Thursday, December 28, 2006

Abolish traffic lights

Martin Cassini argues in the December 2006 issue of Economic Affairs that traffic lights should be abolished (www.iea.org.uk/files/upld-article124pdf?.pdf). Traffic lights reduce the capacity of the road network, lengthen journey times, increase pollution, and cause accidents. Whilst the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) agrees that mini-roundabouts are better than traffic lights at a junction, Cassini goes further, arguing for the abolition of both roundabouts and traffic lights, and their replacement by a 'filter-in-turn' system. To support his argument, Cassini cites those cases of traffic light failure in which traffic flow actually increases; this is, suggests Cassini, a consequence of people exercising voluntary care and attention, and engaging in spontaneous cooperative behaviour. Cassini poses the question:

Given the benefits of self-regulation, what do our highly-paid policy-makers propose? John Birt: ‘No comment.’ Transport Minister Douglas Alexander: ‘Road charging!’ Head of Highways Agency, Derek Turner, in charge of de-congesting our roads: ‘Speed delimiters!’ In other words, more expensive technology to hamper human nature and expand the control industry.

Cassini certainly has a point: there is an excessive amount of top-down, government planning and control of the road network, and this has reduced the capacity of the road network at exactly the time when the demand placed upon it is at its greatest. Traffic lights, bus-lanes, and one-way systems have all contributed to congestion, and this ideological trend needs to be reversed. However, it is worth pointing out that when cars do collide at an unregulated junction where there is a low volume of traffic, they often do so at moderate or high-speed, and because kinetic energy squares with velocity, the damage incurred is considerable. Those who work in risk management are often most concerned with low-frequency, but high-impact events, and I suspect that complete re-regulation of all junctions would increase the number of high-impact accidents. Almost counter-intuitively, then, it is perhaps only the busiest junctions from which we should remove the traffic lights, and substitute a filter-in-turn system.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"...it is hard to imagine a politician today publicly admitting to such views." Then shame on them; they should refer to the philosophy of their Founding Fathers and rediscover the kind of United States of America that was envisaged. Politicians are, thank goodness, not so mealy mouthed in the UK, though a good many still are. Tony Blair, for instance. But the first duty of any politician must be to help safeguard his/her nation's security. Fuelling antipathy towards other religions than one's own is bound to court disaster, viz. 9/11 in the US and 7/7 in the UK. A better way for politicians would be to espouse agnosticism, at least; i.e. a 'live and let live' philosophy in all matters religious, and stick to espousing the politics of peace and the promotion of human health and wealth, in all its forms.

Martin Cassini said...

Thank you for your comments. In answer to your point about uncontrolled junctions being susceptible to high-speed collisions, I don't believe that's the case at all. It's at signal-controlled junctions where drivers speed up. Why? To beat yet another hold-up. But without priority, and without the contrived distinction between major and minor roads - which is the basis of the whole sorry mess - drivers approach slowly. They don't want to get hurt any more than they want to cause hurt. If they see someone there before them, they see a good reason for slowing down and giving way. 1Q is the only junction rule we need. It's instinctive, fair and efficient. It stands for innate intelligence and single queueing.

Gordon McCabe said...

Thanks Martin.

Those interested in Martin's work might like to note that his web-page is goodfun.tv.