Are The Roads Safer Without Any Traffic Signals And Lane Markers?
from the controlled-anarchy dept
There is a school of thought that suggests making things more dangerous is actually safer – since the more obviously dangerous a situation is, the more careful people will be. In some sense, this is part of the theory behind parts of open source philosophy: if the source is open, security is likely to be tighter, since everyone knows that the source is available to be combed through for vulnerabilities. That is, by making something less secure in some sense, it can create a situation where it’s actually a lot more secure. Apparently, a growing group of people are applying that concept to traffic engineering. The thinking is that the more chaos there is in the road, the more careful drivers are, and the less likely an accident occurs. Urban planners and traffic engineers are recommending removing traffic lights and stop signs, taking away lane markings, getting rid of crosswalks and bike lanes – and just letting everyone share the road however they feel appropriate. In areas where it’s been implemented (whether officially or by default – as in some developing nations), there are plenty of stories about how, despite the chaos, the roads actually appear to be much safer. Part of this is that people end up driving slower – because they know that they may share the road with others. Merging and cutting in are less of a problem, because it’s easier to make eye contact with other drivers (who are paying more attention and driving slower) and while the overall speed that the roads are designed to encourage may be slower, the lack of any congestion actually makes traveling through the areas faster. The focus, clearly, is on urban areas and not highways and such. Obviously, not everyone agrees with these theories – despite the evidence that’s out there. People in the US are especially horrified by the idea – especially in areas where traditional “traffic calming” is a big deal. They argue (somewhat persuasively) that US culture really couldn’t handle such a thing – since we pride ourselves on our individuality and our ability to express ourselves often via our cars and how we drive. That makes some sense, but the more I thought about the article, the more something I’ve been pointing out for years made sense to me. Driving in Manhattan has a terrible reputation. People talk about how it’s pure chaos. Red lights are “optional,” lanes mean absolutely nothing, and people and bicycles wander in and out of the streets everywhere. However, personally, I enjoy driving in Manhattan. Once you’re in the right mindset, the chaos of driving there makes perfect sense, and it’s almost easy. I’ll admit I’m much more vigilant, but it’s because I realize the rules are different. Meanwhile, here in California, driving is a different sort of adventure. Everywhere I drive, it seems like half the people on the road aren’t paying attention. In NY, if someone cuts you off with an inch to spare, it’s because they know they’re cutting you off with an inch to spare. It may seem dangerous, but people are aware of what’s happening. In California, if someone cuts you off with an inch to spare, it’s because they couldn’t be bothered to look or to realize that a car approaching in the next lane may be going much faster. In a situation where people naturally assume things are safer because the “chaos” is removed, perhaps things are actually made worse.