Getting Rid Of Traffic Lights And Traffic Signs To Make Everyone Safer

from the figure-that-one-out dept

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about this topic, but it’s one that fascinates me. Back in early 2004, we wrote about a movement under way to have cities remove traffic lights and traffic signs to make the roads safer. You also open up the roads not just to cars, but to bikers and pedestrians as well. It sounds completely counter-intuitive, since those things are supposed to make the roadways safer and more efficient — but city planners have found the opposite to be true. When you remove all of the guidance, it makes people (and that includes the bikers and pedestrians as well) much more cautious and careful — so they tend to make fewer dangerous moves. On top of that, it actually makes the traffic flow much more smoothly, allowing people to get where they’re going much faster, even if they drive slower. Because they have fewer full stops and long waits to deal with, it’s actually much more efficient. There was another article later that year that made the same point, but we haven’t heard much about it recently. Jeff Nolan points us to a more recent article that examines the situation in a Dutch town (which was also profiled in the earlier articles), saying that it’s been working great. The number of severe traffic accidents has dropped (no deaths since they removed the traffic lights) and people say they get places much faster. They admit that it’s confusing for newcomers, but that helps remind everyone else to continue to drive/walk/bike carefully and safely. Jeff wonders if the same counter-intuitive logic might also apply to computer security — but that might be trickier. With driving, at least everyone needs to pass some sort of licensing exam where they should at least learn the basics of safe driving. While some have suggested similar things for computer users, it’s still not the case. Also, the “penalty” for unsafe driving is much more immediate and potentially much more serious and painful. So, the incentives are much stronger to remain safe. Either way, it remains a fascinating concept, though, it still hasn’t caught on in that many places.


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Comments on “Getting Rid Of Traffic Lights And Traffic Signs To Make Everyone Safer”

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128 Comments
Gman says:

Re: Not for every place...

I think this might work on small cities or towns, but not in major metropolitan areas.

I live in Kansas City, MO. and when I’m trying to get around town during the typical workday, there are way too many intersections where cars are rolling past at a decent clip, and they’re so close together that I know I’d be waiting to make a left turn for an hour or more without a traffic light there to give me the needed break.

chris says:

Re: Re: But you're forgetting

I drove in S. Florida for 9 years before leaving, it is the elderly that worryed me the most. — if the streets were planed for no lights or signs it would not be too bad, we call them a round about – at a intersection every one must turn right into a circle left and you get out at your street. no problems even in a double lane round about

Allie says:

Re: But you're forgetting

It not just americans who act that way. People all over the world are like that. Well, the arrogant and idiotic part any way. Americans do act like 2 year olds but the rest is a world wide thing. Are you from another country and lived in america? Are you from america and have lived in another country? I have (one or the other) and you’re right one person can be intellegent but groups tend to suffer, any group, any where.

Insensible Bob says:

Traffic light removal?

I have very limited experience driving anywhere except in Ohio. My city is so full of lane weavers, & geriatric 15mph max, & cell phone inattentiveness, & “ME first and the hell with safety or anything else” drivers that the only way I think this will work is that it may weed out some of the more haphazard folks.

francis says:

Re: Yes - it's horrendous then

Having lights out in a crowded city would be awful. One timid driver would make many people wait. Whenever the power goes out here in Los Angeles, the traffic is unbelievable, and goes from awful to horrific.

I would like to see some smaller American cities try it out first, and see what types of cities and traffic densities will work.

Anonymous Coward says:

hmmm...

If the dutch are anything like the Germans(I have a cousin stationed there), most americans would not be able to get a license. They don’t mess around and give any dumbass that can pass a written test and take 10 mins to read line 3 of the eye chart a license.

Have you ever been to a four way stop in this country? Whoever is talking on the cell phone goes first because they don’t stop, then whoever has the biggest balls goes next to hell with anyone else there first, this is also usually the person behind the cell phone user. Then the 2 people facing each other, turning right, set and wait to see which one is going to go first.

Number 3, I feel ya, Columbus here. And every weekday I have that “What the hell are you doing?” moment.

Chris Maresca (user link) says:

Re: hmmm...

Well, I lived in the Netherlands for 4 years. They also drive 100mph six inches from your bumper, and 50mph on narrow canal roads with cyclists and pedestrians. There are regularly spectacular pileups on various Dutch highways due to their driving habits.

People in cars everywhere behave like idiots because they feel invincible in their steel boxes, me included. However, most of the population does not need to drive and therefore doesn’t.

What the Germans do have over anyone else is amazing lane discipline, but this has nothing to do with training and everything to do with their culture.

Nick Nichols (user link) says:

Flowing like water

This is an interesting concept. I like to characterize traffic here in the Philippines as “flowing like water.” It IS efficient in many ways – gaps get filled, space usage is unrestricted by “rules” regardless of lane markings and signs – but it is possible to get caught up in an eddy current as well as hop a rapid.

People DO drive more slowly and more aware because they know that any vehicle may make any type of maneuver at any time coming from anywhere – and they make allowances for that, courteously and patiently. I’m continuously amazed.

Alex says:

Speed bumps :D

Don Long up top there has the basic idea. People do tend to respect logical authority than some rule that is “just there”.

But what the hell are you talking about “hmm..”, has it been a long time since you’ve gotten your license?

Nowadays, there is driver’s ed (30 hours class time), a written test, 10 hours of drive time with an instructor, a short eye exam and thats just for a permit. Then you have to log 35 hours with an adult who has a license, and wait at least 6 months before you can send in for a road test. The road test is pretty strict- pass or fail basis, one wrong move equals fail.

The tests used to be 10 minutes long, a little bit of driving, but now its 25 minutes long, and they make sure you can do all the right moves.

Dihce, I agree with you, PEOPLE as a whole are arrogant and idiotic- but you better believe that applies to more than just us [Americans].

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Speed bumps :D -hmm...

Wow, after that you think you are ready to drive a 3000lb missile at 55mph? Unless you are held to a local ordinance it is 24 hours class time, and 8 hours with an instructor. As for the 10 hours with a licensed adult, do you video tape that drive time? How is that verified again?

It is not one wrong move equals fail either, else we would not have a lot of the drivers we have on the road.

Arochone (user link) says:

Re: Speed bumps :D

I’m currently going through the Pennsylvania licensing process, and lemme just say, any idiot could do it…probably even in their sleep. They don’t EVER teach you the driving laws, unless you take Driver’s Ed, and that’s a complete joke. There are places where the driving test is to drive around the mall parking lot. It’s that easy. That, and a written test which is multiple choice, you must get 15 out of 18, and you can do it as many times as you want. You’re SUPPOSED to log 50 hours with someone over 21, but they don’t check that and they have no way to prove that. You just have to find someone willing to sign for you, and you’re good.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Speed bumps :D

Nowadays, there is driver’s ed (30 hours class time), a written test, 10 hours of drive time with an instructor, a short eye exam….

What the hell are you talking about? It’s not even a quarter as hard as you describe it. I recently got my license – for the permit it took 10 hours of classtime and 3 hours behind the wheel, and that’s exaggerating, a lot; that was followed by a computer-based multiple-choice test consisting of 15-25 questions, as soon as you get at least 70% right, you pass; if you don’t know an answer you can skip the question and maybe you’ll be asked it again if you miss too many. There was no logging of hours with an adult, and you automatically get the license in those 6 months (all you need at that point is an eye exam).

I did not need a road test from the dmv at all to get my license, and I’ve been driving for 2 years. It is entirely TOO easy – but I am european, I know how things are in germany, and I know how to DRIVE skillfully, beyond the minimum that is required of me; yet to be in an accident or pulled over for any reason.

This is how it works in texas, but it varies from state-to-state. Although, not much.

PhysicsGuy says:

profoundly retarded

This is the more retarded idea ever. seriously, i’m amazed you here at techdirt think this is sound reasoning. i take it, mike, you either don’t live in a city or if you do you take public transportation. there are too many assholes on the road. it’s either people late for work who don’t care how many people they run off the road or women doing their makeup and not paying attention or someone driving aimlessly while talking on their phone. not that the traffic lights do a whole lot, as people will run them right after they turn red until you forcefully wedge your car between the flow, but still, there would be utter gridlock in a major city were the lights not there. i’m from mass, anyone who hasn’t been to boston, if you ever go, don’t drive. take public transportation, but when you’re walking around pay attention to the drivers and tell me things would be better without traffic lights. seriously, whoever proposed this to begin with is what those in the psychology business like to call profoundly developmentally delayed… or profoundly retarded, as i like to phrase it (political correctness can kiss my shiny metal ass) … for once, and i’m not sure if what he says is factual, but dorpus is on mark… this would be a bad idea…

Mike (profile) says:

Re: profoundly retarded

This is the more retarded idea ever. seriously, i’m amazed you here at techdirt think this is sound reasoning. i take it, mike, you either don’t live in a city or if you do you take public transportation.

Actually, as I mentioned in the earlier post, I learned to drive in and around New York City… and I actually see that at work there. People in NYC tend not to pay attention to the street signs or stop lights, but somehow it actually works much better. I think it’s because everyone is hyper-aware of their surroundings. It just works.

As for the rest of your insults, that sounds nice, but the fact that this is working suggests that it’s not as “retarded” as you suggest. Why is it that people resort to personal insults when they don’t want to bother actually looking at what’s happening?

Chris Maresca (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: profoundly retarded

Bzzt. Wrong. You’ve apparently never been to NYC. Mass transit and cars both work very well. The fastest way to get from point A to point B is by cab, and large chunks of NYC have no traffic signals (e.g. small streets in the East Village). Aside from perhaps Paris or Hong Kong, NYC has one of the best (if not the best) mass transit system on the planet, particularly give that it serves over 20 million people. And unlike Hong Kong, a car is still a realistic option in NYC.

I agree with Mike, by enlarge, New Yorkers see traffic controls as advisory at best. Sure they stop at most red lights, but that’s not the only traffic control directive, it’s just the only one anyone pays attention to.

Chris.

Chris says:

Re: Re: profoundly retarded

Mike,

Please talk with a firefighter as I have. Or visit the site of a wreck where the drivers have ignored the signs (if there were any). In my neighborhood alone, there have been more than a dozen accidents at unsigned residential intersections in the last few years alone. Four people have died, and several injured, one of them an eight year old boy who will have epileptic seizures for the rest of his life because the other driver was on the phone and not driving “cautiously”. In addition, these are 25 mile an hour zones, I cannot imagine how bad it would be on the highways.

This is not even counting the children who are hit on their bikes every year by drivers not paying attention.

What would you suggest for railroad crossings? No gates? “Let’s see if we can beat the train today Billy.”

I am not calling you names here, just presenting the facts. Let’s look at this scientifically. You have stated one town is doing this and it is working. Well then, let’s just convert the entire US traffic system based upon this one example. Oh, I forgot, there was that one study done, well that should solidify the masses opinions.

I applaud your efforts to make a change, and be willing to voice them when they could be scrutinized. However, I do think a little more research should have been done on this topic.

Christina says:

Re: Re: profoundly retarded

As Mike said, it seems to work in NYC. As most of you geniuses should know, NYC is one of the worst driving areas, so is philadelphia. I live in PA and agree 100% that this would work. Then again, maybe where everyone else is from they come from a different breed of IQ’s.

I.e. stupidest?, retarded? (you use that word and are suppose to be in the psychology business?)

It was just an idea and everyone shot it down. Just because someone has an idea doesn’t mean it’s going to come true. Seeing how everyone reacted, maybe you guy’s disagree with this decision because you yourselfs have no confidence in your driving skills.

Just remember it was nothing more than an idea.

Xiera says:

Re: profoundly retarded

Boston is a rather intimidating place to drive, but it’s not as awful as you make it seem. People are assholes because they can be assholes. The concept is that without traffic lights and traffic signs, people HAVE TO pay more attention to their surroundings, especially other drivers. And people HAVE TO be more patient.

On the other hand, having driven in Boston and Providence, I can say that something like this would be much more easily done in a smaller city such as Providence. I imagine they’d have to work out the details (regardless of location), but it could probably be implemented in an effective way.

OneNeutrino says:

This is the stupidest idea ever. Sure it may work in some places, but what happens when a few too many people in a heavy traffic zone decide that they have the right of way? You either have an accident preventing traffic from using the intersection jamming up the local traffic area, or you have to wait while people back up and and attempt to fix the mess of vehicles.

Ultimate freedom is total chaos.Thats why law and “guidance” exists in the first place.

Still says:

Re: Maybe some video will show better what it's li

I count upwards of 80 left turns (to the street in the lower right corner) and 20 plus right turns (from the street in the lower right corner) in that 1 minute clip. That’s a faster rate than I can get thru small town traffic & in MD the lights take nearly 3 min to change.The rythm & pattern to the trafic with the vehicles in use seemed efficient.

For the American machine to function like that would require a social change. Perhaps a needed change. My wife as a schoolteacher claims demonstratiions of respect are lost in our youth & society. To function without the road rules requires the generation of socially accepted rules for getting from one place to another.

Sure we are still human and there will be an ass behind the wheel somewhere. It may even be me once in a while ignoring the socially approved methods. Removing the rules though might raise the bar for us all.

Now that we are driving slower & getting places faster in smaller vehicles are we saving fossil fuel?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Maybe some video will show better what it's li

The traffic may be moving smoothly but listen to all those honks. One commenter on that video said:

“This is exactly how India was everytime I visited there. It was like their honks powered their cars, it was so noisy and dirty there!”

Doesn’t really seem like such a good idea now, does it?

Carol Wilson says:

Traffic Circles Work

I remember traffic circles in St. Louis in the 60’s, (haven’t lived ther since 1970) there were 2-3 lanes and everyone merged in and out from 5 or 6 directions smoothly.

I noticed in Bejing how traffic is always moving and no one honks or gets hurt. People on bikes and in cars come very close but never touch as everyone knows the rule, just keep it moving without stopping even if it requres going real slow.

Traffic Circles do work it’s just here in the U.S. everything has to be regulated to be legal.

Paul says:

uh..

I’m picturing about 40 major 4-way intersections with 2-3 lanes on each one that would jam up to a snails pace if the traffic lights were taken out.

I already shudder just thinking about if one of the lights gets disconnected from the system and goes into standby mode (red lights blinking, stop sign mode)

This would make a 10 minute work commute 30-40 minutes for sure

blurby blurb blurb says:

las vegas

i’ve lived in several states and cities, large and small. nowhere have i encountered such completely incompetent drivers as in las vegas.

the benefit of removing all traffic control in this town would be that after laying low for 30 days, only 10% of the population would survive. this would theoretically make the roads much safer, drive down housing prices, reduce unemployment and increase wages all at once.

Dog says:

Roundabouts

> we call them a round about – at a intersection every one
> must turn right into a circle left and you get out at your
> street. no problems even in a double lane round about

I agree. Roundabouts (as opposed to older-style American traffic circles which are a different thing) are found all over various British commonwealth nations, and rapidly increasing in popularity for new residential developments in the US. They’re superior to lights because of their continuous incremental action and don’t involve much thinking to use: you just have to yield before entering and that’s it (no stopping or lane changing after that like with some traffic circles require). You can theoretically make them larger than two lanes (on a four lane road) without compromising the ease of use: right lane for going right or ahead, middle lanes for going ahead only, and left lane for going left, round or ahead. The trade-off is that they’re more wasteful of real estate than lights.

david says:

Please

The common factor in every automobile accident is operator error. Removing the subtle reminders and facilitators of the rules (i.e. traffic signs) may increase awareness of the rules among those who follow the rules. However, this action will likely embolden those who don’t know or choose not to obey the rules. In order to maximize safety and efficiency in automobile transportation, autonomy of human decision-making must be minimized. Automobiles may be designed to carry numerous passengers, but they only allow for one operator. Our transportation systems should be based on the same principle.

JK87 (profile) says:

wrong

This article is compelte bullshit. IT is simply not true. “city planners” have NOT come to this conclusion. Maybe one has. But you can always find one person who calims to be an expert who says the most ridiculous things.

I have several traffic simulation programs that are not commercially available, as I have done this very thing for a living. I’ve run hundreds of simulations for dozens of traffic scenarios for difffernet types of intersections.

Guess what? ZERO times out of those hundreds of simulations has it been determined that no light is a better alternative. There are always more accidents, FAR more delays, etc.

Ooooh, but one moron who got a degree and therefore thingks he is a city planner said otherwise! Right.

Mousky says:

Re: wrong

For someone that touts that they have ‘several traffic simulation programs’ and has ‘done this very thing for a living’, surely, you must know that Mr. Monderman is an experienced traffic engineer not a ‘city planner’. You must also know that Mr. Monderman has stated that the approach taken Drachten will not work everywhere. He is by no stretch of the imagination promoting that every city remove traffic lights. You knew all that, right?

http://www.ecoplan.org/wtpp/general/monderman-details.htm#bio

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Monderman

Gan-San says:

Hahaha... they are kidding right?

I actually work on a busy street with a view of a busy intersection… occasionally the traffic lights go out… you wouldn’t believe how retarded people get… everyone just tries to go all at once, everyone is impatient and they drive into the intersection and try to hit each other. Then traffic gets really backed up, and people try even harder to hit each other. It’s very amusing to watch.

Anonymous Coward says:

it opens the world up to caution, but what about those with criminal intentions? With out signs and signals people DO pay attention, but there is a large group of people out there looking to make some money thru insurance. With out signs to help show who had the right of way, every one would be taking each other to court for some money. It becomes he-said-she-said and the rich would become targets. Most people driving expensive cars would become targets and the typical person would just opt to settle out of court. Also, with criminal intentions in mind, let’s say a pedestrian who is walking down the street is a target for some retaliation. A driver hits the person and kills them. With out signs, who is to say who is at fault? food for thought isn’t it, there are many situations where it will happen. the traffic on the highways will free up, but the court system will bog down.
As far as comment #2 goes, what the heck does being american have to do with driving and being an “arrogant idiotic children” ? That doesn’t make sense. Every country has issues, the french, germans, chinese, everyone. It is only because people like you are flooded with american movies that you are programmed by hollywood and also be our often one sided news media that you have this thought. sure we have many idiots, but your country has you!

Traveler says:

roads without rules

Lifting the rules of the road might actually make sense. In Mexico City, the worlds largest city, the rules of the road are really just suggestions. There are many fender benders but traffic flows well and folks get to where they are going pretty fast.
When a traffic light goes out here in Tucson, traffic gets snarled up but that could be because we rely on the lights and suddenly all is chaos but if ALL the rules were lifted then we would know that our saftey is in our own hands. Perhaps that is the basic issue, we entrust our saftey to the rules and don’t take responsability for it ourselves.

Jess says:

Bradley Fighting Vehicle Anyone?

It sounds like its a good time to think about safety doesn’t it?
Then why not get a bradley fighting vehicle!!!
It can pretty much go anywhere…even over other vehicles!
And accidents?
You won’t even feel it as you crush the offending car!
And for the odd miscreant who gets ticked off when you cut them off…a fifty caliber machine gun on top can reduce any problem serious or mundane!!
And with the democrats having taken over congress you have a unprecedented deal!! Something like this usually costs the military millions of dollars. But due to future price cuts you can get your very own fully equipped bradley fighting vehicle for only $60,000!!!

Lionel Mandrake says:

Fun with Traffic

I’ve driven pretty much everywhere on earth (wow, Greece is a lot of fun – – you don’t need to use your brakes, just your horn), BUT:

The most fun I’ve ever had driving is in a city that didn’t have to remove traffic lights and signs – – – much of the city is growing so fast they haven’t put them in: Shenzhen, China.

Every 100 yards, another accident. Chaos. But very exciting. Sorta like Crazy Taxi, but real. Really.

Lionel

Lionel Mandrake says:

Fun with Traffic

I’ve driven pretty much everywhere on earth (wow, Greece is a lot of fun – – you don’t need to use your brakes, just your horn), BUT:

The most fun I’ve ever had driving is in a city that didn’t have to remove traffic lights and signs – – – much of the city is growing so fast they haven’t put them in: Shenzhen, China.

Every 100 yards, another accident. Chaos. But very exciting. Sorta like Crazy Taxi, but real. Really.

Lionel

Robert says:

Traffic

It’s not people trying to pass the road test you need to worry about. They are the same type of people the removal of signals and signs is trying to promote. They tend to be very conscious of whats going on around them.
It’s the idiots that have been driving for a year and suddenly own the road after gaining minimal confidence.
While we’re at it, lets remove gun laws. This way every can carry a weapon and someone thinking of committing a crime will think twice.

That’s dripping with sarcasm if anyone didn’t catch on.

Robert says:

Traffic

It’s not people trying to pass the road test you need to worry about. They are the same type of people the removal of signals and signs is trying to promote. They tend to be very conscious of whats going on around them.
It’s the idiots that have been driving for a year and suddenly own the road after gaining minimal confidence.
While we’re at it, lets remove gun laws. This way every can carry a weapon and someone thinking of committing a crime will think twice.

That’s dripping with sarcasm if anyone didn’t catch on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Natural Selection

The way is see it is thus: We remove traffic signals and signs. All the idiots who think they own the road are weeded out as they continue to get into accidents, their insurance rates grow higher, and they are injured or killed. Once this happens, the system seems like it would work perfectly, once you removed the lane lines like they did in India. I live in Phoenix, AZ, and 99.9% of all moving vehicles on the road are cars. Very, very few scooters, although motorcycles are fairly common. The whole idea behind removal of these items is that people would have to learn to govern themselves in order to keep themselves safe, if not others.

Kim (user link) says:

Getting Rid Of Traffic Lights And Traffic Signs To

Wow, people sure do get angry and mean!

I believe that 95% of drivers are good, but the 5% who are bad drivers cause so much trouble for the rest of us, it just seems like most drivers are bad. It’s just that there are so many drivers on the road, in a hurry, thinking too much about their own troubles to worry about being careful. And even the best drivers make mistakes occassionally.

“I think a lot problems in our society today are due to lack of personal responsibility.” I couldn’t agree more! Too many people expect to be taken care of, or look to others to blame for their own actions or mistakes. Whatever happened to personal accountability and taking responsibility for our actions?

And by the way, I think that most Americans are wonderful people, the “bad” ones get all the press. We’re mostly just regular people trying to make a living, and raise our kids the best we can. Because we are an economic and military powerhouse, others look for any flaws and sometimes those flaws get blown way out of proportion.

Sooooo, take the traffic lights and signs out? Sure, when more drivers learn to grow up, and think beyond their own noses. I will continue to watch for red light runners before I cross on a green. I will continue to watch out for people who simply do not seem to know who goes first on a 4-way stop and people who don’t know what “merge” means, etc. Those little 5% sure do cause a lot of headaches…

Kim

PhysicsGuy says:

profoundly retarded

As for the rest of your insults, that sounds nice, but the fact that this is working suggests that it’s not as “retarded” as you suggest.

yes mike, how insightful, the variability between the test villages and towns and other cities is so insignificant that this has to be applicable everywhere. it’s nice this works in what i assume is a quaint suburban area with rectilinear road layouts, but seriously, these are special cases… this would not work in a major city at all…

to quote mousky above:

You must also know that Mr. Monderman has stated that the approach taken Drachten will not work everywhere. He is by no stretch of the imagination promoting that every city remove traffic lights.

frankly, i’m sick of cargo-cult studies that find a little niche where something counter-intuitive is present and the try to promote it like it’s some profound idea that’s going to revolutionize everything. BUT what i’m even more sick of is people who interpret studies that don’t claim such things and run with it and declare that it’s this breakthrough concept, even though there is no suggestive evidence showing that this will be an applicable theory everywhere…

People in NYC tend not to pay attention to the street signs or stop lights, but somehow it actually works much better. I think it’s because everyone is hyper-aware of their surroundings. It just works.

that’s horrible reasoning mike, stick to economics, the post you made the other day about the importance of zero was rather insightful. people in nyc do tend to pay attention to stop lights, they pay attention to how long it has been red and they are aware that they have a certain amount of time to run the red light, were that light not present people in a hurry, you know, that general asshole doing 70 weaving in and out of lanes, wouldn’t take the person who was already at an intersection into regard more so than their rush to get to where they’re going. despite this appearance that people aren’t paying attention to signs and lights (which i certainly don’t see), it’s quite the opposite, everyone has a hypersensitivity to how and when they can go that’s dictated by their surroundings (as you say), but their surroundings are the signs and lights and how traffic handles those signs and lights (which is why you have so much time after the light turns red to run it) maybe it’s been a while since you’ve driven in ny, but gridlock is not something you’d want to cause, you’ll get in more trouble for that than smoking a joint on the side of the street, were people not paying attention to the signs and lights the probability of gridlock would increase dramatically due to the haphazard people i mentioned in my previous post.

just because some very profound things are counter-intuitive (time dilation, spatial contraction due to relativistic principles, wave-particle duality, etc) does not mean that every counter-intuitive idea is amazing or has much merit, in fact it’s the opposite, it’s rare you find something counter-intuitive that is truly a revolutionizing concept. this certainly isn’t one of those. while this is applicable in certain instances it certainly cannot be applied everywhere to get even close to the same effect of where it is currently being applied. to end i’ll quote a link that mousky gave…

Nor are shared-space designs appropriate everywhere, like in major urban centers, but only in neighborhoods that meet particular criteria.

Monderman concedes that road design can do only so much. It doesn’t change the behavior, for instance, of the 15 percent of drivers who will behave badly no matter what the rules are.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: profoundly retarded

yes mike, how insightful, the variability between the test villages and towns and other cities is so insignificant that this has to be applicable everywhere.

Did I ever say it would work everywhere? No.

You were the one who called it retarded — an absolute statement. However the fact that it DOES WORK some places proves that you are wrong.

The rest of your comment again focuses on the idea that I said this would work in all cases, which again, I did not say. Please do not make assumptions about stuff I did not say.

does not mean that every counter-intuitive idea is amazing or has much merit

Again, at what point did I ever say that *EVERY* counter-intuitive idea has merit?

Alex Chavarin says:

Rules of the Road

We are too set in our ways to make an immediate change, maybe with time a concept like this might work. What can work now is to properly teach new Drivers Courteous Defensive Driving. With Signs or No Signs, the Aggressive Selfish Driver will still be there to cause trouble. Taking these people off the road and teaching them the proper way to Drive is the only solution.

I also feel the new cars with Automatic Transmissions and Computerized Braking Systems has taken the true feel out of Driving. With the old Manual Transmissions, you got a better feel for your car and the flow of traffic.

aK says:

In response to the article, I’v lived in several towns and cities, and some (not all) streets that needed a signal were a nightmare. You end up with streets that have the sronger flow of traffic dominating the others, making it nearly impossible to move. Then there are other places where people actually act like humans and take turns with their fellow man. 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

If anybody has ever driven or taken a cab in Panama City (Rep. of Panama) has lived through no traffic controls.

They do have about two traffic lights and the odd stop sign that is considered *just a suggestion* and there is surprising good flow of traffic.

Many cars have little creases in the 4 corners from nudging into traffic but looking at Balboa Ave. for many hours, I did not see any accidents!!

PhysicsGuy says:

profoundly retarded

Back in early 2004, we wrote about a movement under way to have cities remove traffic lights and traffic signs to make the roads safer.

this implies that the “movement” suggests that removing traffic lights and traffic signs in cities will make the roads safer. it’s a vague statement insofar as whether or not this movement has merit.

It sounds completely counter-intuitive, since those things are supposed to make the roadways safer and more efficient — but city planners have found the opposite to be true.

“the opposite” has not been found to be true, not in the generalized sense put forth in this statement and implied in the article. it has been found true in specialized circumstances that meet a “particular criteria”

the original statement says there’s a movement to remove signs and lights to make roads safer in cities and then the follow up is in agreement implying that removing road signs and lights in cities makes it safer, but this has only been shown in certain circumstances so that claim can not be made.

about Scott Adams’ point, it only remotely resembles this argument.

You: Cooking vegetables in cajun spices makes people enjoy them more. They did a taste test in Mississippi and people liked them better so my statement is true.

Me: that’s retarded… you can’t make that assertion because there are plenty of places where that taste test would fail. here’s some examples…

what your intentions of this article were or weren’t i’m not sure, but the general implication of it is that removing traffic signs and lights in cities is good, that is a retarded statement… sorry to inform you on this… but i’ll once again end with:

Nor are shared-space designs appropriate everywhere, like in major urban centers, but only in neighborhoods that meet particular criteria.

Monderman concedes that road design can do only so much. It doesn’t change the behavior, for instance, of the 15 percent of drivers who will behave badly no matter what the rules are.

AndrewG (profile) says:

THEY ARE NOT SAYING TO JUST TAKE OUT THE LIGHTS AND LEAVE IT AT THAT!

Of course that would be stupid and way less safe. If the lights were replaced with roundabouts though, it would eventually be safer. In American cities though, it would take years to get used to because most of us don’t ever see them and older drivers have more trouble figuring them out. It would just piss people off because they don’t want to figure out how to use them and then they would be removed.

Would be a good idea but unless that idea comes with some plan to educate the American citizens and show them how it’s safer, it won’t work.

Petréa Mitchell says:

Maybe it's just the fact of the change

This reminds me of a famous industrial efficiency study (the name of the researcher eludes me just now) where it was noted that any change in a workplace improved efficiency for a while simply because it was a change, not because it was inherently helpful.

The WSJ recently ran an article on how Dutch planners are looking at adding more signage, to try to reduce the sky-high accident rate caused by traffic laws that essentially say the first person to slow down has to yield. I’d like to see how safe the roads are in Drachten in five years. If they’re still safer then than they were before, with no major change in the accident rate elsewhere in the country, then you can start trying to convince me that removing lights and signs is a good idea.

Anonymous Coward says:

I personally like the lights. I can learn how to use them to my advantage and have green all the way to and from work. If I couldnt fly through busy green lights at 70mph then it would take me forever to get anywhere.

If people really wanted to test this, they would just switch some lights to blinking reds and see how things go. But local traffic authorities can’t be bothered to do simple things like that.

ElectricMayhem says:

I live on one of the busiest junctions in South West London with heavy traffic flowing in four directions. Generally there is a queue especially at rush hour peak times that can stretch for over 3/4 of a mile in all directions. Recently, the traffic lights at this junction broke down and for the first time since I’ve lived here, guess what……no queues in any direction at any time! The traffic flowed with ease……as soon as the lights were fixed…back came the jams and queues. I spoke to the engineer fixing the lights and he said that it was the same at every junction he repaired…no lights…no jams….he and his collegues had reported as much to their superiors but to no avail…so draw your own conclusions…….

As for most of the above posts……..you all write such absolute drivel….you’re all complete morons and I have to agree with the opening post….all you Americans are stupid and shouldn’t be let near a car let alone a gun if the above is anything to go by…..what a sorry state of affairs…….

mousepaw says:

Lights/no lights and driving styles

Someone mentioned that it would have to be a societal change and that’s it exactly.

Where I live, the cultures seem to cluster into areas. So we have little Italy (well, more than one), little China, little Greece, etc. Driving through each neighbourhood is like a snapshot of the country from which they hail. The Italians pay absolutely no attention to the signs and their traffic flows like a river. There is minimal screaming or honking. Drive through little India and there’s no getting anywhere except to the next red light at 15kph and you get cut off every step of the way. Get into the older part of town where there’s a major 4-way stop and nobody stops, it flows like crazy and you really have to be on the ball. It actually works more like a directional stop because the North and South people go at the same time and then the East/West people go. They’re not patient with people who don’t know the rules at that 4-way and I can see how it would intimidate new drivers.

When in doubt, follow the rules otherwise, when in Rome…

I was going to talk a bit about our highways, but it’s not worth it. I think we can apply the old saw “good intentions pave the road to hell.”

Latest rumour: they were thinking of raising the speed limit on the 401 back up to 70mph/120kph. They aren’t going to though because allegedly it would reduce the amount of money they get in speeding tickets. I think that 80% of the people who have licences here would throw up at the thought of going that fast.

My BIG beef is with the driving instructors. Want safer drivers? TEACH THEM HOW TO DRIVE. PREFERABLY IN THE WINTER. (If there’s winter in your locale.) I don’t know how many driver-ed cars I see go by with the instructor in the passenger seat (death seat) on the phone while their student driver is trying to negotiate on their own with a couple of other students in the back seat talking on their cell phones.

Driving is a privledge not a God-given right. If we could get back to that mentality, I don’t think lights/signs would matter.

barkeep8 says:

Doing this in the USA

I don’t see this happening in our country. I believe that if our culture allowed it, it would work, but there’s no way to make the switch safely. What I do see happening tho is a trend to move the driving to the machine. People’s cars will drive themselves, with input from the “smart” road around them and signals from traffic control computers. You could then remove the signs and lights. The computers could move the traffic as efficiently as they do in the other countries, but with more reliability (no human error). Of course there would still need to be manual modes for various areas and system outages, but these would be minimal.

I’m sure everyone’s seen the demo videos if the computer driven cars tailgating each other at 70 mph on the freeway.

Basically, I believe this would be easier to implement in our country over the next generation than changing the culture.

|333173|3|_||3 says:

Ramblings

The idea of Roundabouts works well in the UK, where many of the junctions on motorways use them on multiple levels (usually on bridges over the motorway) to save space and ease the traffic flow(not enough room for cloverleaves). Roundabouts only weork well when there is a rough balance of traffic on each road. One variation on the roundabout is the mini-roundabout, a six-twelve foot circle painted on the road, which you treat like a roundabout but drive over if you have to.

Fior bad driving, thers always Cairo, where a Micheral Palin said when he visited there, it sounds like every car has been modified so that the accellerator and brake pedals are permenantly connected to the horn, the roads are about 12 lanes wide and everyone tailgates, but there are no accidents. Then threse Adelaide, OZ, where I have seen one particular driver near my school drive over a footpath get into the left – turn lane at least once a week, and others who work on the principle that a 4WD menas that you can drive where you like, so long as there are no police cars around (you’d be amazed at some of the more unusual manoevres I have seen, like driving through a reserve to get from one road to another, or driving at 70mph on the wriong side of the road, people whio drive through a piece of wasteland to avoid traffic lights (there are so many tyre tracks there it is a joke), and driving on footpaths to save time, a three point turn on Main North Road, a six lane road in rush hourm, when doing anything except going straight forwards at half the spedd limit is amazing, a man tried to drive up a guuided busway, but crashed, another drove straight accross the River Torrens when it was dry to save going over a the nearest bridge, another did another three point turn on the Mian North Road where it is a dual carriageway, then drove back down the centre reservation to the nearest gap in the fence, and then drove over a newly planted tree to get accross). Luckily, there are Stobie poles used to hold up electricity wires, which are a pair of I girders with a load of concrete between them, which do a good jod ob stopping cars and a reasonable job of paralysing the back seat passengers killing thiose in thefront

Michael says:

I’ll briefly comment that just recently, we experienced a major extended power outage (Pennsylvania, USA), during which, the majority of our traffic lights were replaced temporarily with stop signs.

I must say it was the BEST rush hour commute I have EVER experienced. Truly, people just did what they should using their best judgement and everyone moved along at a slow and steady pace that averaged MUCH better than normal. It was great.

I’d be all for experimenting with no-traffic-control environments.

Ramesh says:

Clearly Tech Dirt has not been to Bangalore, India – where while they have traffic lights at major intersections they don’t have them in all of them – and drivers seem to believe they become optional after 10 pm. The notion of stop sign at a 4 way is non-existent. So what happens – People honk loudly at every intersection and just drive through. At major ones there is a `might is right’ rule which seems to apply.

What is the consequence – it takes about 1 hour to travel 10km. This year about a 1000 people have died in traffic accidents etc.

It may all be very well for a Dutch village – but certainly is nonsensical for a city of any substantial size.

Garyola says:

no traffic lights

In India, the trucker also drive at night with their lights on dim unless there is oncoming traffic. The bright lights are used to warn approaching vehicles to be careful…

Not to mention that the bus drivers play music as loud as possible so they won’t go to sleep….

And don’t forget that the cargo trucks have a big sign on the rear. “Please sound your horn when following”…

The drivers are at their speediest after they have hit a goat or cow (or person). They have to escape the wrath of the folks on the street.

And finally, the largest vehicle has the right-of-way.

Other than that, my trips to India have been fairly uneventful.

Garyola says:

no traffic lights

In India, the trucker also drive at night with their lights on dim unless there is oncoming traffic. The bright lights are used to warn approaching vehicles to be careful…

Not to mention that the bus drivers play music as loud as possible so they won’t go to sleep….

And don’t forget that the cargo trucks have a big sign on the rear. “Please sound your horn when following”…

The drivers are at their speediest after they have hit a goat or cow (or person). They have to escape the wrath of the folks on the street.

And finally, the largest vehicle has the right-of-way.

Other than that, my trips to India have been fairly uneventful.

Apoo says:

England

I grew up in GA and now being stationed in england for a few months I am beginning to like roundabouts over stop lights, especially at night. traffic moves so much smoother and, from what i have seen, fewer accidents than stop light intersections. You just go when there is room to go. Oh so simple. The first few seem crazy, but then you have the hang of it. It is a great solution to the stop light issue.

Paul says:

Counter intuitive

I think it’s true, but I wouldn’t be the one to make the decision to remove Stop lights etc, especially in a society as litigous as the US!
I once worked on a project where I made the decision to remove the need to ‘commit’ after executing an Oracle statement. People thought I was mad, but there were fewer ‘stupid’ incidents, because people were scared shitless to execute deletes and updates, and consequently checked them more thoroughly before execution.
I’m not sure the effect would be very good in very busy situations, but where traffic is relatively light, I’m sure it would work – so long as everyone is aware they are driving in a ‘no lights’ environment.

Mark says:

Carrying Capacity

None of the stories that I have seen regarding the Drachten experiment mention the street’s carrying capacity. There are a few models floating around that deal directly with traffic, but I prefer an analogy — throughput on a CSMA-CD (Ethernet/IEEE 802) network. Bandwidth may allow for 100Mbps, but when total traffic gets up around 40Mbps introducing additionall traffic load may actually cause a drop in delivered bits.

I see that same thing on Detroit area freeways, when eight lanes merge into five then into three within a two mile stretch. Most times, traffic flows freely. Try looking from 4 PM to 6 PM on a workday, and you will see traffic backed up for miles, often at a complete standstill.

Ruro says:

Traffic Signs

Don’t know if this post is still active, but it intrigues me. I grew up in Boston, and learned to drive there. I still live next door in Cambridge. It is a tough place to drive, and much different from other parts of the US, but if you can drive well here, you can drive anywhere. It is tougher than NYC also. We don’t have a nice tidy grid to get around; streets are narrow and twisty and sometimes even change direction midway. (I am also, like everyone living here, often a pedestrian.) Streets are crowded, and pedestrians walk out in front of cars all the time. Most drivers do not get angry, they know this will happen and look at the PEOPLE for signals. That is the important thing: they have to meet the eyes of the pedestrian/cyclist, and they have to meet the eyes of the drivers. It truly does slow you down. There is no room for putting on makeup, etc. You have to focus or you will kill someone else or yourself. Meeting the driver’s eyes is how we were taught when we were young when learning to cross a street. To be safe you must keep the human connection. When this is taken away is when the arrogance of being in the all-powerful car comes into play.

I think this idea of reducing signs could work. In residential areas slowing down is crucial. I also think some other things would help: If people stop driving huge cars. If everyone drove smaller cars, there would certainly be accidents, but fewer fatalities. Talking on cell phones in a moving car should just be banned; there is no other option.

Bettawrekonize (profile) says:

Perhaps it’s an issue of making the existing laws more reasonable? I think when they started adding cameras to intersections to take pictures of people who cross red lights the amount of accidents on those intersections dropped (at least that’s what I seen on the news, but who knows these days, our mainstream media may have inaccurate or distorted information). Perhaps the reason is because now people know they will get a ticket on intersections so they are more careful.

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