This campaign for traffic system reform (a re-launch of FiT Roads) asserts the equal right of all road-users to co-exist in peace on roads free of vexatious traffic control.
With journey times at an all-time high, and 25,000 humans killed or hurt on UK roads every year, the current system can hardly claim success. We complain about the traffic and blame other drivers, but could it be traffic controls that are the problem?
Traffic lights take our eyes off the road, a recipe for danger. They make us stop when we could go, a recipe for rage. They cost the earth to install and run. But when lights are out of action, we approach with care and take it more or less in turns. As courtesy thrives, congestion dissolves.
Lights are the most visible symptom of a dysfunctional system. The system is based on a bad idea – priority. Priority imposes unequal rights-of-way. It licenses main road traffic to neglect other road-users, regardless who was there first. “Get out of my way!” yells priority, as it denies infinite filtering opportunities and expressions of fellow feeling.
Why do we “need” traffic lights? To break the priority streams of traffic so others can cross. Thus is most traffic control an expensive exercise in self-defeat, a vain bid to solve the problem of priority.
Priority sets the stage for conflict. It creates a culture of fear. Equality sets the stage for cooperation. It creates a culture of care.
So the aim is to change the rule of the road from priority (a traffic engineering construct) to equality (a social model). It would remove the “need” for most traffic control, and the need for speed, allowing all road-users to merge in harmony.
Most “accidents” are not accidents. They are events contrived by the misguided rules and design of the road. Contrary to popular belief, traffic lights do not guarantee safety. Westminster City Council’s latest safety audit shows that no less than 44% of personal injury “accidents” occur at traffic lights. How many of the remainder are due to priority? Compiled in the defective context of priority, the stats don’t tell us.
“After you,” says equality, as it stimulates empathy and encourages drivers to see people on foot as fellow road-users rather than obstacles in the way of the next light. This is no mere novelty effect. Moreover, it’s efficient, as evidenced by our 2009 lights-off trial in Portishead which went permanent after journey times fell by over half with no loss of safety. It works on a macro scale too, e.g. during power cuts across London in Nov 2007 and Feb 2008 when, free of obstructive traffic control, congestion vanished into thin air.
Founded by Martin Cassini, producer and traffic writer/campaigner, Equality Streets opposes regulation which contrives conflict, dictates our behaviour and deprives us of choice.
Traffic control seeks in vain to achieve safety through coercion. To avoid more needless deaths on the altar of the malign current system, reform is vital. At major junctions at peak times signal control can be useful. But it should be a last resort. By and large, we are better off left to our own devices, on a level playing-field with equal or no priority.
Deregulation is not enough on its own. It needs to be combined with (among other things) roadway redesign to express a social context, and a change in culture from priority to equality. What could be achieved in terms of safety, efficiency and quality of life through reform along these lines is unlimited.
Based on a trust in human nature rather than an obsession with controlling it, Equality Streets could launch an era of peaceful co-existence on our roads, with transformational gains across the board. It could provide kind spending cuts of £50 billion a year, and growth with thousands of new jobs redesigning and re-engineering the public realm.
“Technology must be the servant of man, not its master.” E.F.Schumacher
Note: if you wondered what Franka Potente is doing here, this post is the pretext.