How To Stop Traffic Jams & Save Lives
Saturday, 20 January 2007
GETTING it right first time is a rarity. But even if something was done right first time, because the surrounding world changes, there has to be a limit to how long it can remain right.
In other words, everything ought to be monitored and reviewed regularly, with changes made as required.
- How likely do you think it is that traffic and town planners have managed to get things right from the start?
Cars have not been around all that long really, but they have made a massive impact on how and where we live. Way back in 1908 at The International Road Congress in Rome, the basis of all road signs were set up. Since then, signs have been added, and the signs themselves have become metallic and so forth, but this is still the basis.
Post WW-2, all the UK’s road signs were reformed under recommendations by both the Anderson Committee and the Worboys Committee, and the current signage rolled out in 1965. Meanwhile, mainland European countries signed a treaty called The Vienna Convention on Road Traffic of 1968 to standardise traffic regulations and define the traffic signs and signals for all of Western Europe.
- That’s about 40 years ago. Can all of it still be valid? Seriously — we’re talking about rebuilding after the last World War, new prosperity and peace bringing motorways, industrial estates, suburban housing, out of town shopping centres, new towns and a boom in car use.
Traffic Jams are the result of so-called traffic management and traffic calming — forcing traffic streams down corridors where side roads have been blocked off, speed cameras, as well as town planning: ramps and humps to slow down traffic, zig-zags, double yellow lines, parking meters, one-ways streets, roundabouts, cul-de-sacs.
Get Rid of Yellow Lines, One Ways, Speed Bumps, Traffic Lights, and almost all Road Signs!
But it has been proved that this is all based on a wrong idea, a false premise. It’s a huge mess and no one wants to admit it. A Dutchman actually stood up and said this —Hans Monderman (see – ‘Call To Eliminate All Traffic Signals and Signs‘ ). Monderman has successfully removed everything to create a safer, friendlier, happier and more environmentally friendly traffic model.
Great Industrial cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow were once organic. They grew as required, not as planned. In fact most cities in the modern world have expanded organically, only central Paris was planned (by Haussmann) — and that was mainly to make wider roads by removing alternate streets of buildings.
- It is surely a vanity to believe that we know enough to be able to predict and manage the movements of people even some of the time.
To an extent we may be able to predict crowds for a football game, but traffic changes for myriad reasons — holidays, good weather, scenic routes, popular concerts or shows, venues being closed, or a closed down factory. So while a restricted parking zone, a series of blocked off side roads, traffic lights and speed bumps might have made sense at a specific time and under certain circumstances, as people compensate for the changes, and as time goes by and things change, these imposed planning ideas need to be removed. We need to get back to natural flow and organic movement.
The Perception of Risk
This ties in with a couple of risk models from back in Thatcher’s day. One was The BBC TV show ‘That’s Life!‘ which ran a campaign to have playground surfaces rubberised instead of hard cement or tarmac. There were a handful of head injuries resulting from kids falling from swings. The campaign was successful in getting hard surfaces replaced, but unsuccessful in that the number of accidents has sharply risen as a result of greater risks being taken as the perception of risk is changed — even mothers changed behaviour as the environment was made ‘safer’, they did not pay as much attention as before.
The second was the ‘Clunk Click!’ Seat Belt or Safety Belt campaign, which was voluntary in the UK until figures suggested that it should be made mandatory. The law was changed as a result of successful results in that deaths were down — initially. However, after a few years, with ‘safer’ cars — side impact bars, seat belts, headrests, anti-lock brakes, ABS, air bags and so forth — people began to drive faster and more recklessly as their perception of risk changed, and they simply felt indestructible.
The fact is that if you feel unsafe, then you take more care. These two examples show that changes can cause more harm than the initial problem. As a result of the seat belt law and the rubberised playgrounds, deaths and injuries have dramatically increased.
Throughout the UK has appeared the ‘Sleeping Policeman’, ‘Speed Bump’ or ‘Speed Hump’. These are causing problems with disabled vehicles, people with bad backs, the elderly, pregnant and so forth. They also cause damage to cars and are a very real nuisance for neighbouring residents. (see -Speed Hump Hate, 2003-07-23)
It’s like squeezing a tube of toothpaste when you solve one problem only to create another, different problem elsewhere. The adding of road signs and markings to manage traffic, then the additional cameras, railings and policing to make sure people obey — this leads to information overload.
‘The RAC Foundation claimed that a clutter of contradictory road signs was leading to confusion and collisions, and that “information overload”meant that vital information was often missed. ‘
(From – Norwich Union, Risk Services, 2006-02-16)
“In this week’s New Yorker, Adam Gopnik censures The New York Department of Transportation for imposing a massive blight on the city: a thousand large-print street signs.
(From – Considered Design, 2005-02-15)
And guess what is currently going on? yes, that’s right — things are getting worse; new countries have joined Western Europe, and there is always a European Union role in trying to standardise everything!
An MEP said: ‘”There is still a lot of confusion and misunderstanding across Europe. Each country has its own uniform traffic signing systems whereby signs, signals and road markings are used in different ways as to the design, positioning and meaning of the signs.”‘
(From- ‘Road signs next for EU harmonisation’, 2005-04-20, Norwich Union Risk Services)
Then there is the fear factor; more laws mean there is more chance of accidentally breaking a law and getting caught. This alters behaviour quite significantly (see – Road Safety Bill Put Motorists on Brink of Bans, 2006-03-10) think on it: at the time of writing, 20 per cent of the world’s spy cameras are in the UK —that’s one for every 12 people (see – Brits are Most Spied On, 2006-11-02). We are controlled, ordered about and punished if we are caught. How long will we put up with all this?
The latest car designs offer all sorts of new distractions — satellite navigation systems, mobile hands-free cell phones, MP3 players, pimped HI-FIs, sensors, displays, voice-operated controls, screen displays, and other weird and wonderful things to ease the boredom of traffic queues, but which are actually dangerous because they add to the information overload (see – Mobiles Worse Than Drink Driving, 2002-03-22).
Monderman is right; we need to call a halt, remove the road signs and controls, and free the mind. We are dealing with free people, wandering freely, it should be free flowing and easy. We need to help people be more free to grow, move, change and adapt. It is about people, not roads, cars or buildings. It is not about safety, aerodynamics or fuel consumption. If we make human beings the primary thing, then the rest will follow.
Free roads, car friendly — and then allowing people to live how and where they want. Designing roads and houses should at the very least NOT PREVENT people from being sociable.
‘There is even a new architectural movement — the Congress for the New Urbanism — which believes that front porches, verandas and the like can foster community feeling and dramatically improve life quality for neighbourhoods. This movement is pioneered in the USA by University of Miami professors Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk — who have an architectural and town planning practice (DPZ).’
[http://padglasgow.co.uk/ — Exteriors Page]
Design can reduce crime, and improve communities, people will be happier and live longer and with less stress. Yes, design can be a wonderful thing, but design is merely a start to a more organic evolutionary process, not the be-all and end-all.
That is where planners have got it wrong.
Time for a review…