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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  1. identicon
    PhysicsGuy, 11 Nov 2006 @ 11:32am

    Re: Re: 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.

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