Aside

Brief: The long wait at the many unnecessary traffic lights in Germany may soon be over

The long wait at the many unnecessary traffic lights in Germany may soon be over. Communities nationwide are exploring the use of alternative traffic control systems, such as roundabouts and zebra stripes, to resolve the traffic light’s growing issues of expense and safety. Among groups in favour of a large-scale switch, the German Cyclists’ Federation (ADFC) has a prominent voice. “We absolutely support the trend,” said ADFC traffic expert Wilhelm Hörmann. Hörmann added that traffic lights provide a false illusion of safety, pointing to the dangers of impatient drivers and children who cross the street despite there being a red light. Consultant Jürgen Berlitz of the ADAC German automobile club, argued that roundabouts are not only safer, but more efficient than traffic lights.  (Thanks to Ian Perry for the heads-up)

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Article text follows:

Cities such as Cologne and Munich are at the head of a growing movement to eliminate superfluous traffic stops across Germany.

Traffic analysts have taken note of the increasing emergence of alternative forms of traffic control, such as traffic circles, zebra stripes and the tried-and-true “right before left” rule, in place of the traditional traffic light model.

Germany has depended on traffic lights for too long, said Duisburg professor and traffic researcher Michael Schreckenberg, who contends that the tricolor system is too expensive, inconvenient and potentially dangerous to keep around.

“Between 30 and 50 percent of the traffic lights could be replaced,” he said.

Schreckenberg added that in many cases the placement of traffic lights is not properly considered, and that many lights function in isolation so the “green wave” is often more myth than reality.

This point of view is gaining traction in the leadership of many communities.

Cologne, for example, has replaced 200 traffic lights with roundabouts and zebra stripes in the past several years, a move which could save the city almost €4 million in energy and maintenance costs, according to the city’s own estimates. A further 90 traffic light eliminations are still expected.

In several large Ruhr region cities, among them Duisburg and Gelsenkirchen, voices similar to Schreckenberg’s are cropping up. Munich, meanwhile, has terminated 10 unnecessary lights since the start of 2010.

Other communities have ascribed to the “shared-space” model, a radical process by which all traffic lights and signs are eliminated from certain areas. The German Association of Traffic Participants (VCD), an organization with environmental leanings, has recommended such projects for an additional 50 communities.

For decades, Germany has strictly adhered to the traffic light system.

Since the first operational traffic light appeared in Germany in 1924, city planners “have apparently come up with nothing better,” said Schreckenberg.

Today, an estimated 100,000 intersections in Germany are controlled by traffic lights. But the trend toward roundabouts is undeniable.

“People are beginning to realize it’s a great way to save money,” Schreckenberg said.

Among groups in favour of a large-scale switch, the German Cyclists’ Federation (ADFC) has a prominent voice.

“We absolutely support the trend,” said ADFC traffic expert Wilhelm Hörmann.

Hörmann added that traffic lights provide a false illusion of safety, pointing to the dangers of impatient drivers and children who cross the street despite there being a red light.

Consultant Jürgen Berlitz of the ADAC German automobile club, argued that roundabouts are not only safer, but more efficient than traffic lights.

Researchers contend that the use of roundabouts reduces the number of accidents caused by drunk drivers. A majority of drivers appear to prefer roundabouts, too.

Schreckenberg, in spite of his advocacy, admitted he does not view roundabouts as a panacea.

“Roundabouts are not a viable alternative for every intersection,” he said, citing space issues as a key factor for many communities.

Nevertheless, German drivers can expect visible changes in their traffic control systems in the coming months and years.

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4 responses to “Brief: The long wait at the many unnecessary traffic lights in Germany may soon be over

  1. This is not a trivial detail. It is a light for the path to the future.

  2. Excellent move by the Gemans. Nice to see some look to the future creatively and with respect for the environment and all space users.
    As there will be lots of traffic lights going cheaply, could we put a bid in for them here in the UK? We are not ready for creative solutions just yet. Shared space? Sounds very socialist. Next thing you will suggest is a Woonwijk.

    • And of course Dirk, we all know what a Woonwijk is. (I had to look it up in WP:

      A residential area is a land use in which housing predominates, as opposed to industrial and commercial areas. Housing may vary significantly between, and through, residential areas. These include single family housing, multi-family residential, or mobile homes. Zoning for residential use may permit some services or work opportunities or may totally exclude business and industry. It may permit high density land use or only permit low density uses. In certain residential areas, largely rural, large tracts of land may have no services whatever, thus residents seeking services must use a motor vehicle or other transport, so the need for transport has resulted in land development following existing or planned transport infrastructure such as rail and road. Development patterns may be regulated by restrictive covenants contained in the deeds to the properties in the development, and may also result from or be reinforced by zoning. Restrictive covenants are not easily changed when the agreement of all property owners (many of whom may not live in the area) is required.”

      I am not sure I love that idea of specialised land use without the absolutely vital mixed uses that create sustainable, agreeable and equitable daily living.

  3. Miles Bader

    The danger, of course, is that however flowery and inclusive the language, as usual, pedestrians and other non-motorized voices will be discounted or simply ignored, and more car-focused infrastructure will be the result.

    Even very small roundabouts, for instance, if not used in conjunction with traffic-calming and other measures to limit car speeds, can be an absolutely awful experience for pedestrians.

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