Rampant health damage from poor air quality, including 40,000 premature deaths, prompts NICE to propose removing speed humps and introducing citywide 20mph to smooth traffic flow. As usual, the primary source of air pollution from staccato traffic motion – traffic lights – is ignored, so it’s hard to take the NICE proposals seriously. As I told Boris when he toyed with allowing left turn on red, such tweaks to a flawed system amount to fiddling while London and other cities continue to fume, in both senses. Real improvements in road safety and air quality will only come from traffic system reform and driver re-education: above all, replacing priority with equality as the central rule of the road. This would enable us to filter sociably and smoothly at low speeds, and would remove the “need” for most traffic lights, speed limits and speed humps.
Mobile phone use while driving is of course a no-no, but it’s a convenient scapegoat for traffic authorities who refuse to reform a system that is intrinsically dangerous. If mobile phone use is banned on the ground that it distracts us and takes our eyes off the road, should traffic lights, speed cameras and speed limits be banned for the same reason? In four years, the death toll from accidents involving phones is 25. In the same four years, there have been 100,000 deaths and serious injuries that do not involve phone use. While radio phone-ins and newspapers purvey shock horror at mobile phone misuse, they ignore the unspeakable casualty toll which is largely due to the dysfunctional traffic control system.
The traffic system puts the onus on the child to beware the motorist. That single fact puts it beyond the pale. Countless attempts to bring the odious nature of the system and the need for reform to the notice of politicians, policymakers, traffic authorities and commissioning editors are met with silence or refusals to heed the case against the current system or to adopt equality-based reform. Not once did The Sunday Times article about congestion (16.10.16) cite traffic control as a cause. Ditto the 2011 Select Committee’s report on congestion. In its “Access Strategy”, Cambridge fails to mention shared space or Equality Streets as an option, thereby failing in its duty under the 2004 Traffic Management Act to explore all options for improving congestion, road safety and air quality.
“A combination of arrogance, negligence and incompetence”, said Huw Edwards (BBC 10 o’clock News, 18.10.2016) on the subject of Aberfan. An apt fit for the perpetrators of the traffic control system by which we are forced to live and die. Their negligence is helping kill, injure, delay and make us ill on a monumental scale. Aberfan was a one-off. The road casualty toll continues unchecked, spawning evermore costly, restrictive practices that fail to address the cancer at the heart of the system.
9.8.16 The Today Programme devotes half an hour to the trivial topic of switching bank accounts. There is nothing life-threatening about it, unlike the dysfunctional rules of the road, and nothing life-enhancing, unlike equality-based reform which, despite my endless efforts at pitching, Today editors have ignored for years.
This is presented as a new idea, but as followers will know, I’ve been pursuing it for years. A meeting with the Cambridge traffic authority in 2012 came to nothing; they went ahead with a £900,000 traffic signal “upgrade” at the very junction where I saw the light about traffic lights in 2000. But maybe it’ll kickstart an overdue peaceful revolution.
Alexei Sayle in this month’s Prospect Magazine: “If I ruled the world … I would remove 80% of the traffic lights … at a junction in France or Spain, there will be four lights, one at each corner … at the end of my street, a modest enough crossing, there are 12 completely different sets of traffic lights! Why? The only logical explanation is that the British traffic light lobby wields more influence than the National Rifle Association does in the US … Anyway, nearly all the traffic lights will go, along with the thousands of ugly and pointless metal road signs that litter our built environment.”
In the domestic sphere (cf the odious Rob in The Archers), coercive control is a crime, with up to 5 years in gaol. In December 2015, Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation, Karen Bradley, said, “Our coercive or controlling behaviour offence will protect victims from sustained patterns of abuse that can lead to control of their lives by the perpetrator.” A metaphor for traffic control? Punitive fines for straying into a bus lane (even to let a fire engine through), returning to your parked car a few minutes late, straying over the speed limit at any time of day or night regardless of context, being forced to stop at traffic lights when the road is deserted, one-way systems that make us go via XYZ to get from A to B – is this sustained coercive controlling behaviour, or what?
Stephen Holgate (Medical Research Council Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology at Southampton University) says polluted air contributes to lung, heart, and many other diseases, especially in young people. It is a factor in 40,000 deaths in the UK every year. As I’ve said many times, letting traffic filter at low revs would cut fuel use and emissions in half, overnight. Yet government remains oblivious, and traffic authorities persist in regulation that blocks flow and maximises emissions. In addition, vexatious regulation produces the stress hormone cortisol which shortens life.
Dr Nick Lane (The Life Scientific, 23.2.16) says spontaneous order springs from chemistry. Chemistry is an apt word to describe the cooperation that springs eternal when we are free to use our inner lights. We could say that regulation, based on the current unequal rules of the road, corrupts road-user relationships. It kills the flow, the life force, the chemistry.