This campaign for traffic system reform 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 to be a 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 carefully 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.
The biggest indictment of the current system? It puts the onus on the child to beware the motorist when it could and should be the other way round. Most “accidents” are not accidents. They are events contrived by the 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 context of priority, the statistics don’t tell us. As I explained in an (unanswered) email to Lord Robertson, titular head of the UN’s Decade of Road Safety, “as long as priority grants unequal rights based on status of road or direction of travel, as distinct from sociable time of arrival, roads will be intrinsically dangerous. Until that fundamental inequality is addressed, everything else is window-dressing.”
“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, as evidenced by our lights-off trial in Portishead which went permanent after journey times fell by over half with no loss of safety. In Poynton, accidents have simply stopped happening.
It works on a macro scale too, e.g. during power cuts across London in 2007 and 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.
What about the maniacs? Why hobble the mass of sensible drivers with one-size-fits-all rules (a contradiction in terms) devised to catch the hypothetical deviant who operates outside the law anyway?
If there are no traffic lights, won’t we start crashing into each other? On the contrary. My interest in avoiding collision with you mirrors your interest in avoiding collision with me. Or in the words of Lennon McCartney, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”
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.