This piece about Mayer Hillman leaves little doubt that the world with its dependence on fossil fuels is on an irreversible path of self-destruction. If the UK went zero-emissions tomorrow, it would make barely any difference. Individual acts such as re-useable coffee cups are drops in the ocean. My plan to let traffic filter at low speeds and low revs would make only a small local difference to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere (though it would bring a host of other benefits). Even adopting it worldwide would hardly dent the inevitable decline of the Earth’s biosphere. Depressing? Yes, but not to the point where we give up trying.
Coverage of my attempt to get Barnstaple to go traffic light-free, starting with a double T-junction similar to the one in Portishead. My response to Councillor Greenslade to follow.
Traffic management in London beggars belief. Traffic lights blocking flow at every turn. Delancey St in Camden blocked back. Ditto Baker St because green time so short. Lights causing avoidable congestion across the city, even at minor junctions such as Hornsey Rd and Tollington Way. Tens of billions misspent on despoiling public realm, ensnaring countless victims in needless delay, contrived danger, and polluted air – all on the altar of official obsession with micro-managing our every move.
Sometimes I have to reach for the off switch when the Today Programme is on. Last week, I switched off at Justin Webb’s feigned outrage and nagging at an Oxfam guy over sexual misconduct. I can’t help thinking that Today’s editorial policy is cock-eyed, ie it has an obsessive eye on the cock, a hypocritical fascination with salacious out-of-hours shenanigans. Meanwhile, they refuse to give airtime to my critique of the traffic system which, despite helping kill, injure and pollute the population, goes unchecked and unchallenged.
I was halfway across a High Street junction on foot, and got hooted at by a driver turning right. The Highway Code says drivers should give way to pedestrians at junctions. But the driver had a green light, so he assumed ownership of the road. With his man-given right-of-way, he might have deliberately hit me. But presumably the honk of his horn, which in the narrow space made me jump and people gape, vented his spleen. As usual, it’s the rules of the road that turn decent people into delinquents. This scenario must be played out countless times up and down the land. More often, pedestrians wait in deference for permission to cross. As they wait, they inhale invisible fumes. We all remain victims of a dysfunctional system, presided over by the state, and by politicians who should know better.
“£12bn in welfare cuts to come”, says Paul Johnson of the IFS, “and billions more in other public service cuts. This is not the end of austerity.” Like everyone else, this economic guru is ignorant of the case for kind cuts in traffic system reform. Oddly, the field is overlooked, and continues to get away with murder.
Driving through Barnstaple yesterday (on electric), I think I surprised the driver behind me. At a pedestrian crossing where the lights had just changed against the people on foot, I waited at green for them to cross. They waved in surprised gratitude. Then the lights changed against me but the people had gone, so I went. At the next signalled crossing where the people on foot had crossed but the lights were still red against the traffic, I went through again. Then, past the roundabout, I stopped for people waiting at the side of the road (no crossing marked). A bit further on I stopped for a teen to cross and join his friends on the other side. I made the next set of lights on green. The distance between the four sets of lights? About 400 metres. All are entirely unnecessary, or would be, if the rules of the road were based on social values instead of obsessional, moronic regulation.
While the public spending axe falls left, right and centre – this week it was MoD cuts – a thick seam of beneficial cuts lies neglected. I’m talking about traffic control: a field of vast public expenditure which is vexatious, counterproductive, costs lives and costs the earth.
How often do we hear of congestion disappearing when traffic lights are out of action? Given freedom to use our own judgement, we use commonsense to approach carefully and common courtesy to merge more or less in turn. As soon as the lights are “working” again, the jams are back, with their concentrations of invisible, deadly pollution.
Traffic lights make us stop when we could go, wasting infinite filtering opportunities. They take our eyes off the road, flouting the fundamental principle of road safety. Nearly half of all personal injury “accidents” occur at traffic lights (Westminster City Council safety audit, 2013). By making us stop, re-start, stop and re-start, they maximise fuel use and emissions.
As I wrote 10 years ago in No Idle Matter, traffic control multiplies emissions and fuel use by a factor of 4. My estimate proved to be an under-estimate: lecturer in engineering, Prashant Kumar, says the multiple is as high as 29. So scrapping lights and letting traffic filter sociably at low speeds would reduce emissions in urban areas by at least 75% – with disadvantage to no-one except the traffic control industry which has been ruling our lives to our detriment and at our expense for too long.
I put “accidents” in inverted commas because most accidents are not accidents. They are events contrived by the misguided rules of the road. The biggest indictment of the current system? It puts the onus for road safety on the child. It could and should be the other way round.
Part of the vast sums saved by decommissioning traffic lights – those weapons of mass distraction, danger, delay and dirty air – could be used to fund a long overdue scrappage scheme for owners of high-polluting vehicles.
Sadiq Khan says taxing the most polluting vehicles is a no-brainer. Not for the businesses which as a result could go under. Moreover, it’s clear he is unaware that unfiltered modern GDI (gasoline direct injection) petrol engines emit ten times the volume of lethal particles than filtered diesels. It costs only £40 to fit a filter, which would trap 100% of the nasties from GDI engines, but manufacturers, including Audi, don’t bother. They won’t even retrofit them. Vorsprung durch Technik? Hardly. It’s more a case of Rücksprung durch neglect.
The real no-brainer – the massive quick win – is to scrap traffic lights and reform the rules of the road, so instead of living and dying by the vicious rule of priority – “Get out of my way!” – we live and let live by equality: “After you”. Gentle filtering at low revs would replace wasteful stop-restart. As congestion melted away, road safety, air quality and quality of life would see immediate improvements.
In the absence of a bridge or flyover, and apart from multi-lane intersections at peak times, all junctions, and roads for that matter, should be all-way give-ways, so all road-users can take it in turns as in other walks of life. Imagine jumping a cashpoint queue. You’d cause a riot. Yet on the road, we accept such delinquent behaviour without question. Reform is long overdue. Life on the road need not be a misery. It could be a pleasure.
Reform of the rules should be combined with a new driving test and streetscape redesign.
Socially speaking, road signs, road regulation and road markings are designed to make us do the wrong thing. You were there first? So what? The rules give me right of way over you, so tough! Thus pedestrians and toddlers in their buggies are forced to wait by the roadside or on traffic islands for traffic to clear or the lights to change. Meanwhile, they inhale toxic fumes that damage health, lung function and human development. Incredibly, this odious system is backed by transport ministries and the law of the land. They actively oppose the case for reforming the rules of the road and redesigning roads to express equality. Only this will make roads safe, civilised and efficient, as it will minimise emissions, and avoid the “need” for most traffic control, saving tens of billions in public expenditure.