations according to current circumstances like traffic volume can occur within some seconds. and for that short time a timer is useless since we already have one for such short amounts of time: the orange light.

nice visualization but nowadays useless :(

Thu 03 Dec 2009 at 5:55 AM

Sorry to say this concept will actually do the opposite for emmisions. Why, well when you start your car up you will use mor gas than when you sit at an idol cause your car shoots fuel into the injectors that is more than what you would idol for five minutes. It would still be nice cause you can get an idea on when the light is going to change so you can put your care in park to let your foot rest. It is still a cool concept that would may be reduce some road rage so that people have an idea when the light will change. As for emmisions sorry not gonna help.

Thu 03 Dec 2009 at 8:04 AM

That's super idea.

Thu 03 Dec 2009 at 9:34 AM

Why not create something that will really save gas!!!??? Timed stoplights are stupid. How about smart-stop-lights??? Something that has an eye and can see down the road and change if there are no cars coming from the cross sectioned streets. How much gas is really wasted during non-busy times with timed stoplights when you have to stop for absolutely NO reason???

Thu 03 Dec 2009 at 12:56 PM
Michael B

This is a good idea, except we've already got something that does the job already. It's called the amber light, and it lights up a couple of seconds before the light changes to green to signal to drivers that they should get in gear. The only vaguely useful suggestion would be an indicator meaning "switch your engine off, you're going to be here for at least 5 minutes" but since no lights wait that long in normal operating you're onto a bit of a loser.

To all the people suggesting smart traffic lights, have you seen modern traffic control systems? They can take into account things like the time of day, weather conditions, number of cars stopped at a junction, number of cars passed through a junction, average speed of cars, number of pedestrians waiting to cross (Lincoln in the UK has some lights which will even trigger a pedestrian wait automatically if they detect enough people idling around), number of pedestrians in the crossing, number of cars approaching the junction and special trigger cases for public transport and emergency services. Of course not counting the standard time-based limits.

Fri 04 Dec 2009 at 11:48 PM
Nick Jackson

Super cool Idea. i like it. I would love to try it in real life to see if it works.

Sat 05 Dec 2009 at 2:29 AM

Loved the design. :D

Sun 06 Dec 2009 at 2:30 AM

Seems like a triumph of design over function. Last I heard, starting an engine up produces *way* more pollution than would be produced by a steady idle for a few seconds — and as others have noted, there's no reason to think this design would be any safer, either…

Pretty, though.

Sun 06 Dec 2009 at 3:58 PM

This is a great idea and I love the design solution. But there's a few problems:
It's hard to make the counter evenly sluice. In Holland we have a lot of vehicle actuated traffic lights with priority for buses and trams. The waiting time can fluctuate a lot and that makes it hard to predict the waiting time and to make the counter evenly sluice. Besides this problem there's the fact that drivers act on the counter. They start early because they see the green light coming. Other drivers in the back of the queue take it easy, because they can see they have to wait longer before the queue is processed. So the first drivers act to fast and the other drivers act slow. The yellow before green light (as seen in different countries) is a solution. But this makes the traffic lights slow. With vehicle actuated traffic lights it's possible to get a green light outside the primary stage (alternative realisation). If the traffic light always shows yellow before the green light it loses one/two seconds. In Holland we have this traffic light: 'The Countdown' (Comfort light). This shows only the last three seconds before it hits the green light if it's possible to predict these last seconds. Picture: https://www.box.net/shared/9ogc0aamzq

This EKO traffic light doesn't show the exact waiting time, it only indicates the waiting time. It doesn't say: 35 seconds to green light left. As a driver you see an amount of boxes filled with red light. No clue how long it takes them to turn off.
This light doesn't make people turn off there engine, the waiting time shorter or causes less stops, so there's no less polution.
Last: there's no safer driving because of the EKO light. This can't be proved.

Great design. And that's what the price is for. So all nice, but in Holland this light will causes problems (and I haven't even discussed the legislation).

Mon 07 Dec 2009 at 5:12 PM
Zeger Schavemaker

We have countdown timer displays on our green lights, I think they are about 15 seconds or so. I really like the countdown, it lets you know how much time is left before the light turns yellow.

Wed 09 Dec 2009 at 7:09 AM

Great, now every idiot is going to turn off their engine, still forget about the light while they're looking at their phones, then take even longer to move since they will now have to turn on their engine. Great idea, but don't suggest turning off your engine.

Wed 09 Dec 2009 at 12:22 PM

digital countdown clock for pedestrians are installed at
Buenos Aires, this is not original!!

Tue 15 Dec 2009 at 2:49 AM

This design concept is rife with problems, all of which exacerbate the problems that they are intended to ameliorate, not the least of which is the environmental impact of frequent stopping and starting of your car. While it is true that emissions will be reduced by stopping your car rather than idling it for over 30 seconds (which is a greater time than most people wait at red lights in the first place), frequent stopping and starting significantly reduces the life of a car, causing, in the end, a greater negative environmental impact than would be offset by the slight reduction in emissions.
Furthermore, this embodies what is, in my opinion, the greatest sin of bad design: being designed according to how the designer believes people SHOULD behave while ignoring how they actually DO behave. The timer is a great idea in itself, because it allows people to get a sense of when the light will change. ALthough, as pointed out astutely by many people above, the execution is poor and unclear, and more likely to generate more problems than it solves. This design does not take into account the fact that the likelihood of most drivers abiding by its chief suggestion (to turn one's car off at a red light) is almost nil and that enforcing it would cost effort and money better put into a better designed solution. Good design should not have to be enforces in the first place, and, as as astutely pointed out by many comments above, there are many options for better and more realistic solutions.

Tue 15 Dec 2009 at 5:47 AM

I think that this gadget can cause damage on roads.
It will expedite entrance to the intersection, and increase occurrence of accidents.

Wed 16 Dec 2009 at 5:44 AM

There are better systems then traffic lights called roundabout,much safer and way more ecologycal (no power req.)

Fri 01 Jan 2010 at 8:17 PM

The best ideas are always so simple. Genius.

Mon 04 Jan 2010 at 2:03 PM

What about these ones? http://tinyurl.com/yesq498
These are in my hometown, Foz do Iguaçu, Brasil. They've been around for quite some time, I guess for at least 8 years, I was a kid when they first appeared, they all over town, finding the 3-light ones is hard.
I can't tell if they were beneficial for lack of research, but they've done one (research) in other town, Maringá, also Brasil. Results were that the crosses that had they increased accident rates. I don't know if they considered the growth of cars fleet.

Btw, I just love this traffic light. Altough it would be better to have the counter for the green light too/instead/I don't know.

Thu 07 Jan 2010 at 10:44 AM
Igor P.

In order to prevent the drag-race effect (drivers poised to hit the gas at a given moment, not paying attention to traffic), I'd turn off the outer-ring indicators when it gets down to a fixed amount (10 sec, say). This also avoids drivers not slowing down when they approach, as the window is large enough they can't be confident the light will be green when they arrive. When the outer ring turns off, it's time to think about starting your engine.

I think a fixed time scale is necessary, as we want to train drivers to turn off their engines above a certain wait time. (And some will choose a longer threshold, based on the car.) 5 seconds per segment (so the display turns off at 2 segments per above) on the photographed unit gives 40 sec/quadrant or 2:40/full circle. Above that, at least you'd know the clock is running. Which leads to...

There's another piece that could be incorporated: it's important to indicate to drivers if the signal is dependent on a vehicle-detector that has not yet been triggered. (If so, you'll wait forever; if not, the thing may be slow but you'll eventually get a green.) That state could, for example, light the segment at 6 o'clock only.

Wed 13 Jan 2010 at 11:56 AM
Roddy Erickson

is there a cyclist version?

Sun 28 Mar 2010 at 9:28 AM

Wouldn't this also be useful on the green light? My biggest problem with traffic lights is that the yellow doesn't give you enough time to stop in all situations, so you end up braking suddenly or running a red. Having an extra countdown during the green light would be like a more useful yellow light.

Wed 07 Apr 2010 at 4:13 PM
Matt Giuca

Turning your car off at every single traffic light would be unbelievably detrimental to your Starter and many other things in your car's ignition system. Not to mention, if it's only a short amount of time, you would be actually using more gas, as it takes quite a bit to initially spray into the engine to start it. Lights do not last long enough for this to be practical in any way. Seems like a way to scam local governments for money in my opinion.

Sun 04 Jul 2010 at 5:40 PM
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