Honk! Complex thinking on reducing traffic signals in cities

What is that old saw that goes something like “the definition of high intelligence is the ability to keep two contradictory ideas in mind at the same time without ones head exploding?” Well, whatever the exact wording there is no doubt that this is an imperative capability for making wise policy in terms of our transportation arrangements. Here is an exchange taken from several leading newmobility discussion fora, which offers some complex views on the advantages of removing at least some, possibly many, traffic lights from our cities. Maybe.

This exchange took place on the several indicated discussion fora.

Mayor identifies 140 traffic signals for removal

Source: http://www.transportxtra.com/magazines/local_transport_today/news/?id=21956

—–Original Message—–
On Behalf Of Eric Britton
Sent: Friday, April 02, 2010 4:09 PM
To: NewMobilityCafe@yahoogroups.com; Sustran-discuss@list.jca.apc.org; WorldStreets@yahoogroups.com;
Subject: London Mayor identifies 140 traffic signals for removal

Transport for London has identified 140 traffic signals across the capital that may no longer perform a useful role and could be removed.

Officials are finalising the collection of data on traffic flows and accidents from each site to verify that the signals are no longer useful in traffic, pedestrian or safety terms.

David Brown, TfL’s managing director for surface transport, told last week’s meeting of the TfL board that 28 sets of traffic signals had already been removed in the capital this financial year, ten of which were on TfL’s road network.

Board members also received an update on the proposed trial of pedestrian ‘countdown’ signals. TfL submitted plans to the DfT at the beginning of March to trial the technology at eight locations in the capital. If approval is granted the first trial site could be installed as early as June.

Countdown signals will show pedestrians how many seconds are left in the ‘blackout’ period – the phase between the green man being extinguished and road traffic receiving a green light.

Brown also provided the board with details of TfL’s lane rental plans under which utility companies would have to pay a charge for the time they occupy the road when conducting streetworks.

Brown said utility companies could avoid paying the charge if they undertook work at non-traffic sensitive times or employed “innovative working practices” so that the carriageway was returned to traffic use at peak times.

Brown said TfL’s plans would need amendments to existing legislation. Lane rental powers were included in the New Roads and Streetworks Act but have only ever been trialled, in Camden and Middlesbrough.

Transport minister Sadiq Khan said in December that the DfT would consult on lane rental this summer and that regulations could be introduced in October 2011. They would only be available for use on the “most sensitive roads in the most congested urban areas”.

(Thanks to Ian Perry for the heads-up)

—–Original Message—–
From: Simon Bishop, Delhi
Sent: Monday, 05 April, 2010 08:01
To: Eric Britton
Subject: RE: [sustran] London Mayor identifies 140 traffic signals for removal

Dear Madhav, Paul, and Everyone,

This raises an interesting issue Eric. Here in Delhi you may be aware that there are a comparatively very small number of signals, 700 whereas London has around 6,500 for a similar land area and lower population density.

In some senses then you have ‘naked streets’ in Delhi. However, on most roads in the city this is an unenviable state of affairs. The rising motorized middle class neither want to see more signals hindering their path and are pushing for ‘signal free’ stretches where they can drive non-stop and unhindered. The results are there to be found in the road casualty statistics.

In this scenario I find myself arguing for the implementation of many more signals in Delhi precisely because the ‘roads’ are designed to facilitate car movement (ironically like many of the ‘roads’ in London too). There is also an ‘imperialistic’ attitude towards vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists, ignored most of the time and hooted at when they get in the way. So called zebras are worth less than the paint they use to make them with.

A combination of these reasons leads me to think that it is very well to have naked streets when a) you clearly have a ‘street’ and not a ‘road’ (many of the ‘colonies’ or residential areas here in Delhi would come under this category and could work as such with minor traffic calming measures, and b) equally importantly, you have a sufficiently ‘democratic’ approach to the use of road space and a respect for vulnerable modes. It is questionable that both exist in Delhi or London.

I’m a bit out of touch with London but I understand that Boris also wants to remove signals because they are a hindrance to motorized vehicles. If this is the case then I’m afraid I’m not in favor of the concept. The UK has a long way to go to reach the attitudes of Dutch drivers when it comes to sharing the road – one of the main reasons because cycling is still an activity of health freaks and eccentrics (so you’re not mowing down a friend or family member if you drive fast).

In the UK there has to be a change in mindset and an effort to remove all of the risk averse, health and safety regulatory culture which leads local authorities to make roads out of streets if naked streets are to work. At the same time, we have to start somewhere and attitudes will change when our urban environment becomes more friendly to vulnerable users, so let’s get the ball rolling.

In London removing signals could be started on quieter streets with appropriately designed traffic calming measures. Delhi could leapfrog London by going straight ahead for traffic calming on streets. But in London and Delhi signals are still needed on main roads designed for traffic movement.

I have an idea, Boris can give the signals he’s removing to Delhi to put on their roads….. Who could facilitate this I wonder?

# # #


Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: climate@newmobility.org) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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