Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Traffic Lights

In my last post I referred obliquely to trials of innovative traffic solutions.  The traffic lights on the A30 outside Ashford Hospital were down on my commute in this morning.  This is a busy junction in the morning rush, yet I was able to get across without stopping as vehicles yielded the right of way more or less in turn.  To do this the traffic (including me!) had to slow to walking pace and I saw an elderly pedestrian cross the A30 without apparent difficulty.  I do not know sufficient to judge whether this would be a good idea at all junctions but I am gaining sympathy for the view that we have too many traffic lights and that appropriate traffic calming may enable junctions to be safer without lights.
Such a 'free for all' would though require a hierachy of vehicles, with motorists giving way to cyclists and both giving way to pedestrians such that in a collision the driver of the larger type of vehicle would at least bear the burden of demonstrating in a civil case that the accident was not his fault.  I have described this as akin to the system prevailing in some European countries.  This is of course a simplification of a complex piece of comparative law which I may attempt in a future post.  The burden is harder to shift in some countries and in some circumstances than in others.
Finally, I am gratified that a number of people have been kind enough to express appreciation of my last post.


  1. I quite agree, forcing people to think while using our roads can only be a Good Thing. Modern motoring has become far too automatic: drivers are becoming trained to only look out for brightly-lit fluorescent yellow things, the rest they assume can (mostly) be safely ignored.

    The same problem happens with segregated pedestrian/cyclist tracks: the cyclists think they have ultimate right-of-way in "their" lane which leads to pedestrians feeling threatened. Shared-use works so much better for everyone, mainly because the faster vehicles (the cyclists) realise that they need to watch out for people on foot.

    Current UK roads are far too much the sole preserve of motor cars, even though cars are only allowed to use the roads by licence. Those people that use the roads by right have been squeezed out of the way, a major problem in our towns and cities (although Portsmouth's 20mph limit is redressing the balance nicely!).

    20's Plenty where people live:

  2. Hi Martin,
    There is a "shared space" concept advocates not just the removal of traffic lights but pavements, & road markings et al. The concept is enthusiastically promoted by campaigner Martin Cassini:
    Where shared space has been piloted it has slowed traffic down which is in line with your experience but paradoxically shortens journey duration. This is because the traffic stops less often and for shorter periods. Bring it on!

  3. This is going back a bit, but the continuing failure of policymakers to adopt progressive ideas bespeaks the depth of their ignorance. Despite evidence that equality is infinitely safer than priority as a basis for road-user relationships, the purveyors of anti-social traffic control continue to preside over a casualty toll of 25,000 human beings, many of them children, every year. The lights-off trial I instigated in Portishead in 2009 went permanent after journey times fell by over half with improvements in safety, air quality and quality of life. Before-and-after scenes from the trial, with clips from my 2008 Newsnight report, can be seen here: