This blog dates back to Feb 2009. We are in the process of transferring it to this page.
Different cuts 8 October 2012
George Osborne (Today Programme) wants to “tackle unfairness” by making welfare cuts of £10bn. Meanwhile, as I’ve been saying for years, the traffic system, which always escapes scrutiny, can provide annual cuts of £50bn that will hurt no-one except the traffic managers and signal salesmen who have been ruling our lives to our detriment for too long.
The point about Poynton 30 September 2012
Last week I finished a draft edit of a film about Poynton, a community thriving again after liberation from decades of oppressive traffic engineering. More material needs to be shot, so it’s still a couple of months away from publication, but it shows how public money can be spent for the good, rather than the misery of all.
Will 20mph save us? 15 August 2012
Deaths and serious injuries are up in 20mph zones but up even more in 30mph. Official commentators say the jury is still out on the value of 20mph. My view is that true road safety will never be achieved by numbers. We should drive according to context. Let us go at walking pace on busy streets, especially when children are around, and at our own chosen speed when conditions allow, e.g. on a clear motorway. In other words, let us use our own judgement, preferably informed by education …
Tangled up in red 18 July 2012
Why stop at a red light? Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Seriously, why should we stop when there is no conflicting traffic? Adulthood is supposed to be about independence and responsibility. What do traffic lights and speed limits do? Outlaw independent thought and action. Remove responsibility. Infantilise us. Yesterday I had the dubious pleasure of driving through Oxford and Swindon. In Oxford especially, there is a hardly a crossing that is not governed by traffic signals. They cause continual congestion, block flow, boost emissions, produce great clumps of foreign students on traffic islands, gazing up at the lights, hardly daring to move. It’s stupefying that elected councillors and politicians defer to unelected, paid officials, and let them impose their barrage of largely counterproductive controls, all at the expense of our time, health and sanity.
Rise in road deaths 18 July 2012
The transport select committee, chaired by Louise Ellman, is concerned about the rise in road deaths, 51 up on last year to 1901. It took no notice of submissions from me and Kenneth Todd about the role of traffic lights in causing, so it’s doubtful they would listen to our critique of road safety policy. Is it surprising there are fatalities when the root cause of danger on the road – priority – goes untreated? Ellman is “shocked” that 27% of young male drivers are involved in “accidents”. Is it surprising given the inadequacy of the driving test? As I keep saying, most “accidents” are not accidents. They are events contrived by the rules and design of the road.
Ode rage 8 July 2012
Andy Andy this is massive
When you play just don’t be passive
Attack attack attack the Fed
Win or lose you’ll still have cred
Get a new plan, Stan 6 May 2012
After seeing my video The Case for a No-Lights Trial, Westminster’s traffic chief linked up with TfL (historically resistant to my proposals), and the GLA/Boris (ditto), to announce the removal of 145 sets of lights. During his tenure, Livingstone saddled London with 1800 new sets of lights, conjuring congestion where there was none before. So why does the new plan stop at removing only 145 sets? Of course deregulation is not enough on its own, and should be undertaken as part of a wider programme of reform.
The brain dead give us brain damage 28 April 2012
You can be the safest, most aware driver, but the bass turds are out to get you and get you they will. Paid savants devise cryptic regulation that builds into the vast public disservice known as traffic management. The other day I drove along Cromwell Road to experience Exhibition Rd as a driver. As you know, but in case you don’t, Exhibition Rd is a flagship shared space scheme, where life on the road is supposed to be sweeter. But they have already found ways to sour it. First, they’ve banned the left turn. Sod ‘em, I said to myself, as I took a careful left with no harm to absent man or beast (apparently it’s in case people are crossing on foot – London is a city, durr). As I’ve said before, they make us go via XYZ to get from A-B, thus increasing journey time, fuel use and emissions. Anyway, proceeding carefully towards Hyde Park, I was surprised at the speed of traffic coming the other way. It’s further evidence that streetscape redesign is not enough on its own. To make roads fit for people, a wider programme of reform is needed, above all a change in culture from priority to equality. As long as priority rules, it will be KO rather than OK. We will remain at odds with each other, and traffic managers will continue to devise vain solutions to cure the incurable.
Fuel tax fraud? 25 February 2012
Apparently the Chancellor has ruled out cutting fuel tax, which as we know adds over 60% to the cost of fuel. Tax cuts could, of course, be funded by traffic system reform. Maybe my arguments haven’t reached the Chancellor’s ears. Or maybe he won’t reform a traffic system which maximises journey times and fuel use, and his tax take.
Funding tax cuts 19 February 2012
Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, wants to raise the tax threshold. Don’t we all? Balls wants to fund it by cutting VAT to raise the £12bn needed. The government rubbished the proposal. But they are just as myopic in failing to see that tax cuts for the poor and a VAT cut could be funded from traffic system reform (which at the same time would bring untold other benefits).
Caught in the net 19 February 2012
In devising methods of repressing hypothetical (minority) misbehaviour on our roads, the traffic control net is spread wide. Like the wrong fish caught in a trawler’s net, good people are ensnared and brought to their knees (you, me and Chris Huhne come to mind). Apart from being based on the fatal flaw of priority, the twin-headed monster of traffic control and enforcement is out of hand, run by unelected public “servants” whose mafia tactics amount to a gross public disservice.
Calls for 5mph limit in Exhibition Road 17 February 2012
A pedestrian was hit by a lorry in Exhibition Rd on Monday 13 Feb 2012 (story here). This is not an argument for abandoning shared space, but it supports my view that streetscape redesign is not enough on its own. The call for 5mph limits is right and wrong. Motorists should drive at walking pace when pedestrians are around, but they should be free to watch the road and drive according to context, not forced to drive by numbers or obey 24-hr limits. Roads will be safe and fit for all road-users only when the perception shift from priority to equality has taken root – something that will only be achieved through culture change and re-education.
Red light Ken (and my road rage) 10 February 2012
Ken Livingstone, who during his reign added 1200 sets of traffic lights to London streets, now “pledges to install traffic lights to give cyclists a 5 second head start,” reports The Times. Boris too “is considering early green lights,” chirps the Evening Standard. In an editorial, it says, “this is a simple and sensible idea. We need more imaginative thinking to make our city safer for cyclists.” This pitiful coverage lays bare the total ignorance among editors and politicians alike of the overwhelming case for reform of the current traffic control system. By failing to commission articles on the subject (which I pitch and re-pitch continually), are editors censoring criticism, and colluding in the unspeakable peacetime casualty toll over which the system presides? (From 2001 to 2011, there have been 156 cyclists killed and 4,000 badly injured.) Reform along the lines advocated here and at Equality Streets would make roads safe not just for cyclists, but for everyone – without the need for expensive technology or vexatious state intervention.
Is streetscape redesign enough? 6 February 2012
Often cited as places where drivers behave considerately are car parks, because they are not part of the regulated road network. In a Tesco par cark yesterday, when I was on foot and asserted my equal right to the road space, I was given the finger not only by the male driver, but by his wife. They were in a big car with a personalised number plate, whatever that tells us. The unpleasant experience reinforces my belief that street redesign – while an essential component in the quest for civil road-user relationships – is not enough on its own. Equally essential (arguably more so) are re-education, culture change, and legal reform – to put the onus on motorists to beware pedestrians instead of the other way round (as the current system has it). We need to zap the anti-social habits instilled by the priority-based rules of the road. Meanwhile, a hex on the houses of the traffic engineers and policymakers who support those unspeakable rules!
19th v 21st century resistance to rail 10 January 2012
PM (Radio 4) had an item about Victorian resistance to railway development, implying there was a parallel with today’s opposition to HS2. Seems a narrow comparison, because in the 19th century, there were no telephones, cars or Internet, was there?
Gulliver’s travails 6 January 2012
Congestion caused by volume of traffic is acceptable. We’re in the same boat. No problem. But congestion caused or aggravated by unnecessary traffic control – you know, making us stop for no reason other than the light is red – is unacceptable. Human intelligence is a superior, wondrous thing. Yet traffic control reduces us to the level of unthinking robots. The red light brigadiers are Lilliputians disabling Gulliver.
Red tape, red lights 6 January 2012
According to today’s news, NHS red tape is being cut to release nurses from the burden of form-filling so they can devote more time to patient care. As we know, there are moves to cut police red tape too, presumably so they can devote more time to their proper job. Same goes for traffic lights. Isn’t it time for a major cull of those weapons of mass distraction and delay so that all road-users could squander less time stopping needlessly and devote more time to the proper job of getting from A-B safely, expeditiously, with minimum damage to the environment?
Crocodile tears 6 December 2011
Yet another cyclist is killed at traffic lights in London (story here). These “tragedies” are a direct consequence of the infamous rules and design of the road. It means yet more blood on the hands of the authorities who adhere to a lethal priority system and ignore solutions based on equality.
Fuel prices 15 November 2011
A few decades ago, when income tax hit 98%, most high earners went into tax exile. Now the top rate of tax is a reasonable 50%, although it’s due to drop to 40% (also reasonable) as soon as the government can swing it. Tax on fuel is an unreasonable 66% but people hit by the artificially high price can’t afford to fill their tanks, let alone decamp. Ministers justify the unjustifiable by saying they need to raise another £1.5bn. As I keep saying, traffic system reform offers kind cuts in the tens of billions. So what are ministers waiting for? I appreciate the environmental argument in favour of fewer journeys, but CO2 cuts achieved that way are ludicrously small compared with what could be achieved by letting traffic filter instead of stop and restart at gas-guzzling signals. And the greening of cars is at last well under way.
Death of another cyclist 14 November 2011
How many roads ..? And how many deaths will it take ’til he knows, that too many people have died? Sorry tale here. Brian Dorling. God save us from the “experts”, especially traditional traffic experts.
M5 crash 6 November 2011
(Update of yesterday’s post) Condolences to the people affected in what seems to have been a freak event, but calls for the 70mph limit to remain are irrelevant. Instead of driving by numbers, we should drive according to context. Any crash is yet another reminder that phasing in an advanced driving test is long overdue.
80mph? 30 September 2011
The biggest guff spouted on the subject is that raising the limit will increase emissions by 20%. No, it’s not mph that matters – it’s rpm. At 70mph, old petrol cars rev at 3,500rpm. Longer-geared diesel or newer cars rev at 2000, using about a third less fuel and producing a third less CO2. On safety, what about middle-lane blockers who not only waste motorway space but cause bunching and get away scot-free when “accidents” occur? But the whole “debate” – about driving by numbers instead of context – is puerile.
New traffic lights – old mistakes 22 September 2011
Traffic lights are being installed at a T-junction near Bideford despite my proposal for a less expensive, safer FiT (filter-in-turn) solution. Story here.
Government lies 10 June 2011
prominent news story yesterday was the prospect of stiff fines for Britain’s failure to meet emissions reduction targets, particularly nitrogen dioxide which causes 4000 premature deaths a year. The main source of NO2 is traffic. Radio 4 News quoted the government as saying, “We’re doing all we can”. I have over a dozen unanswered emails to ministers about the potential for carbon cuts from traffic system reform. Do they respond? Do they act? Do pigs fly? Professor of environmental pollution at Imperial College, Nigel Bell, says restrictions on traffic may be the only way to meet targets, “but politically that’s unacceptable, though Ken Livingstone might do something”. What, blight streetscapes with 1800 more traffic lights with their embedded energy, negative impact on traffic flow and emissions? Bell would impose high congestion charges too. It’s not just politicians who are rich in ignorance and poor in imagination.
The misappliance of “science” 7 June 2011
In the summer, you expect jams on the A303 because of man-made bottlenecks, i.e. dual-carriageways funnelling into single. But nearing the end of a mega jam the other day, I saw it was due to something else: traffic lights at a roundabout. The principal A303 was getting just 12 secs of green time, while the A345 (with much lighter traffic) was getting 35 secs! They pap you and zap you for straying over the limit when the road is clear, but when you’re bumper to bumper for forty minutes because of misapplied control, do they say sorry?
Speed rap 2 June 2011
They say that any publicity is good publicity. I’m not so sure. Anyway, it’s out there, so it might as well be on here.
Huhne – on the right ropes 18 May 2011
Whether Chris Huhne tried to pass the buck or not, the saga reveals the contortions to which citizens can be driven to escape the tentacles of a system that values the letter of the law above the spirit. Speed doesn’t kill. It’s inappropriate speed that kills, or speed in the wrong hands. One-size-fits-all limits are a contradiction in terms, because life is about infinite variables. Simple-minded groups such as BRAKE! would claim that freedom to exercise individual judgement based on context is a licence to drive carelessly. On the contrary, it’s a blueprint for driving with true care and attention.
DEMOcracy v AUTOcracy 5 May 2011
In his Mansion House speech last night, the Foreign Secretary called for funding to help emerging democracies in North Africa avoid a reversion to autocracy. It’s not too far-fetched to see a parallel with roads. Britain is known for its democratic freedoms, yet roads are subject to autocratic control. If you arrive at a junction and can see it’s clear, are you free to go? Not if there’s a red light. How many traffic lights are there in the UK? About 45,000, operating day and night, 365 days a year. That’s a lot of individual choice overruled by authoritarian control.
From FiT Roads to Equality Streets 10 April 2011
Free to Choose and FiT Roads are relaunching as Equality Streets. The transition will take time, so all will continue in use, but I’ve already started posting more frequently at Equality Streets. To join up/post comments there, you will be asked to register with WordPress (pretty painless).
Red light Ken 7 April 2011
Ken Livingstone says (ES, 7.4.11), “We now know that at least 4,000 people die prematurely every year because of poor air quality.” Bizarre that it has taken him so long to wise up to this well-known fact. Under his watch as Mayor, over 1000 sets of traffic lights were added to London streets, each costing hundreds of thousands to install, more to maintain and run, making congestion worse, and blighting streetscapes. Despite his duty to reduce emissions, he stood by for seven years while Midland Rd was closed (during construction of the tunnel link), and failed to order traffic signal switch-off, or at least re-timing, at that chronically-congested junction with Euston Rd near St Pancras. In fact, his officers are at least as much to blame, as was Camden’s environment chief, under whose nose the scandal unfolded.
Speed doesn’t kill 6 April 2011
It’s speed in the wrong hands that kills, or inappropriate speed – the very speed we get at priority and signal-controlled junctions. For all the negative press about “speeding”, you’d think exceeding the limit must be a major factor in “accidents”. In fact, the DfT attributes only 5% of accidents to exceeding the limit. See P.7 of this document, under the heading “Injudicious actions”.
Sweet FA 4 April 2011
The FA demands respect when it should be earning it. How can you respect an organisation that fails so abjectly to adopt umpiring techniques that have been around since the advent of TV action replay? In the same way, how can you respect traffic controls that subvert age-old social instinct and common law principles of equal rights and responsibilities?
Heavy duty control 3 April 2011
No doubt traffic engineers puff with pride at their ability to apportion equal green time to the multiple movements at interchanges such as Vauxhall Cross and Trafalgar Square (6 secs per min). Does it bother them that their complex algorithms kill the rhythm of natural flow, meaning that at least half the time road-users are disadvantaged and needlessly delayed, including pedestrians held like sheep in “pens”, to be released only when Big Brother Red allows? Curious that such resources are thrown at managing these movements, when most of the time, self-management would do a better job. The wisdom of crowds is a thing of beauty. Traffic control is a thing of duty – heavy duty!
Google v the TCD 3 April 2011
High on Google’s list of management advice is “empower your team and don’t micromanage.” If the TCD (traffic control dictatorship) had a list, its core directive would no doubt be the polar opposite, along the lines of “give road-users no power of choice or discretion, micromanage them, dictate their every move, and book them if they stray an inch.”
Speed cameras 2 April 2011
You’ll have heard that Oxfordshire is redeploying speed cameras. There’s a lively discussion about it here.
No traffic controls = civilised streets 31 March 2011
Below is a link to some early 20th-century footage shot from a tram progressing along a US city street teeming with people on foot, horse-drawn carts, motor vehicles, trams – all human life is here, in all its beautiful, harmonious chaos. Not a yellow line, parking meter, speed limit, speed camera or traffic light in sight, yet everyone merges in a merry mix (illustrating beautifully what Equality Streets, FiT Roads and shared space are all about). It may not seem wholly relevant to today’s car-dominated cities – but isn’t it urban maldesign which has allowed vehicles to dominate at the expense of other street life? The footage shows how different road-users can co-exist in harmony given equal rights, and given responsibility for choosing gentle speeds in perfect accord with the social context. (Shame about the music track, but feast your eyes on the pictures. It lasts about 8 minutes, but is worth viewing to the end.) Thanks to Chad Dornsife for sending it. Clip here.
Today and Ed – joint shame? 31 March 2011
The Today Programme’s big interview this morning was Ed Miliband. So now we know what Labour would do about the deficit. Or do we? All I gleaned was that Ed would spread cuts over four years, “and go out and ask the people what they think”. Brilliant! Evan Davis hopped about like a goblin (do Today presenters get bonuses for interruptions?), accusing Ed of a willingness to fall behind on deficit targets by £40bn a year, and claiming that therefore there is no alternative to painful spending cuts. A dozen times over the last two years, I have emailed Today editors telling them that in traffic system reform there is scope for beneficial cuts of tens of billions a year. I’ve written about it in Economic Affairs, and here (politically I’m unaffiliated by the way). In researching an updated piece for a Sunday paper, I’ve had annual savings of £40bn certified by an accountant as a realistic figure for kind cuts from traffic system reform, assuming you agree that equality is a better basis for road-user interaction than priority (with its expensive network of defensive-aggressive and ultimately futile controls). The figures are broad brush, because the cost of traffic management and control, as a DfT spokesman told me, “is as long as a piece of string”, and, as a senior traffic economist and engineer warned, the field is virtually impossible to unravel. But the point is that the mainstay of independent, investigative journalism, the BBC, is swallowing ill-informed government PR and neglecting outside voices bringing insights of major import.
Verdict in bus driver case 30 March 2011
Blackfriars Crown Court is near me, so hoping for a word with the defence, I cycled over, thinking the bus driver was as much a victim as the poor dead cyclist. The catastrophic event will haunt the driver all her life. But the case was over. Verdict: Not Guilty. So why did the CPS bring the case? Chambers gave me the solicitor’s number, but the person I needed was not at her desk. Ditto the CPS press officer. So I await replies to two voicemails. Will post an update when I have one.
Another cyclist killed at traffic lights 30 March 2011
22-year-old student, Dorothy Elder, met a terrible end on 11 November 2009 at the junction of Southampton Row and Holborn. Bus driver, Leola Burte, is facing a charge of dangerous driving. The bus was stationary at red when Dorothy cycled up the inside. As the lights changed and they moved off, Dorothy was dragged under the bus. Speed wasn’t a factor. The prosecution alleges the driver was incompetent for failing to see the cyclist and take appropriate action. My comment? When will we see representatives of the traffic control system in the dock? Never is the finger pointed at the information overload assailing a driver, especially at such a busy and visually confusing junction. If lights weren’t demanding attention and taking eyes off the road, and if, instead, road-users were able to filter sociably in turn, it’s highly likely that the driver’s brain would have been fully focused on fellow road-users and the needs of the moment. The role of traffic controls in messing with our minds and causing “accidents” has never been studied. Who will fund a study? How many other road-users must die on the altar of this violent, priority-based, blame-is-the-name-of-the-game traffic control system?
Applying Schumacher to traffic 27 March 2011
Pertinent to the application of human principles to the rules of the road is this from E.F.Schumacher: “Technology must be the servant of man, not its master.”
Instructions overriding information 27 March 2011
Have you ever followed road directions only to arrive at a junction or roundabout and be left guessing? After taking a wrong exit, you might spot a miniature sign in the middle-distance at the exit you wanted. Traffic authorities spend fortunes on instructional signage – but where are the directional signs when we need them!? Heathrow Terminal 4 is a case in point. At the last roundabout, you want the third exit, but the sign is posted not at the roundabout where you need it, but at the third exit, which is fatuous. The official mindset is geared to coercion at the expense of information – a gross misapplication of resources.
Amber-flashing lights are all right but FiT is better 25 March 2011
Portsmouth wants the DfT to approve amber-flashing lights at night. As a student 40 years ago in Munich, I admired amber-flashing lights at side roads outside peak times, but really, who needs signals to tell us to exercise caution when we are genetically programmed to be careful unless licensed by a green light to be careless? Metro piece.
TfL – tea-leaves for London? 22 March 2011
For decades, London Transport had a decent landline number for travel information: 0207 222 1234. Now TfL has imposed an indecent 0843 number which is excluded from “inclusive” phone packages. It charges 40p per minute, taking a cut of every minute you’re on the line. It maximises revenue by using a maze of options, saving the one you want until last. Then you are held in a queue and told your call is important to them. I bet it is. “TfL takes just a few pence from each call to cover the cost of running the improved service,” said a spokesman. Don’t you love the ‘just’?
Bullying tactics 21 March 2011
If transport minister, Philip Hammond, isn’t a philistine, he gives a convincing impression. His claim that objectors to high-speed rail are self-interested nimbys is false. I don’t live in the threatened area, so I’m no nimby. Apart from the likelihood that the £33bn projected cost would balloon to at least twice that sum, the trade-off, whichever way you cut it, is negative. HS2 would shave minutes off a journey between cities that are already well-served, while doing nothing to connect outlying regions currently starved of viable links, at a time when web interconnectivity is rendering traditional business meetings increasingly pointless. On the altar of this high-cost vanity project, they propose to sacrifice some of England’s most green and pleasant land. Traffic policy presides over avoidable casualties, congestion and environmental damage on a grotesque scale. Instead of threatening havens of peace with spurious progress, we should be improving regional infrastructure and creating Equality Streets.
Public disservice 21 March 2011
Polly Toynbee (Guardian 19 March) is right about the hidden value of much public service, but wrong in seeing traffic control as anything but a public disservice. In providing beneficial spending cuts, traffic system reform would avoid the destructive cuts she fears will unravel the admirable public services that have invisibly mended many of society’s ills.
Break the chains of human bondage? 18 March 2011
It’s hardly credible that a system which puts the onus on children to beware motorists, instead of the other way round, is supported by the law of the land. Again, it’s hardly credible that a system which denies choice and defies common sense is enshrined in the rules of the road. Time to break them thar rules?
Traffic lights at busy junction 17 March 2011
“MOTORISTS are being warned to drive carefully,” reports the Southend Standard, “after traffic lights stopped working at a busy junction.” The clear implication is that when lights are “working”, they are free to drive carelessly. NIB here.
Disobeying traffic signals 15 March 2011
As well as defying common sense and denying discretion, traffic signals foster dependency. Every day in London you’ll see pedestrians walk straight up to a Pelican crossing and press the button. Then they look up, see nothing coming, and cross. When the light changes, traffic has to stop for no reason other than the light is red. If you are driving and, like the pedestrian, use your common sense to go on opportunity, you are an instant criminal – known in the trade as a “red light jumper” (RLJ).
Less government, not more 15 March 2011
“Civilisations need strong functioning governments if they are to prosper,” writes Will Hutton. Hmm. Belgium is without government and doing fine by all accounts. Given fair laws, maybe the “need” for government wanes – in the same way that if equality (instead of priority) provided the framework for interaction on the roads, the “need” for traffic regulation would evaporate.
The Killing’s Sarah Lund on the case 13 March 2011
“A lot of thought went into my character’s wardrobe,” says Sofie Gråbøl (from Andrew Anthony in The Observer). “We wanted to avoid the cliché of a woman in a suit in a man’s world. Then I saw the sweater and I knew. It tells of a woman who believes in soft values, togetherness.” We can relate to that! FiT Roads (or Equality Streets), is all about integration and empathy. What is the symbolic clothing for the purveyors of coercion on the roads? Luminous jackets and jackboots.
Missing the (slightly less) obvious 12 March 2011
In a report reminding us that poor air quality is responsible for 4000 premature deaths a year, BBC London News didn’t mention traffic signals as a congestion cause and pollutant accelerator. Nor did the GLA’s environment adviser mention traffic system reform as a route to better air quality, despite evidence (No Idle Matter) that traffic lights are a major source of added air pollution.
Relative imperatives 10 March 2011
You’re sitting at a red light with nothing happening on the junction. You can see it’s safe to go. You know about global warming. Every second of pointless waiting is an insult to the planet and your intelligence. Do you stay or do you go? If you go, you are acting according to common sense and environmental imperatives. If you stay, you are obeying the law, but neglecting those other (more worthy?) imperatives. If you go, i.e. use your intelligence to overrule the red light, and the police swoop, would they understand? Would a court understand? Is it time we organised a No Red Light day? Cyclists, peds and drivers unite! We’re not going to take it anymore!
Traffic lights on the One Show 10 March 2011
This snappy item was mostly about why traffic lights are “necessary”, but there’s a bit near the end which spreads a bit of FiT philosophy. Video.
Sharpening sticks 10 March 2011
The GLA is introducing £120 fines for drivers who leave their engines running while stationary. Of course insensitive idlers – usually those who don’t pay for their fuel – need to wise up, but nifty public awareness and use of the carrot would work. Instead, one-track-minded officialdom devises new ways to sharpen sticks at public expense.
Them and us 10 March 2011
How does Westminster Council justify new “instant contravention” powers allowing wardens to nab motorists who stop for seconds? “To deter unlicensed cabbies”. Where is the protection for you and me? We can appeal if we feel we have a case. How reassuring. Thus do the traffic authorities grow their tentacles and truss us up, ever tighter.
More heat than light 9 March 2011
Unerringly, the “debate” on Today about Spain reducing its national speed limit from 75 to 68mph “to conserve fuel” missed the point. George Monbiot claimed, spuriously, that “going faster means more noise”, and Tiff Needell complained, reasonably, about loss of choice. Surely the real point is about the vanity of one-size-fits-all “solutions”. It’s not speed that counts, it’s revs. If at 60mph, one engine is turning at 3000rpm and another at 2000rpm, which is using more fuel and emitting more CO2?
timpent, March 9 2011
Yes, but the 2000rpm engine is using less fuel at 68mph than 75mph, as is the 3000rpm engine. Then you get on to scrapping less efficient cars, but scrapping a perfectly good car that happens to use a bit more fuel makes no sense at all once you take the energy cost of producing a new car into account.
AUTOcracy not DEMOcracy 7 March 2011
Most junctions could be safe civilised spaces, but they are dehumanised by traffic experts. Instead of harnessing our instinct to take it in turns based on time of arrival, they make us live and die by rules of priority which impose unequal rights, make roads dangerous, and produce a “need” for traffic controls. It’s a circular argument incorporating a dead end. Government abdicates responsibility for roads policy to technocrats who remove responsibility from where it belongs: with the people, uniquely equipped to negotiate safe movement.
Referees and red lights 6 March 2011
Football and traffic regulation have plenty in common. Their governing bodies are both anti-freedom and antediluvian. Both are scandalously overdue for reform. On the roads, we could replace regulation and control with one rule: drive on the left; and two bits of advice: take it in turns and mind how you go. “Accidents” would virtually disappear, but in the event of a disputed collision, refer to CCTV. Similarly, we could get rid of referees and in the event of a disputed decision, refer to action replay.
Regression to the mean-spirited 5 March 2011
Chris Kelly reminded me that Milton Keynes is installing signals at roundabout junctions which by all accounts used to flow perfectly well. A case of regression to the mean-spirited and counterproductive?
Successful dieting and FiT Roads 5 March 2011
In today’s Guardian Weekend, Oliver Burkeman identifies leeway for choice as a key to the success of WeightWatchers. “Allowing people a feeling of autonomy rather than insisting on rigid meal plans makes it far likelier they’ll stick to the programme … we need this feeling of autonomy in order to thrive … its points system, while not a straitjacket, is still pretty strict – it’s the wiggle-room that makes the difference.” Parallels with life on the roads are clear. It beats me how the subjugation of human behaviour to inflexible systems – symbolised by the red light and the fixed speed limit – is enshrined in the law of the land.
Lights out = light traffic (yet again) 4 March 2011
Thanks to Ian Perry for emailing this. It’s about traffic lights out of action at Frideswide Sq, Oxford. Some road-users want lights left off, but others say over their dead body. (Who can blame them as long as the system is based on priority rather than equality?)
Surprise surprise 2 March 2011
Who would have thought that traffic would flow better and people would get on fine without traffic lights? This time it’s happened in Reading.
Road rage (at self) 1 March 2011
“What don’t you like about traffic lights?” I was asked by The One Show’s Anita Rani in Portishead today for an item that is due to air tomorrow (Wed 2 March). “They make us stop when it’s safe to go. They take our eyes off the road. They encourage inappropriate speed, generate hostility, extend journey times. They deny infinite filtering opportunities and expressions of fellow feeling. They usurp our judgement, outlaw discretion, blight streetscapes, cost the earth to install and run …” I was re-running this in my head on the drive home, but only the first one sprang to mind when the camera was rolling! Grrr!!
Dawkins on dim-witted Dundridges 28 February 2011
A good anti-regulation piece by Richard Dawkins was emailed by Ben Ravilious. Extract: “The official and his supervisor were human beings who wanted to act decently, but they were stymied by a rulebook [that was] incapable of discretion, compassion or humanity. Discretion can be abused, and rulebooks are safeguards, but the balance has shifted too far in the direction of an obsessive reverence for rules.“
Importuned at every turn 28 February 2011
I’m just back from a necessary drive across central London and back, made twice as long because of innumerable traffic lights that block progress, whether there is conflicting traffic or not. Every urban trip you make, on foot or on wheels, is plagued by impositions on your time and insults to your intelligence. As if we can’t decide for ourselves when it’s safe to go! Indeed, being there at the time and the place, we can decide better than any automated system possibly could. Many junctions even have red pedestrian phases whether peds are in evidence or not. And we, the taxpayers, have to foot the bill for this eye-watering counter-productivity. They herd us like sheep, removing all our power for responsible decision-making. It’s time we stood up en masse and screamed WE’RE NOT TAKING IT ANYMORE!
Amber-flashing lights? 28 February 2011
The RAC has published a report about traffic lights. Among their “ideas” is amber-flashing lights off-peak, “so drivers can cross with caution”. As mentioned before, this exposes the shocking assumption that with lights, we don’t need to exercise caution; all we need to do is obey the system, which usurps our judgement and turns us into unthinking robots. Obviously amber-flashing lights that allow filtering on opportunity are an improvement on conventional control (as was obvious when I saw them in Germany in the 60s), but they still use vast resources and blight streetscapes to achieve what we can deliver “unaided”, given a change in culture from priority to equality.
For and against traffic lights (Part 303) 28 February 2011
At major junctions at peak times there is a case for traffic lights. Otherwise, the case against them is far stronger. It’s richly ironic that so much public money goes on systems of control that seek to achieve what we can better deliver naturally.
Sniffing out cant 26 February 2011
Sniffer dogs take their cues from their handlers and can be misled; sophisticated neuro-imaging lie detectors are prone to being outfoxed. “I enjoy devices such as brain-scanning lie detectors and hi-tech sniffer dogs,” writes Ben Goldacre in his Guardian column, “because their appeal speaks to our desire for simple mechanical explanations in a complex world.” The parallel with hi-cost, hi-tech traffic control – which isn’t a patch on our instinctive ability to negotiate movement – is clear (if less amusing).
Science is about disproving hypotheses 26 February 2011
This report demonstrates “the Buchanan-Cassini hypothesis that at given junctions within a given road network, the removal of traffic control will bring universal benefits”.
Blame for “accidents” (Blog post no. 300) 26 February 2011
So seamless is the improperganda purveyed by road safety “experts”, that it can produce these remarks in today’s Guardian about the road death of a child: “The victims and perpetrators in an accident are two parts of a whole,” writes surviving sister, Kira Cochrane. “The dearth of communication [from the driver] was a wicked, vexed lacuna.” No, the wickedness is the failure of the authorities to promote a culture of equality, and their failure to design roads in a way that stimulates sociable conduct. The lacuna is their failure to own up to their grotesque role in supporting a system which sets the stage for lethal conflict, makes road intrinsically dangerous for the vulnerable, and “causes untold injustice and harm”. The Guardian piece features ‘Half a Life’, by Darin Strauss (also in last week’s Observer), who had a fatal collision with a teen on a bicycle but was “guiltless” because she had turned in front of him, and he wasn’t exceeding the 40mph speed limit. (That’s how useful speed limits are to the needs of the moment.) Ever since, Strauss has lived a half-life, consumed by guilt. The rules of the road make victims of us all. As Kenneth Todd wrote in a different but related context, “There is something inhumane about a system which instils greater respect for a traffic light than for human life.”
Party time 25 February 2011
The Standard reports a party thrown by BJ for outgoing TfL roads boss, David Brown (salary: £316,655 pa). An unnamed TfL spokesperson claimed Brown was “a first-class manager who has saved London £100s of millions”. Funny, 1000 new sets of traffic lights, each costing £150,000 + running costs, sprang up under Brown’s watch. He refused to appear on my Newsnight report, and always resisted my calls for lights-off trials, e.g. one in 2005, which had the backing of Brent. Our Portishead trial proved that ‘no lights’ is over twice as efficient as signal control, with no loss of safety. So Brown’s signals could be said to halve efficiency, as well as increase fuel use and emissions. So how it can be claimed that Brown did anything but cost us money is a mystery. Who paid for the £6,000 party? You and me.
Indecisive? Not sure… 24 February 2011
FiT is not strict regulation, but an informal arrangement meaning filter more or less in turn. Point made in this hilarious spoof article.
Covert repression 20 February 2011
In a commentary about the wave of protests in North Africa, Peter Beaumont in The Observer writes, “Corruption is often rife; a culture of repression is vigorous and deeply ingrained.” These words apply equally to traffic control based on anti-social priority, intolerance, coercion and repression. Far-fetched? With thousands killed and tens of thousands hurt on our roads every year, maybe the only difference is that state-sponsored violence against the people in this country is covert.
Could mobile phone use improve driving? 16 February 2011
If mobile phone use is banned because it takes our eyes off the road (I often ask), should traffic lights and speed cameras be banned for the same reason? Now simulator tests carried out at Kansas University show that using your mobile might make you a safer driver. The monotony of driving, say scientists, is itself a risk. 45 people who drove for 30mins while talking on the phone were statistically less likely to make mistakes. (From a NIB in Metro.)
Amber means …? 15 February 2011
The following comment appeared on my YouTube channel (mjcassini): “I was travelling with a friend and his young daughter. She asked what the red light meant. He said, Stop. And green? He said, Go. And yellow? GO FASTER! I laugh at the joke, but also the fact that it is what a lot of people do. Later, of course, he explained what it really meant.”
Confessions of a London cyclist 15 February 2011
It goes without saying there are too many cycling deaths on our roads, and the idea of extra mirrors to boost lorry driver awareness of cyclists is welcome. I’m not one of those who call for segregated cycle lanes – I’m for integration on Equality Streets. But last night I nearly became another statistic. Cycling back to central London through Oakley Square in Camden, as I pulled out to pass a parked van, another van sped past, almost squashing me into the other van as it went. It had to stop at the lights just ahead at Eversholt St. I pulled out and drew up alongside the driver’s window, which was open. I’ve seen cyclists scream and shout at motorists and don’t think it achieves much except putting their backs up. Deadpan, I said to the driver, “You nearly got me there.” He replied saying he hadn’t really seen me, as I was dressed in dark clothes. That was true, though my bike did have flashing lights, albeit small ones. Anyway I nodded and overtook him, turning left towards Euston as the lights changed. I felt him following me, this time with great care. I glanced behind before overtaking a parking car, and gave him a little wave of thanks for hanging back and not crowding me. When the road widened along a stretch with no parked cars, and I was safely on the left, he drove past gently and, with a friendly thumbs-up, shouted through the open passenger window, “F++K OFF, C++T!” No, I’m joking: actually he called out, “You take care, mate.” And so we parted, both a little wiser.
Inaction speaks louder than words 14 February 2011
If the Big Society is about less government and more personal responsibility, why does the state persist in usurping our judgement and demanding bovine obedience on the road?
Why I hate lollipop men and women… (2) 13 February 2011
Lollipop men and women facing the axe from council cuts have sparked claims that children will face greater danger as a result. In 2009, twelve under-18s were killed or hurt on UK roads every day. Prof John Wann of Holloway College says that children’s perception of speed is undeveloped (is that stating the obvious?) Like Brake, he wants more regulation. They see the symptoms. I see the cause. The reason roads are dangerous is because they are ruled by priority, which grants ownership of the road to drivers and puts onus on children to beware motorists. By replacing priority with equality, and putting the onus on motorists to beware children, there will no longer be a “need” for lollipop men and women. Sorry if that means job losses, but they could be re-deployed in more constructive community roles. See also my post of 27 Dec 2010. Observer report here.
Freedom from oppression 11 February 2011
“Mubarak’s resignation is the greatest day of my life!” said El Baradei, “It marks release from 30 years of oppression.” Maybe, but don’t succeeding governments find different ways to oppress us? I don’t want to downplay the news from Egypt or overplay my campaign for traffic system reform, but when you consider that the annual casualty toll on UK roads alone is 28,000 (and I argue that many “accidents” are not accidents at all, but events contrived by the rules and design of the road), perhaps it’s fair to comment that freedom from priority-based traffic control would bring lasting release from oppression on the roads.
Awesome Welles 11 February 2011
Last night’s Culture Show had a clip of the BBC Arts programme, Monitor, in which Huw Wheldon asked Orson Welles, “You had never made a film before, so where did you get the confidence to make Citizen Kane?” Welles replied, “Ignorance!” Commenting on the clip, Stephen Frears said, “The more you know about a subject, the more aware you are of the problems, and the less adventurous you become” (or words to that effect). Is there a parallel here between my proposals for traffic system reform, and resistance from traffic experts?
Another cyclist sacrificed 9 February 2011
Goldsmith’s graduate, Daniel Cox, 28, was hit by a truck at the junction of Dalston Lane and Kingsland Road in East London last Wednesday and died on Friday. If instead of priority and signal control, we had equality and sociable filtering, would he be alive and unscathed today?
They’ll stone you when you’re trying to save the Earth 8 February 2011
From Metro (leg-pull?): As Ben Fogle waited at a red light, he was threatened with a parking fine because his stop-start eco engine was inactive.
Budget Nuts 8 February 2011
Manchester Council is closing libraries, swimming pools and public toilets to meet budget cuts, but it’s OK: traffic lights will continue to operate (to general detriment) as usual.
Red lights and cyclists in NYC 25 January 2011
Sometimes I comment at the end of articles that hit my Inbox, like the following in response to this about the NYPD cracking down on cyclists who run red lights. “So much blame going back and forth! The real culprits are policymakers who force us to live and die by a flawed system. Why do we “need” traffic lights? To break the priority streams of traffic so others can cross. Replace priority with equality, and you remove the “need” for lights, and the need for speed, enabling all road-users to interact sociably and take it more or less in turns.
Another parallel 22 January 2011
Inspiration again from Oliver Burkeman in today’s Guardian. “The overarching principle [of Tim Ferris’s new self-help book] … is a radical embrace of the “Pareto Principle”, the economic idea … that 80% of results come from 20% of the effort. There’s wisdom here: not all effort is equal, and it pays to focus on what matters most.” Yes, and it provides another parallel with our theme: instead of subjection to overbearing supervision from a high-cost, coercive system, we should be left for the most part to sort things out among ourselves. Our instinct for cooperation trumps their obsession with control. Think of the savings in time, money and hassle!
Parallels 16 January 2011
In his new film, I Am, Tom (Liar, Liar) Shadyac, who gave away most of his Hollywood millions, explores the idea that our materialistic way of life goes against our true nature, which is to co-operate and unite. He wants to show that the power to change things lies in our own hands. Readers will see parallels with FiT Roads and Equality Streets. Article here.
Glasnost? 16 January 2011
Funny how ideas travel full circle. Post new-Labour thinking is in reaction to the statism of Brown and the legislative mania of Blair. Politics lecturer, peer, and adviser to Ed Miliband, Maurice Glasman, sees the “big society” as the rightful territory of traditional Labour, because, alone among the parties, Labour’s values are inclusive. He is for localism as distinct from top-down Whitehall diktat, and wants to outdo compassionate conservatism with a Labour vision of the common good. Applied to the roads, join the club. After 1945, says Glasman, Labour became elitist, managerial, bureaucratic in its style and thinking, which echoes what I’ve said about the need to reclaim the public realm from the technocrats. Labour ignored my attempts to brief them about FiT ideas five years ago, so maybe it’s time to try again. Observer profile of Glasman here.
Cool Hand Fluke 13 January 2011
Re the Guide Dogs Association for the Blind in the Telegraph: in the inimitable line uttered by the chain gang boss in Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” From Boris Johnson onwards, there is a failure to clarify a confusion about shared space. Shared space means equality among road-users in a socialised setting. It needn’t involve shared surfaces. Kerbs can be retained – ideally, sloping rubberised kerbs – to provide orientation for blind people and escape routes for cyclists. Moreover, until the overdue cultural and legal revolution on the road has placed the onus for road safety on the driver rather than the pedestrian, on-demand signals can be retained for blind people.
Puppets on a string 8 January 2011
Traffic regulation takes legal precedence over equality and social custom. Instead of being able to respond to social and spatial prompts in the world about us, we must obey a context of regulation and reprisal. Instead of a sociable, “After you,” we are wound up into thinking, “Get out of my way!” How much longer are we going to put up with manipulation by overpaid, unaccountable regulators lording it over us and making us dance to their discordant tune?
Police view from Oz 5 January 2011
Comment on my mjcassini YouTube channel: “I am a police officer in a large town in Western Australia with a population of approx 32,000 people. We have countless roundabouts and not one traffic light. These roundabouts keep traffic moving and drivers only have to ‘give way’ to traffic in one direction, so are far safer. Sure, there are minor bumps, mainly caused by inattention or inconsiderate driving, but the number of serious or fatal crashes at these intersections over the past 4 years I’ve been in this town are zero!”
In most cases (I replied), roundabouts are an improvement on signal control, but I have three reservations: they take up a lot of road space, which may be less of an issue in Oz; they encourage vehicle domination at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists; and at peak times, they can produce unbroken streams of priority traffic. Could filter in turn be the best of all worlds?
Quoting Meg Ryan 2 January 2011
Never expected to quote Meg Ryan in relation to traffic system reform, but her comment about the value of “mindfulness meditation” (today’s Observer) is apt: “by simply refocusing our awareness, we reshape our experience.” The awareness that needs refocusing on the road is from priority to equality, which will level the playing field and allow all road-users to interact sociably and safely. Article here.
Traffic lights = trouble 2 January 2011
In a typically alarmist manner that missed the real point by a mile, Torquay’s Herald Express warned of trouble at the junction of Torbay Road and Shedden Hill where “traffic lights have been out of action since December 20″. As is often the case in these situations, the opposite was true. No lights meant no trouble, as evidenced by this typical reader’s comment: “I’ve been past that junction several times since the lights were out of action and the traffic has flowed much better and drivers have been far more alert and considerate and driven more cautiously. Keep them off I say!” More comments (including a couple from me) and story here.
Brief encounter 1 January 2011
Online exchange re Road to Nowhere videos (at my mjcassini YouTube channel): ‘janhanjanhan’ wrote, “Removing lights can only work for intersections with little traffic where lights make us stop when it’s safe to go (as said in Part 1). Removing lights from major intersections would result in chaos – everyone would block each other in the intersection, or just one direction would progress, not allowing others to participate. On fast intersections, cars would ALWAYS have to slow down from very high speeds. If everything was so simple why build interchanges for highways? Don’t be naïve.”
How do you know the equal (or no) priority, filter-in-turn approach would not work at major junctions – have you tested it? No, you’re making assumptions based on defective thinking that supports a flawed system. As stated in Part 1, I’ve seen lights out during power cuts across London and things were never better. Of course I concede that major intersections might need peak-time control, but control should be the last resort, not the first!
Equality not priority 29 December 2010
If, instead of rule by priority (a traffic engineering model), we lived by values of equality (a social model), then the cogs in the current machine that clash – above all safety and efficiency – would mesh. Like shuffling cards we’d merge in turn. Congestion would melt away and roads would be safe. The spanner in the current works – priority – stems from railway engineering. Clearly rail needs segregating from road – trains need greater distances to pick up speed and stop. But given equal rights and responsibilities, road vehicle and foot traffic could co-exist in harmony. Instead of an anal engineering model rigid with coercion and control, we’d have a relaxed social model based on camaraderie and empathy which matches our human nature. Priority puts us at odds with each other. Equality puts us in the same boat, pulling together. When I pitched lights-off trials to Boris and the GLA two years ago, they came out with this excuse for inaction: “The idea is too radical. It would be hard to win over public opinion.” Now they plan to remove 145 sets of lights, but fail to appreciate or communicate the wider context. No wonder there is opposition from vulnerable road-user groups. Done right, it would be possible to get doubters on board and go further: scrap the majority of London’s 6,000 signals, leaving only 145 in (part-time) operation. And then reduce the UK’s 50,000+ signals that hold us to ransom 24 hours every day of every year. Regulators always play the safety card. But as long as they inflict priority streets upon an unsuspecting public, their accident stats are relevant only in the context of their own prejudicial, defective, jealously-guarded system.
Old Man River 29 December 2010
There’s an article in today’s i about high fliers training to become psychotherapists in later life. For the first half of life, said Jung, the ego needs to be pushy and self-centred, while maturity is more about reflection and compassion. Parallels with traffic? (1) The traffic control dictatorship (TCD) clearly suffers from arrested development, never have got beyond the egotistic, insensitive phase. (2) One of the foundation stones of FiT Roads is to phase in an advanced driving test to help instil compassion.
Organ of the state improperganda? 28 December 2010
Not content with running an article about higher-cost ‘speed awareness’ courses to fund retention of speed cameras, today’s Times runs a leader in support of this new form of indirect taxation. It refers to “academic research which concludes that speed cameras save 800 lives a year”. That was the skewed Allsop report which I was invited to challenge on Nick Ferrari’s LBC show the other week. The just, sustainable way to achieve appropriate speed and considerate conduct is by harnessing human nature, not hammering it. It’s through context, not coercion. As Chad Dornsife found, the safest drivers are the ones who drive faster than average, yet they are the primary targets of speed enforcement. The whole thing’s a racket, especially when academics and media outlets lend support to the TCD (traffic control dictatorship) and its spurious, self-perpetuating empire.
Lollipop men – two forms of madness 27 December 2010
I missed the reference on the radio just now, but in a newspaper, a headteacher condemns as “madness” the decision by a local council (in pursuit of cuts) to make redundant 25% of lollipop men and women. No, the real madness is to impose a traffic system which puts the onus for road safety on children, and produces a ‘need’ for lollipop men and women.
Road outrage 16 December 2010
£750,000 spent re-modelling the Shinfield Rd junction in Reading, which included new signals, has made matters worse (story here). To a degree, solutions are location-specific, but in most cases, equality will solve the conflicts contrived by priority. Isn’t it time we changed the engineering model (priority, encouraging vehicle domination) to a social model (equality, allowing all road-users to interact sociably)? Following the debacle at Shinfield Rd, Head of Transport, Pat Baxter, said, “Doing nothing is not an option”. So she commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory to assess 17 proposals for re-thinking the junction. Where on the list was the equal-priority solution we had tabled two years earlier, which worked wonders at a similar staggered junction in Portishead? Nowhere.
E + E = E 15 December 2010
Equality + Empathy = Efficiency. In more detail: Equality (as distinct from priority) stimulates Empathy (among ALL road-users), which combine to produce Efficiency (and safety). Another way of putting it is that Liberty (to use our instincts and judgement) + Equality (of rights, responsibility and opportunity) combine to produce Fraternity.
20mph limit for Portishead High Street? 14 December 2010
Speed limits license speed at that limit, but sometimes even 20 is inappropriate. Would you want to be hit by a bus doing 20? But why should we do 20 when no-one is about? Far better to let the individual decide appropriate speed based on context and the needs of the moment. When the street is busy, or someone is about to cross, we can slow to crawling pace. When no-one is around, we can speed up. It’s a fair trade-off. Life involves countless variables, so by definition, one size can’t fit all. Most instructional signage is a sign of failure to devise a humane road culture and to design roads in a way that stimulates sociable conduct. If we lived by equality rather than priority, people would stop insisting on anti-social rights-of-way and rediscover their humanity.
Autopilot 13 December 2010
Report in the Winnipeg Sun: “Traffic lights were out at several intersections in central Winnipeg on Saturday because of a power outage. Motorists and pedestrians are advised to use extreme caution” – implying that when lights are “working”, caution is unnecessary. That just about sums up the negative role of the traffic control system in road safety. (Link to article unfortunately no longer working.)
Rural junction getting FiT? 6 November 2010
Recently I submitted a proposal for a FiT solution at the Westleigh T-junction near Bideford. The junction has a bit of an accident record, and Devon Highways want to install traffic lights. Hans “shared space” Monderman used to say shared space was for urban rather than rural locations. But if you accept the advantages of equality over priority, FiT could work almost anywhere, especially at junctions where single carriageways meet, as at Westleigh. Why are there “accidents” at Westleigh? Because main road priority puts the minor road at a dangerous disadvantage. It tells the main road driver to ignore the side road. The minor road driver, especially the right-turner, has to beware fast-moving traffic and wait for a safe gap. Why would FiT work? Because with equality guiding behaviour instead of priority dictating it, everyone would approach carefully and filter at sociable speeds. That would solve the safety “problem”, without the need for expensive controls. It would solve the efficiency problem too: instead of stops, restarts and consecutive queueing, there would be simultaneous filtering. Moreover, filtering at low revs minimises fuel use and emissions. – The former drugs adviser, David Nutt, defending his findings about the greater comparative harm caused by alcohol, says “a coherent policy needs to be informed by evidence-based analysis”. Applied to the roads, the only real traffic lights-off trial I’ve managed to instigate so far – in Portishead – confounded doubters and is a lasting success. Will I get a chance to prove the almost equally obvious at Westleigh?
Mobile phone use and traffic controls 5 November 2010
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. If mobile phone use is banned because it takes our eyes off the road, should traffic lights, speed cameras and speed limits be banned for the same reason? On our way back from Folkestone the other day, on the outskirts of London, we hit congestion. Almost invariably, the snag was traffic lights blocking natural flow. At the junction of Sidcup Rd and Court Rd we had to endure half-a-dozen signal changes before we got through. Like thousands of other junctions in London and across the land, that one is likely to work better under FiT (filter in turn). After finally getting across, in the queue coming the other way, we saw the result of a shunt – the grille of a Peugeot gaped open, its huge bumper lying ignominiously in the road. No doubt the driver would be blamed for a failure to concentrate. But the traffic control system is at least partly to blame for loading us with undue demands for attention. Our hands are already full with controlling our vehicle and avoiding collision with a million others, without the added burden of a control system breathing down our necks and beating us up if we put a wheel wrong. Traffic managers have a dark legacy to answer for, but they seem unaccountable. First they fail us by contriving a dangerous system based on anti-social priority. Then they devise a high-cost system of control to “solve” the defect of their own devising (having neglected our highly-evolved social skills and ability to make intelligent judgements). They treat us like sheep, then blame us when things go wrong. Where there could be harmony, they create discord. Even when the defects in the system are pointed out to them by critics like Martin Cassini, they find excuses for inaction. And, at public expense, they continue to get away with untold damage, inconvenience and waste. Are politicians listening? Do pigs fly?
Middle lane blocking 2 November 2010
On motorways, you never fail to see drivers who ignore empty inside lanes and treat the middle lane as the default lane. On the M2 the other day, hidden behind bushes, we saw a police car, no doubt waiting to pounce on a “speeder”. As Chas Dornsife wrote, “drivers who drive faster than average have the lowest accident rates, yet they are the primary targets of speed enforcement”. Have you ever seen a police officer apprehend a middle lane blocker? Nor have I. Yet they halve road capacity and cause bunching which causes stress and accidents. Do they ever face prosecution? Do pigs fly?
Criminal common sense? 30 October 2010
Returning from Sainsbury’s in Vauxhall to Waterloo at 8 this morning, a driver managed to cut his journey time by over half, with matching savings in fuel use and emissions. How? By ignoring the barrage of red lights that sought to block his progress, even though there was no traffic, let alone conflicting traffic. The route took in the small signal-controlled roundabout on the south side of Lambeth Bridge, which conjures congestion all day, every day, every year. Does that make the driver a criminal? In the eyes of the law it does. He’s an RLJ = a red light jumper. Or are the real criminals the traffic managers who should know better, but fail to dismantle counterproductive regulation?
Myths about driving 29 October 2010
A myth (or example of official improperganda) is that traffic lights secure our safety. Two “accidents” I’ve been involved in, one when I was cycling along Gray’s Inn Rd and was hit by a car, the other when a friend was badly injured outside her flat by a car ricocheting off a taxi – both happened at lights. Lights and priority prompt inappropriate, conflicting speeds. Equal (or no) priority prompts slow approach speeds and sociable filtering. Accidents are not accidents. They are events contrived by the rules and design of the road. Another example of improperganda is the statement that speed kills. Speed is neutral, like electricity or fire. It’s inappropriate speed that kills – the very speeds we get at signal and priority-controlled junctions.
Revolution on the road? 26 October 2010
Some councils are wising up to ideas of traffic deregulation, which until recently they resisted tooth and nail. Yes, a road revolution is in the air. But most councils still miss the wider context, so, for the time being, we are still required to conform to the technocrat’s idea of how we should act. Under the current system of PRIORITY, we must continue to live (and die) by rules that derive from railway engineering. Obviously railways have to be segregated from roads. But is segregation, or priority, conducive to quality of life on the road? Not to my mind. (I risk repeating myself, but this stuff is vital.) Based on the artificial distinction between main and minor roads, priority grants rights-of-way to one set of road-users over others who might have been there first. It creates an imbalance of rights and responsibilities. It puts side roads and pedestrians at a dangerous disadvantage. They must wait for gaps in fast-moving traffic coming from opposite directions, licensed by priority to ignore them. At best, priority makes roads inconvenient; at worst, lethal. Could any of our 30,000 annual casualties be down to priority control? It produces a “need” for lights – to break the priority streams of traffic so others can enter or cross. Priority is the bad idea at the heart of a defective system. Instead of being able to take it more or less in turns in line with social custom, we have to operate under a set of rules alien to our nature. The current system presumes to know better than you and me at the time and the place, when, or how fast we should go. Enforced by a multi-billion control industry, the system is deeply subversive. As it rules, it divides us: into one sub-species that accepts regulation without question, and another that resents regulation which removes choice. Is that a recipe for harmony? By contrast, a live-and-let-live approach based on EQUALITY, with a level playing-field where all road-users can interact sociably – where the first to arrive at a junction is the first to leave, more or less – stimulates peaceful coexistence. Instead of a system that demands conformity to contrived doctrine, let’s keep pushing for a system that conforms to human nature, which will at last make Roads FiT for People.
Fairness hardwired 10 October 2010
Today’s behavioural psychologists say a sense of fairness is hardwired into us. Yet we have to suffer an unfair traffic control system, one that confers unequal rights on different road-users, that forces us to act against our better nature and better judgement. In 2008, when I pitched lights-off trials to Boris/the GLA, he said the ideas were too radical, and it would be hard to win public buy-in for FiT reforms. I disagreed then, and I disagree now. We are predisposed towards the central idea, which is based on fairness.
The word is spreading 9 October 2010
There is an excellent piece about traffic lights as symbols of state control here. It seems to have been prompted by my videos. Know what a minarchist is? Nor did I. But I must be one. Part 2 of the video is getting tens of thousands of viewings by the way.
Drug prohibition and speed limits 19 September 2010
The Observer reports that Humberside chief constable, Tim Hollis, has proposed decriminalising personal drug use to rationalise resources, in apparent support of the widespread (commonsense?) view that prohibition doesn’t deter drug use, and decriminalisation would cut crime. There is a clear parallel with roads policy, e.g. one-size-fits-all speed limits. (Of course, one size can’t fit all, so the idea is nonsensical applied to human activity.) According to the US Best Highway Safety Practices Institute, the safest drivers are the ones who drive faster than average, yet they are the primary targets of speed enforcement.
Cut drink drive limit? 15 September 2010
The Government’s legal adviser, Sir Peter North, wants the drink drive limit cut from 80 to 50mg alcohol/100ml blood. Malcolm Heymer of the ABD claims the “one pint and you’re banned rule” would devastate the rural economy. Transport minister, Philip Hammond, appears to agree. My view? I’m against most one-size-fits-all regulation. We’re all different, and by definition, one size can’t fit all. One man’s pint is another man’s poison. Instead of a rigid limit measured by a device, I favour a system which tests reaction times and capability.
Railing against railings (and signals) 14 September 2010
Killer signals and railings on the rampage again: see here.
Is the Law an Ass (Part 399)? 2 September 2010
Ambulance driver, Paul Bex, 51, from Duxford, was recorded doing 102mph with blue lights flashing while transporting an organ. The law says it’s illegal for ambulances to speed if they are not carrying a patient. I might have said it a 1000 times, but speed doesn’t kill. It’s inappropriate speed that kills – the kind of speed you get at priority and signal-controlled junctions.
How (not) to win friends. Mr Angry rails again 1 September 2010
Bristol has shelved the idea of switching off traffic lights. Evening Post article here.
Getting away with it 24 August 2010
Today’s Metro has a big public ad by TfL and the Mayor of London announcing something we already knew: that bus lanes are finally open to motorbikes. Who are the morons who banned them in the first place – sunning themselves on a public pension? Justice would be better served if they were publicly pilloried, along with their fellow devisers of traffic policy which has been causing untold injustice and harm for decades.
The language of coercion – a racket 13 August 2010
Is coercion the only language that traffic authorities can speak? TfL is planning trials of 20mph zones, with average speed camera enforcement. Of course low speeds are crucial when pedestrians are around, but what’s the justification for 24-hour restrictions? Rather than holistic solutions embracing culture change and roadway redesign, the first resort of traffic policymakers is control and enforcement. In failing to harness the good in human nature, they neglect sustainable solutions. Are they also prone to an unhealthy interest in empire building, helping preserve their jobs and maintain profits for systems manufacturers, at our expense and to our detriment? If so, what a racket.
Equality streets 6 August 2010
I’m toying with another site, thinking of “re-branding”. What do readers think? See Equality Streets.
ASBOs again 6 August 2010
I’m always on the lookout for parallel philosophies. In last Saturday’s Guardian, Richard Sennett, professor of sociology at the LSE, welcomed the demise of the ASBO. They hand out “restraining orders to prevent people from possibly committing a crime. Blair thought social behaviour could be ‘reformed’ top down, and in this he exactly missed the point. Cultures hold together or fall apart for reasons that transcend power. On the housing estate in Chicago where I lived, frail African-American grandmothers and Italian grandfathers commanded a moral authority which no policeman or social worker will ever possess. Good social behaviour is all about the family countering peer pressure. ‘Values’ arise from the habits of everyday life; they are not abstract imperatives. Children in English-speaking neo-liberal countries are much more likely to be bullied; ours is a society that inculcates aggression, a problem inflected by inequality. Working-class life has become atomised. I would subsidise pubs rather than banks. New Labour’s answer to practical failure was always another policy. The asbo is an icon of the regime’s negligence. May it rest in peace.” You will see the parallels with traffic lights and other anti-social, interventionist traffic controls. The sooner we see the back of them the better, too.
Catch-22 25 July 2010
I forget the reference (an article on post-feminism?), but somewhere this weekend I read that “inequality has been done”. Not on the roads, it hasn’t. Recently I pitched a FiT (filter in turn) solution for an out-of-town junction which has a poor accident record, where the council is thinking of installing lights. My traffic engineer associate says we need evidence to prove FiT will work outside towns (we’ve already shown it works in towns). Catch-22: evidence is unavailable because traffic engineers have always had things on their own terms. Despite there being no statutory requirement for priority or signal control, every junction in the land is subject to one or both. Given a junction to trial, we’d be able to show that equality (of opportunity and responsibility) and liberty (to use commonsense and empathy), will combine to produce fraternity (the organic route to safety, conviviality, clean air and efficiency). Will they invest the £630,000 budget in a sustainable FiT solution? Or will they sink it into a signal installation? The latter, no doubt.
The invisible gorilla 25 July 2010
An experiment by two US psychology professors, Daniel Simons and Chistopher Chabris, involves a counting task and an event which many participants don’t notice because they are concentrating on the task. “We’re good at focusing attention on a limited aspect of the world,” says Simons. “We filter out things we don’t care about, and sometimes filter out things we do.” Reading the article (in today’s Observer), I was thinking how this applies to traffic controls which demand our attention at the expense of more important things, such as (worst case) a stray pedestrian. Traffic engineers blame ‘accidents’ on ‘driver error’, never on their own interventions. “If you’re not focusing attention on something, often you don’t consciously perceive it,” says Simons. “There is a failure of awareness. We need to be able to focus on what matters and not be distracted. At pedestrian speeds in the past, it didn’t matter if you didn’t notice stuff, but if you’re doing 60mph and someone walks into the road, it matters if you don’t notice, even for a fraction of a second. So it makes sense to build a system that uses focused attention”. – So, crystal clear psychological support for FiT philosophy. More about the gorilla here.
Stitch in time 21 July 2010
A trouble family in Birmingham has cost the taxpayer £25m, providing a case for early education and support to help people become constructive members of society rather than predators and parasites. Treat causes rather than symptoms, invest in prevention, and society will reap the benefits long term. Re the roads, it’s something I tried to argue here.
Big society 19 July 2010
Called “the largest transfer of power from the state to the individual”, the big society has an obvious application to the roads. Provided there is a change in culture from priority to equality – with roadway redesign to express that equality, and legal changes to support it – scrapping most traffic controls and leaving us to our own devices will see many of our congestion and road safety problems vanish in a puff of exhaust smoke.
Re-disorganisation, re-dysfunctionalisation 18 July 2010
In yesterday’s Guardian, Polly Toynbee had a sobering article about the prospect of NHS privatisation under the new government. “If GPs think they will be free to commission who they like among trusted local consultants, think again. Monitor is to become a competition regulator, whose first duty is to enforce a free market. This means all NHS contracts will fall under EU competition law, so tenders must be advertised internationally. GPs favouring local providers can be sued if their consortium rejects a cheaper offer from a loss-leading large company.” Later, Toynbee uses the phrase, “If Westminster politicians re-disorganise the NHS” – which of course has a parallel in traffic (mis)management, e.g. the introduction of increasingly sophisticated controls such as pedestrian countdown. Instead of treating the cause of dangerous roads – priority – they address symptoms, and re-dysfunctionalise an already dysfunctional system.
Lights out in Richmond 16 July 2010
Richmond’s take on the plan to switch off traffic signals can be found here. Some useful comments too.
The old road rapidly changing 14 July 2010
Politically I’m unaffiliated, but my calls for individual liberty, responsibility, and kind cuts from traffic system reform have been aired at Conservative Home. Article and comments here.
Exposed 14 July 2010
From The Northampton Chronicle & Echo: “Motorists had to be careful during rush hour in the town centre after the traffic lights in Upper Mounts were hit by a power cut at about 3pm. The failure also affected local businesses, including the Mounts Baths, which was closed until 5pm. The traffic lights at Mereway at the Tesco roundabout were also out of action during this morning’s rush-hour.” So, with the lights out, motorists had to be careful, implying that when lights are “working”, motorists are careless. Paradoxical but true: lights remove responsibility. They turn us into robots, programmed to act according to switchgear rather than common sense and the needs of the moment.
Happiness v misery on the roads 13 July 2010
Clearly we’re going to be more tolerant and make better judgements if we’re in a frame of mind of relaxed alert rather than a state of stress. The Observer had a piece about Warwick Business School economics professor, Andrew Oswald, an expert on the relationship between economics and mental health. “Human happiness has positive causal effects on productivity … Positive emotions invigorate human beings, while negative emotions have the opposite effect.” This is another psychological nail in the coffin for vexatious traffic regulation which demands disproportionate attention and makes us miserable.
Stranger danger 13 July 2010
There is too much fear on the road – a sort of generalised stranger danger. As fellow humans, drivers don’t want to bully pedestrians, but the rules of road tell them to ditch their manners in obedience to a system of control which takes absolute precedence. We are cowed into submission by rules which make us cow others into submission. The scenario I’m picturing: waiting to cross the road as a pedestrian and being ignored by streams of traffic (4 July post, Grotesque); and as a driver, wanting to give way to side road traffic or peds, but being prevented from doing so by closely-following traffic.
Priority = inequality 9 July 2010
Priority based on status of road is discriminatory. It supports inequality. By contrast, filter in turn (FiT) – based on time of arrival – expresses equal status, equal rights, equal responsibility, equal opportunity. The dysfunctional rules of the road defy civilised values. They have an unseen hand in countless “accidents”, yet they are supported by the law of the land.
How many times? 5 July 2010
How often do you approach a green light, as I did on my bike just now, only for it to change to red before you reach it? Meanwhile the poor suckers on the other road have been waiting while no-one was using the green. The controllers tell us they have ITS (intelligent traffic systems) which can sense demand. No, the most intelligent system is the human ability to negotiate movement and to make subtle adjustments in the blink of an eye – something your control systems can never match. Meanwhile, taxpayers’ billions continue to fund systems that do us no good – down to vested interests and ingrained dogma, presumably.
Wrong end of the telescope, Kulveer 5 July 2010
Boris’s transport adviser, Kulveer Ranger, was quoted as saying, “There are few things more annoying than sitting at a traffic light on red for no apparent reason, and we’ve now identified 145 sites where we think the signals may no longer be doing a useful job.” Of course I agree with his first point, but his second? Out of 6,000 signals in London, he and his well-paid team can find only 145 useless sets? Jeez. I wish I was paid to identify redundant signals. Combining deregulation with other elements such as culture change to make Roads FiT for People, I’d be pushed to find 145 sets which served any useful purpose!
Grotesque 4 July 2010
Out for a walk on Sunday afternoon, we wanted to cross a residential stretch of Kennington Rd. The traffic was light but steady. Was it about to slow down and let us cross? Was it f++k. We were near a pelican crossing and could have demanded a red. But we didn’t particularly want to make the traffic stop, only for it to have to re-start. So we waited, half hoping someone would give way. But no, we had to wait for the entire traffic streams to pass, twice, i.e. on both sides of the pedestrian refuge. The system of priority based on status of road rather than time of arrival makes roads unfit. It encourages traffic to ignore the needs of others, in flagrant neglect of common law and fair play. It instils in drivers a greater respect for a traffic light than for common decency, even human life. It’s a grotesque set-up, supported by the law of the land. On FiT Roads, that insensitive behaviour would disappear, along with the “need” for traffic controls.
ASBOs for policymakers and traffic engineers? 2 July 2010
Cycling on Westminster Bridge Road yesterday, I was forced into the kerb by a bus driver stopping at red (why do drivers always feel the urge to overtake cyclists, even when it brings them no benefit?). On Euston Road in the car, I saw drivers giving the finger and sweating rage as they jockeyed for position in a yellow box junction at signals which take a week to change. The system of priority that gives rise to the counterproductive system of control actively encourages anti-social behaviour (as it rations road space, denies filtering opportunities, damages air quality, etc). Every time you go out, you see rank hostility stemming solely from the poisoned chalice of inequality inflicted on us by the unelected, unaccountable TCD (traffic control dictatorship). No doubt many TCD chiefs will retire with titles and fat pensions, when they should be put out on the street with well-deserved ASBOs.
Joykill and ride 1 July 2010
Isn’t it a thing of beauty to see the individuals of a species interacting spontaneously? A kindle of cats, a murmuration of starlings, a colony of bats, a passell of possum, a scatter of skateboarders, a relish of road-users negotiating movement without the “help” of traffic controls. Are traffic managers blind to the beauty of natural flow? Certainly they seem bent on forcing us, like unforgiving parents, to submit to their will. Instinctively I resist that joykill, especially when it goes against my better nature and judgement. It’s one reason I cycle in London. If an officer stops me as I filter instead of obey red, I engage him in discussion. So far they end up agreeing with me or suddenly remembering an urgent assignment.
Missing the point again 30 June 2010
So it’s confirmed: 4,200 a year die prematurely from respiratory illness caused by traffic pollution. But it’s OK. The authorities, media and clean air campaigners are on the case: it’s all down to traffic and roadworks. The all-seeing mayor is “investing £250,000,000 in sustainable long term measures such as the cycling revolution”. Bizarre. It’s as if our Portishead lights-off trial – which cut journey times by over half, with matching savings in fuel use and emissions – never happened, and as though the arguments I’ve presented over the years have met stony ground. Is there a conspiracy between the traffic authorities and the media? The one fails in its duty to our time, health, quality of life and the planet, the other in its duty to air controversial ideas.
Candle in a snowstorm 30 June 2010
Every time I cycle round Elephant & Castle I remember Meryem Ozekman who was killed there last April. Entering the roundabout, you feel you’re stepping off a cliff into a churning whirlpool of buses, trucks, vans and cars, their stressed-out drivers all vying for space and intent on getting ahead and beating the lights. In the eye of it, you’re a candle in a snowstorm, completely exposed. So I tend to flag my presence with exaggerated hand movements, obviously looking behind and side to side as much as ahead. So far, I’m unscathed and still alive (famous last post?). Of one thing I’m certain. If there were no lights and no priority, drivers would relax, cool down, give and take, and as a cyclist I would feel a lot less vulnerable.
More improperganda 29 June 2010
I don’t buy the improperganda peddled by TfL and broadcast by The Evening Standard. Roadworks the biggest cause of congestion in the capital? Come off it. No doubt the additional traffic lights make things even worse, but the main cause of congestion is traffic control itself. As usual, the authorities deflect the blame, and the media lap it up. I’ve been trying to get The Standard to take an article with a dose of truth, but they don’t want it.
Beats me 26 June 2010
Ignorance is no excuse, as They tell us when justifying a tow-away for the heinous crime of forgetting to display a valid parking permit. Actually I think ignorance can be an excuse, but They are used to having it their way. It follows that They (as opposed to Us) have no excuse for inflicting high-cost, interventionist traffic control measures that disrupt civilised human interaction and cause more harm than good. But They get away with it.
Secret Love 25 June 2010
Now I shout it from the highest hill … Sometimes it’s difficult to contain the frustration you feel in knowing that public policy is profoundly mistaken while all around you, every day of every year, you see it abusing civilised values, as well as our time, health and safety. Health and safety isn’t something I often defend, at least not the runaway regulation it has come to represent. I’m talking about roads made dangerous by the anti-social rules of the road, and the health of the nation vitiated by traffic emissions aggravated by traffic mismanagement. Today we learned that in London, in six months, air pollution has already exceeded the maximum safe level for one whole year! The cycle of oppression and waste will remain intact until we introduce reform that treats the underlying cause of our road safety and congestion problems, which would be Step 1 on the road to letting us breathe freely again.
The Boris audit 25 June 2010
According to the Evening Standard’s City Hall editor, Pippa Crerar, the mayor has failed to deliver on congestion and the environment. Hardly surprising, since he uses advisers who support a defective system and think inside the old box marked “Priority”.
Backwardsmen 24 June 2010
London News had a report about a crackdown on cyclists who ignore traffic lights. “Cyclists must learn to obey the rules of the road,” said Kulveer Ranger, the mayor’s transport adviser, thereby expressing support for a system which makes roads dangerous in the first place, inspires delinquency (see last entry), and fails to deal with the structural defect at the heart of our “problems” on the road.
Delinquency inspired by the law 24 June 2010
The other day I was crossing the road at a junction with a traffic light but no pedestrian signal. A woman driver in a Golf turning left into my path hooted at me in anger. I stood my ground and tried to say that the Highway Code tells drivers to give way to pedestrians at junctions. “But I’ve got a green light!” she screamed, and drove off. That’s how the rules of the road turn reasonable people into delinquents. Who would support a system that inspires greater respect for a traffic light than for human life? Policymakers and traffic engineers. Police and politicians. Most of us. Traffic control has done a pretty comprehensive job of selling its specious system to an unquestioning public.
Skateboards and roads 24 June 2010
As mentioned elsewhere, the theory of spontaneous order says that the more complex the ‘dance’ of human movement, the less useful are attempts to control it. Thus, any attempt to control a skateboard park would be pointless – it looks after itself, with teens of all stripes merging in harmony. Clearly this is applicable to the roads, yet the clueless authorities impose regulation that puts us at odds with each other and our surroundings. On the subject of the financial crash, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, says: “Wherever you have a lot of interactions, you should avoid organisations that are too large … Mother nature knows best … Corporations take out the humanity and replace it with something ugly.” Similarly, using the roads could and should be sociable and fun.
Divested interests 22 June 2010
Ian Perry spotted these 3 excellent short pieces by California architect, Arrol Gellner:
The home front 21 June 2010
Today the number of British soldiers killed in the tenth year in Afghanistan reached 300. That’s the same number who die on our roads every year. We are supposed to be at peace. But the rules of the road put us at war. What an indictment.
Countdown 21 June 2010
No-one in power seems to see the irony of ever more complex traffic control technology devised to solve road safety problems that originate in the flawed rules of the road. “An exercise in self-defeat,” is how Kenneth Todd characterises traffic control. Today saw the launch of a trial in pedestrian countdown, “so pedestrians can see how long they have left to cross the road,” says David Brown of TfL. Brown is the guy who blocked my traffic lights trial in Brent seven years ago. When peds’ time is up, do drivers have official permission to drive at them? On the other side, Tony Armstrong of Living Streets wants more green time for pedestrians. These “experts” see the symptoms of our road safety problems but never the cause. Another pearl from Tony Armstrong is his aim “to prioritise pedestrians over traffic”. Pedestrians form part of the mix of traffic, don’t they? Traffic consists of people. Seems self-defeating to prioritise “people” over “traffic”, which carries people and deposits them as pedestrians.
Crashes at traffic lights (USA, 2002) 18 June 2010
From trafficsignalexpert.com (ITE Journal, April 2010).”In 2002 there were 1,299,000 crashes at traffic signal intersections.” They account for 21% of all crashes, and24% of all fatal and injury collisions.
New videos 14 June 2010
No room on this site unless I delete other videos, which I might at some point. Meanwhile: The Road to Nowhere, Part 1 (7.33′) – a tighter edit of this earlier piece and The Road to Nowhere, Part 2 (5.07′) – contains before-after footage and reaction to a lights-off trial I helped get off the ground in Portishead.
Spaced learning and FiT Roads 12 June 2010
Pioneering headteacher, Paul Kelley (Monkseaton, North Tyneside), uses “spaced learning”, a theory which shows that children get most out of lessons when they have plenty of breaks. The biological basis of memory (Scientific American, 2005, Douglas Fields) is a pathway of cells in the brain. To link up, cells need to be “switched on”. Constant mental stimulation doesn’t do it. It’s the gaps that count. Spaced learning allows 10min gaps between three intensive teaching sessions of 15-20min. In trials, students who had a couple of hours spaced learning did as well as if they’d had two years’ conventional teaching. In breaks, distracter activities such as reading or play leave the cells to carry out the chemical processes required to forge memories and fulfil the brain’s potential. No doubt there’s a parallel here with traffic control: freedom from its intrusions would purify concentration and cooperation, surely the best guides to action on the road.
No lights, no congestion – again 29 May 2010
If further evidence is needed of traffic improving when motorists are free to negotiate movement without signals dictating their every move, see the story below about lights out of action in Exeter. The alarmist news reporter/editor warns of “chaos”, but to a man and a woman, the commentators report blissful freedom from congestion, aggravation and delay. Story here.
Rules of the road spell danger 28 May 2010
At 2.20pm on a day in January 2009, Victoria Johnson, 23, a trainee barrister, was crossing Mile End Road as the green man started to flash. Foysal Ali, 24, a trainee social worker, driving a Ford Ka, saw amber-flashing lights ahead, so he carried on. “She came out of nowhere”, he said. His car horn wasn’t working, so he was unable to sound a warning, and unable to stop in time. Snaresbrook crown court heard that he was doing 37 in a 30mph zone, and “should have proceeded with caution until the signal changed to green”. They also heard that it’s against the Highway Code for a pedestrian to cross on a flashing green man. The jury was unanimous in finding Ali guilty of causing death by careless/inconsiderate driving. But Judge Alan Pardoe, QC, spared him an immediate custodial sentence. – From first-hand experience of “accidents” at traffic signals, those weapons of mass distraction, danger and delay, I blame the driver less than I blame a traffic control system which sets the stage for dangerous conflict. Johnson isn’t the only victim, though she paid with her life. Her family and friends – well, you can only imagine the desolation. But Ali, too, can be seen as a victim of a dysfunctional system. He will pay for the rest of his life with day and nightmare action replays.
A near miss 27 May 2010
Outside Lambeth North tube this evening, as I was about to cross the road, a bus come to a stop in the left-hand lane just short of the traffic light. A guy had already started to cross in front of the bus, apparently unaware that the (shaded) traffic light was green. He must have assumed the light was red because the bus was stationary. I began to follow him, but an instinct prompted me to hold back and call out, “Careful!” At that instant, a BMW sped past in the outside lane, missing the guy by a whisker. It was another example of how the rules of the road put us in mortal danger. There is a fatal disconnect between what’s happening on a social level, and what’s happening on a control level. At the risk of repetition, accidents are not accidents. They are events contrived by the rules and design of the road.
Death by regulation 25 May 2010
Was the crash that killed 3 people and injured 35 on the A66 near Keswick an accident? Or was it an event contrived by the rules of the road? It happened at a T-junction. The rules tell main road drivers to ignore side roads, so they barrel along at whatever the speed fixers dictate – 50 or 60 presumably. I don’t know how long the Honda driver had been waiting to exit from the lower status side road, but presumably quite a while. As frustration in the side road driver mounts, the perception of a safe gap diminishes. We can only imagine the delay he endured, and his horror when he realised his time was up. It was a tragedy in the sense that the intolerable conflict contrived by directional priority prompted his fatal decision to move, but the fault wasn’t the driver’s. The fault is endemic in the traffic control system by which we live and die.
Justice and equality 24 May 2010
In his book, Injustice, Daniel Dorling concludes, “Everything it takes to defeat injustice is in the mind. So what matters most is how we think.” Applied to injustice on the road, this echoes my view that a change in culture (or thinking) from priority to equality is the single most important step in making Roads FiT for People, along with new rules of the road to support the change. While roadway redesign is essential, I see it as secondary – see Pimlico photos below, which show drivers assuming ownership of the road in the manner dictated by traffic controls, and the deference paid by pedestrians. These assumptions will survive as long as the old thinking persists.
Still here 23 May 2010
Thanks to those who have been in touch via email: the absence of recent posts is due to pre-occupation with a book synopsis and re-editing of the film as part of a presentation to a traffic management conference. The presentation caused a bit of a stir and some positive feedback.
Perverse policy 13 May 2010
Just back (on foot) from Elephant & Castle. Instead of using the underpasses, I crossed the roads that fan out from the roundabout. There were plenty of gaps in traffic, and it would be fine if it weren’t for some people’s intolerance born of the mean-spirited rules of the road. I’d already more or less reached the central refuge on one two-lane road, when I was honked at by a bus-driver. His mind-set, shaped by the rules of the road, told him a pedestrian had no business being there, even though I wasn’t interfering with traffic. Clearly it would be inappropriate to walk across a traffic-only interchange such as Spaghetti Junction. But Elephant & Castle is an urban hub. Incidentally, someone is still placing flowers at the spot where cyclist, Meryem Ozekman, was killed. A curse on policymakers who make roads unfit for people. Should they face a murder charge? (See also 19.4.09 blog post, Accident or Murder.)
The quality of anarchy 9 April 2010
From Andrew O’Hagan’s 4* review of The Infidel in The Standard: “The comedy is thrilling on several fronts – the joy of reason unseating prejudice; the smile of anarchy spreading mayhem into dogma; the thrill of haphazard intelligence taking a stand against well-organised stupidity.” He could have been writing about the happy anarchy that breaks out whenever traffic lights break down.
Left turn on red 9 April 2010
Occasionally the idea of left turn on red is mooted (like right turn on red in the US). It means freedom to filter left, even if the red is against you. A tiny step in the right direction, I’ve always thought, but ultimately a lame idea. Why can’t we filter in any direction if it’s safe to go? Why should we ever have to stop when there is no conflicting traffic? If we removed directional priority, we’d remove the “need” for lights and the need for speed. If we had a level playing-field where everyone could interact sociably – as we were born to do, rather than be torn in two by the clash between anti-social priority and our co-operative social nature – we’d be able to approach carefully and filter. Simples.
Simples? 7 April 2010
Have I been pussyfooting around for too long with hypotheses? Over the last two years, in association with a traffic engineer, I’ve been pitching lights v no-lights trials to “test the hypothesis” (prove the point) that self-controlled, unregulated traffic flow could bring transformational gains in efficiency, safety, road-user interaction, air quality and quality of life. The first switch-off, in Portishead, has gone permanent after congestion disappeared with no loss of pedestrian safety. Freedom to filter is in a different league to the current system of prohibition, especially if it’s combined with culture change, public awareness, roadway redesign and changes to the law (which in this case it wasn’t, so blind people have boycotted the junction). For my money it proved the hypothesis. But the traffic engineer, ever (over?)-cautious, said it only proves that natural flow works at that particular location. Come on, you can generalise from the particular, I said! “Not necessarily,” he said. I can see that at multi-lane junctions at peak times some control might be needed, but how do we know until we’ve tried it? “It shouldn’t be up to us to prove controls are unnecessary,” said Kenneth Todd, “but for the authorities to prove otherwise – something they have never done”. Traffic engineers have had things on their own terms for decades. So a challenge to accepted wisdom – that traffic needs managing because it can’t manage itself – has to prove a negative case, which would be easier if it were funded. But all the funding goes into systems of control.
U-turn? 7 April 2010
I’ve been saying that traffic lights are an unnecessary evil. Second thoughts. They are worse than unnecessary. They cause congestion by denying infinite filtering opportunities. They heighten danger by taking our eyes off the road and stimulating inappropriate speed. They heighten stress and mess with our minds by dictating our behaviour against our better judgement. They incubate hostility by preventing empathy and fellow feeling. They cost the earth to install and run, causing damage to the economy and the environment. They assume an importance out of all proportion to their paltry origins – a bad policy decision which has ossified into dogma. That decision – to abandon common law principles of equal rights and responsibilities in favour of directional priority – laid the foundations for state-sponsored control and enforcement on an industrial scale. The system presides over 30,000 deaths and casualties every year. It fails to deal with congestion and fails to address climate change. It isn’t working. It needs fixing. FiT Roads can make Roads FiT for People.
Bus lane ticket appeal result 6 April 2010
Letter received from Lambeth: “Thank you for your letter in which you made informal representations about the above Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). I would like to confirm that the PCN has been cancelled. No consideration has been given and no judgement has been made with regard to the merits or otherwise of the alleged contravention.”
Below is a copy of my letter which with hindsight I might have softened, but it seems to have had the desired result. It suggests there are people in authority with the wit to exercise discretion.
Ealing Council is abolishing bus lanes because it has finally realised they add to congestion. Bus lanes that operate during rush hour, from 7-10am and 4-7pm make some sense. But how do you justify bus lanes outside rush hour, when there is no rush or bus in sight? My alleged “offence” took place at 10.31, outside rush hour. There is even less reason for all-day bus lanes now that the punitive congestion charge has emptied London of much of its congestion. It’s bad enough that different boroughs impose different operating times, but on your very own patch, you have an arbitrary mix of all-day bus lanes, rush-hour-only bus lanes, and 24-hour bus lanes. Could it be a deliberate ploy to confuse, vex and milk drivers? Moreover your inconsistent operating hours interfere with the driver’s primary task, which is to watch the road, and get from A-B safely and efficiently. By taking eyes off the road, your inconsistent instructional signage actively interferes with the safety imperative. By restricting road capacity and forcing traffic to queue instead of allowing it to disperse, your policy subverts the environmental imperative. EU directives and international environmental treaty require traffic authorities to take all possible action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So you are in breach. On a technical point, if the spot where my car was snapped is where I think it is, i.e. by the end of the bus lane approaching the roundabout on the south side of Lambeth Bridge, I did what strikes me as the right thing: there were no buses in sight, so I used the empty road space to avoid an unnecessary wait at traffic lights, thereby minimising emissions, unlike your defective policies which maximise them. Do you ever bother to go and look at the diabolical congestion your 24-hour traffic signals cause on the approaches to that roundabout? To my mind, you are failing in your duty of care to our time, health, quality of life and the planet. Or maybe it’s all just a cynical exercise in revenue-raising from easy targets? In any event, on grounds of inconsistent, arbitrary operating hours, and an inappropriate, disproportionate penalty for a non-crime, I appeal this ticket.
London cycling deaths 26 March 2010
In London this evening there was a mass bike ride to mark the recent deaths of three cyclists: David Vilaseca, 46, Haris Ahmed, 21, and Shivon Watson, 28. The aim is “to raise awareness of the dangers that lorries pose to cyclists”. Ms Watson’s father, Maxwell, said, “I am very grateful to them for highlighting how bad the traffic is in London and how irresponsible drivers are.” It might seem harsh to be critical when death and bereavement are involved, but it seems to me the point is being missed. It’s the system itself which makes roads dangerous. If it were run according to social custom rather than engineered regulation, people would be watching and interacting with each other rather than watching and reacting to signals. Then “accidents” such as these would cease.
Alien nation 24 March 2010
Having already paid the odious con charge (odious in its operation and odious because it was imposed before deregulation was even tried), I drove to the City of London to check the new building on the skyline (the Heron Tower by Liverpool Street). I might regret the decision because of an unforced error, which I’ll describe in a minute. The number of red light stops that are forced on you is farcical. One set of lights after another, dictating your every move. Often you have to wait for several light changes before getting across. Meanwhile, squadrons of traffic, prevented from filtering, sit and fume. There is no freedom whatsoever to exercise discretion or fellow feeling. If you have someone on your tail, understandably intent on beating the green, you have to ignore pedestrians you might otherwise have waved on. There are innumerable opportunities for FiT solutions, where all road-users could merge in a merry mix, e.g. at the confluence of roads at Bank, or the north side of London Bridge. But these are ignored in favour of a streetscape blighted by traffic signals, with pedestrians and traffic caught at red, interrupted in their natural flow, then released like lab rats when the lights change. The ill-conceived system is run by puppeteers who presume to know better than you and me at the time and the place how we should act. Already I’d had to drive three miles out of my way because I missed a right turn near the Tower of London. On the way back, I decided to avoid the chronic congestion on Newgate St (caused by the signals near the Old Bailey), by taking a different turning. But it was a trap. Only AFTER I’d entered it did I see a sign saying Buses and Taxis only. It was a ONE-WAY street, so there was no turning back. No doubt a penalty ticket is already on its way to punish me for my “offence”. It struck me that the system does nothing to ease the pain and everything to increase it. With the fear of cameras, bus lanes, no-entries and one-way streets that make you go via XYZ to get from A-B, it’s remarkable that we get about unscathed at all. Far from punishing us for the odd failure to follow one of a million instructions, we should be applauded for surviving a nightmare obstacle course contrived by mean-spirited regulators who scheme to make life on the roads such an alienating experience.
Old news 22 March 2010
Polluted air causes 50,000 premature deaths a year. Tim Yeo, Chairman of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, says the lives of asthma sufferers in particular can be shortened by nine years. (That’s me, folks!) The health costs of pollution could be as high as £20.2bn, similar to the cost of alcohol abuse. “Much more needs to be done to save lives and reduce the burden of air pollution on the NHS.” Yes, and as some of us been saying for years, FiT solutions could make an immediate difference. They would allow traffic to disperse freely. They would eliminate the high-polluting stop-start drive cycle. Etc.
Instinctive altruism thwarted 22 March 2010
More parallels in the New York Times/Observer. “New evidence supports the idea that altruism is hardwired into all but the most hardened sociopaths … Babies reveal an innate inclination to help … Frans de Waal, author of ‘The Age of Empathy’, says natural selection would have favoured cooperation … MRI scans reveal high activity in the pleasure centers when people engage in activities that involve social cooperation … People cooperate because it feels good.” By contrast, the traffic control system prohibits acts of cooperation and empathy. Who will back me to research the role of traffic control in congestion, “accidents” and air quality, and its effect on our psychological well-being?
Nancy gets help 21 March 2010
Karen Sherlock reports that a Puffin crossing is being installed in Chideock (see recent post “Highway Robbery”), which means that pensioner, Nancy Underwood, will be able to cross the road to her local shop without having to make four bus journeys. Progress of sorts. Any chance of Karen or David taking a couple of before-after photos?
It’s broken, so fix it! 21 March 2010
Former adviser to Jimmy Carter, Bert Lance, says the trouble with government is it fixes things that don’t need fixing and doesn’t fix the things that do. What gets me about the legions of traffic officials is their inaction in the face of a dysfunctional system, and their neglect of simple, life-enhancing solutions. Sometimes I feel like Yosser. “Give us the job. I can do it!”
War and Peace 20 March 2010
In today’s Guardian, Professor Fawaz Gerges writes that by withdrawing troops from Iraq, Obama will begin to repair the damage done by Bush, enabling a new relationship based on mutual interest, not domination. Similarly, on the roads, we need to abolish priority, vehicle dominance and coercive traffic control, so we can start coexisting in peace on Roads FiT for People. Gerges says Iraqis must take ownership of their country. Yes, and road-users must regain the public realm from external forces bent on subjugation and control.
Overpaid and over here 19 March 2010
The more I observe traffic controls, the more I think they exist to occupy and solve problems created by traffic engineers. They certainly don’t add to the sum of human happiness. We have within us the ability to negotiate safe, efficient movement, but traffic systems prevent us from using it. Cycling home last night, I saw congestion tailing back from Lambeth North to the roundabout at Westminster Bridge. After overtaking the jam, I saw the problem – see photos (sorry about the quality). Redundant cones and signs were parked on the road, blocking a lane and creating a bottleneck. So I got off my bike and lifted them out of the way, to general thumbs-up from drivers watching and so ludicrously disadvantaged. One driver even got out of his car to help. Now the traffic was free to use two lanes. PS: this morning I was at Lambeth North again. The signs had been stacked away. A street-cleaner was in the road when a horn sounded – I looked up to see a Vauxhall Zafira blasting through the green light at what we reckoned must have been 50mph. Speed doesn’t kill. Inappropriate speed does. What do you get at priority, signal-controlled junctions? Inappropriate speed. What do you get at no-priority junctions, or junctions where lights are out of action? Slow speeds and sociable, efficient filtering. What’s wrong with traffic engineers and policymakers? They are overpaid, overblown and over here.
Sociability = efficiency 16 March 2010
Two minor events that made a minor difference. Driving through Camden today, I slowed to let pedestrians cross, also allowing a van to exit from a side road, at no cost or inconvenience to me or the vehicles behind, proving once again that the sociable way is also the efficient way. In Kilburn, I slowed to let an elderly woman cross. She gave me a big smile of surprised thanks. It seems so natural to stop and so perverse not to. But that’s what the rules of the road tell us to do: ignore the needs of others. Extrapolate those small events across the road network and what do you get? Roads FiT for People.
Highway robbery 13 March 2010
89-year-old partially-sighted Chideock resident, Nancy Underwood, has to make four bus journeys to cross the road from her house to the post office. First she has to get the bus to Bridport, 3 miles east, where she uses a zebra to cross, and wait for the bus back. Her way back across the A35 means a bus ride to Charmouth four miles west, where she can cross, then a fourth bus back to Chideock. Her daughter, Kathy Scott, says she can wait 20 minutes for a gap in the traffic. The heavily-funded Highways Agency’s excuse for not taking action? A dispute over compulsory purchase of land. Since when did they need to buy land on a main road to organise a crossing? Apparently work on a crossing “will start later this year”.
Traffic lights v inner lights 12 March 2010
The current system disables us. It prohibits individual decisions based on context. It puts us in fear of putting a wheel wrong. We face mortal danger and needless delay from artificial rights-of-way. Given freedom to choose and to move, we could act according to our inner lights. We could interact sociably in a public realm that was fun to be a part of. Instead, we let unelected officials spread misery, misanthropy and hostility. Anyone for the barricades?
Them and Us 6 March 2010
The “Kitchener” poster is prompted by a £225 tow-away charge I got this week for “failing” to display my valid resident’s parking permit, and a £120 out-of-rush-hour bus lane penalty. Also there is this about Westminster’s relationship with a parking enforcement company. What happened to Peace and Love?
Yorkie or googly? 3 March 2010
Unlike the next blog entry, this story, also in the Metro, plumbs the depths of state-sponsored scammery. After the River Ouse receded in York, three flooded cars were given penalty tickets when wardens saw they were parked on double yellow lines.
A fine fine? 3 March 2010
In today’s Metro: North Lincs Council is slapping £20 fines on motorists who leave their engines running while parked up. The ABD (Association of British Drivers) says “it’s a ridiculous money-making scam”. I disagree. I think it’s high time, but I’d introduce incentives. The usual culprits are bus and truck drivers who don’t pay for the fuel they so wantonly burn. I’d give bonuses or prizes for returning low fuel consumption figures. It would also encourage smoother driving, reducing the stress and increasing the economy of bus journeys.
No freedom to think 2 March 2010
Government road safety adviser, Robert Gifford, is trying to get drivers to behave better through a Think! campaign. Guess what. He doesn’t propose extending our freedom to think! The role of control in corroding sociability on our roads has never been studied. Who will give me a grant to study it?
Blame the drivers! 2 March 2010
“There’s no such thing as a dangerous road,” says Robert Smith, road safety manager of Dorset CC, “only bad and dangerous road behaviour”. That’s the depth of ignorance we’re dealing with. We are not born bad. A nurturing environment brings out the best in us. On the roads, given freedom to choose, and given road design that expresses a sociable rather than a hostile context, we co-operate in the interest of the common good. Meanwhile, Smith continues his vendetta against straitjacketed drivers.
A portable wind-up 22 February 2010
Waiting at portable traffic signals on a straight stretch of road for unmanned roadworks, gaudy orange plastic fencing fanning off in each direction, I wondered again at the arrogance of traffic managers to assume inability or presume guilt without a shred of evidence, and to usurp our responsibility and judgement. The “works” occupied less space than a parked car.
Crash blossoms 16 February 2010
From Simon Hoggart in The Guardian 13.2.10. “Crash blossoms” are headlines which mean something ridiculously different from the intention, e.g. Eighth Army Push Bottles Up Germans, or Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge, or Doctor Helps Dog Bite Victim. They arise because English nouns, adjectives and verbs are uninflected. The phrase “crash blossoms” comes from a headline in Japan Today about a musician whose career had flourished even after her father had died in an air accident: Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms. You might need to read that twice.
Blossoms in the Dust 16 February 2010
This 1941 Mervyn Leroy film stars the impeccable Greer Garson as Edna Gladney, an early campaigner for children’s rights. Gladney successfully lobbied the Texas legislature to remove the stigma of illegitimacy from birth certificates to give adopted children equal inheritance rights. In her ringing words about regulation killing kindness and love providing an antidote to delinquency are echoes of the case for freedom from restrictive traffic control to enable mutual tolerance to flourish.
Are you a sheep? 16 February 2010
Today I received an email from a traffic engineer who wrote: “You simply cannot present a case against signals as you are not a signals expert and do not address all the reasons for them; you generalise and choose to ignore any evidence that they might be suitable at certain locations”. Actually, I’ve always said that signals might be needed at major junctions at peak times, although I add, “but how do we know until we’ve tried it”? If traffic “experts” ran a system that was efficient, civilised and safe, I might respect them more. But do they enhance our lives by making us stop when it’s safe to go, making us compete for gaps and green time, and putting the onus on children to beware motorists when it could and should be the other way round? Too often their interventions are vexatious and counterproductive, revealing an ignorance of human psychology and an under-appreciation of our ability to self-manage and co-operate. There’s a clue in the name they give to those unsightly pedestrian refuges in the middle of the road, those islands that fence you in and make you go out of your way to cross. Traffic engineers call them “pens”. Yes, to traffic engineers, we are sheep. See also 4 Feb post below, ‘The evidence of your own eyes’.
Killing fields – roads governed by priority 10 February 2010
Below is a classic (appalling) case of closing the stable door. A signal-controlled junction in East Boldon near Sunderland has claimed another life (12 personal injury “accidents” in the last decade). Instead of removing the source of the danger – traffic lights based on directional priority – now they want red-light cameras. Accidents like these are not accidents. They are events contrived by the misguided rules and design of the road. The real culprits are traffic managers and policymakers who engineer killing-fields where people have to compete for gaps and green time. Remove priority, and you remove the “need” for lights and the need for speed, enabling everyone to approach carefully and filter sociably. See story here.
The evidence of your own eyes. Irrelevant? 4 February 2010
There is a tendency among traffic engineers to dismiss eye witness accounts as anecdotal evidence, and direct experience as irrelevant. If it can’t be counted, it doesn’t count. If it can’t be weighed or measured, it doesn’t exist. A remark overheard at a traffic management meeting seems to sum it up. “Our traffic systems would work fine if it weren’t for the problem of pedestrians.”
Adversarial culture 3 February 2010
Have we got the roads we deserve? Are they a reflection of the selfish side of the English character? The culture of the road is like the culture of Parliament or English law: adversarial, competitive. Instead, to make Roads FiT for People, we need coalition, co-operation, consensus.
Bristol lights-off trials 2 February 2010
In the wake of our Portishead proof (cuts in journey time of over 50% and no incidents since the lights went out on 14 September last year), Bristol is committing to a couple of trials. Too few and too small in my view, and deregulation is not enough on its own. Among other essentials is a shift in public awareness. (Note 18.6.15: at the time, this was covered by the Bristol Evening Post, but the link to the piece is no longer live.)
Give us wings 22 January 2010
On the Today programme, Conran CEO, Roger Mavity, said finance directors tend not to make good CEOs. FDs are an important part of the team, but you need energy and caution. A well-designed car has one brake and one accelerator. Two brakes and no accelerator makes an unexciting journey. Applied to politics? It does feel as if former Chancellor, Gordon Brown, now PM, has a brake under both feet. Good FDs are better at controlling than creating. You need a balance between the two skills. Nothing against control. It’s when control exceeds creativity that problems start. Struck me as a useful metaphor for traffic control v freedom to choose. Over-control clips our wings. Creative self-control gives us wings.
£20m public money down the drain 6 January 2010
Transport for London spending our money wisely again (not). Article here.
Pedestrian killed at traffic lights in Vancouver 5 January 2010
A pedestrian was killed at traffic lights in Vancouver on 5 January 2010: further proof, if it is needed, that traffic lights are no guarantee of pedestrian safety. (The link to the newspaper story is no longer live.)
Knock-kneed Hockney 29 December 2009
On David Hockney’s edition of Today about intrusive authoritarianism, Bob Marshall Andrews said this legislatively hyperactive government seeks to deter wicked behaviour by restricting civil liberties – an approach doomed to fail. David Willetts said it’s better to harness human nature than seek to control it (a view I share and expressed in In Your Car No-one Can Hear You Scream!). Hockney was asked how far he would go, e.g. rethink traffic lights, speed limits? Well, no, he said, you need those sorts of laws. Disappointing. Hockney deplores the ban on smoking in public places, which causes inconvenience and even harm to others, yet ignores other areas where perverse authoritarianism has crept in to universal detriment.
Naked cyclists – wrong helmets on show? 23 December 2009
Health and safety trump social convention in this story from NZ.
Speed limits 22 December 2009
As if they needed it, local councils are being “given permission” by the DfT (Department for Transport) to create 20mph zones. There is also talk of reducing rural speed limits to 50. I’m all for low speeds where warranted, but new restrictions will open the door to more expenditure on enforcement. Wouldn’t it be more sustainable to reform the system to stimulate appropriate speed based on context?
Jargon and inaction 30 November 2009
Public sector jargon can do “tangible harm”, says an MP select committee. “Civil servants have phrases like ‘stand ready’,” said David Blunkett, “which actually means ‘we’re doing nothing about this unless absolutely forced to do so’.” It echoes the lights-off trial agreed by Westminster on 8 April, then neutered and delayed by TfL (who claimed the credit for the idea along with Boris, who turned down the proposal in 2008).
Michael Palin on refugees, Bob Dylan on arms dealers 22 November 2009
A remark in today’s Observer about asylum seekers is equally relevant to the alienation caused by traffic controls. “As individuals we are not hostile to each other,” says Palin, “but systems get in the way.” Too right. But systems are devised by individuals. Those in power have been made aware of the defects in the traffic control system (which helps kill or injure 30,000 people on our roads every year). Yet they continue to enforce it. “By threatening my baby, unborn and unnamed, you ain’t worth the blood that runs in your veins.” That’s Bob Dylan on arms manufacturers. Seems equally relevant to traffic managers.
Villains of the Peace 22 November 2009
Left to our own co-operative devices on roads with equal or no priority, we get on fine. But on roads ruled by anti-social priority – which upsets the social order and sets the stage for lethal conflict – we suffer the fallout. And we get the blame when things go wrong. The villains of the peace are traffic managers. They f**k you up, the engineers; they may not mean to, but they do.
Once Upon a Time in the West (of London) 20 November 2009
18.11.09 In the early evening winter dark, cycling down Park Lane towards Hyde Park Corner, near the Hilton, a bus overtakes me then pulls in to stop. At first I assume he is going to leave a gap for me to carry on through (my flashing cycle lights are on front and back) but no, he blocks and forces me to stop. He is at an angle to the kerb – as I brake, I thump the side of the bus hard with my open gloved hand, twice, to express my fury. There is just room between kerb and bus for me to reach the door. He won’t open it. A shouting match starts through the glass. In front of a captive audience we exchange (clean but mean) invective. I want to talk without a barrier between us. I manage to get to the other side and we continue our slanging match through his open side window. Before the speechless passengers, at full pitch, I maintain verbal composure and explain to him that I’m a fellow road-user with equal rights SO CAN HE PLEASE RESPECT MY RIGHT TO THE ROAD SPACE AND NOT CUT ME UP! I repeat the phrase, RESPECT MY ROAD SPACE! Finally he stops yacking and listens, then cracks a gentle smile of apology. We shake hands and I set off again. Only to enter the vortex that is Hyde Park Corner. I reach the front of the traffic queue and set off just before the lights turn green, accompanied by another cyclist. I’ve hardly travelled any distance when there’s an almighty engine roar and I find myself crowded in my lane as a Lambo (I think) overtakes me at full throttle, followed in an apparent race by a turbocharged Honda. Jeez! Then, rounding the bend towards Victoria at the head of Constitution Hill, I hear a police siren blaring and think the cops are chasing the racers, and the racers seem to think so too, because they slow down … but the police car screams past all of us in the general direction of Victoria. Hair-raising. Soon I reach the safety of Eaton Place and unwind along the gentle, genteel side streets of Belgravia and Chelsea.
WMD, D & D 18 November 2009
On my bike yesterday, turning right into Park Lane at Brook Gate bordered on suicide. As I pedalled through the second set of lights, they changed to amber. I still had to get across four lanes of pent-up traffic to my left, about to be released from red on its final stretch before Marble Arch. Three lanes could see me. But hidden behind a bus in the inside lane, a BMW suddenly appeared, rocketing forward. I thought when he saw me trying to get to safety on the left (Hyde Park) side, he’d slow down. No chance. So I stayed in the second lane to let him through and then reached safety. An engineer’s solution would be to extend red time for northbound traffic on Park Lane. That would miss the point. The point is that the system of priority sets the stage for lethal conflict. Traffic lights = weapons of mass distraction, delay and danger.
The system v children and motorists 15 November 2009
Britain is breaching the UN Convention on the rights of the child, says the Children’s Rights Alliance for Europe. It is the most punitive nation in Europe, with child protection services unfit for purpose. “We punish children through the courts for things that were once seen as pranks,” says Dr Mike Lindsay. “Six children were given Asbos for climbing a tree in Gloucester. We seem to want to criminalise and punish everyone.” He is calling for an overhaul of the juvenile justice system. Parallels with traffic controls abound. Our freedom to move and make intelligent decisions based on context is restricted. The system of priority makes roads unfit for people. The citizenry is punished for non-obstructive parking or entering a bus lane to let an emergency vehicle pass.
The misappliance of science 14 November 2009
On the Today programme, scientist and author of The Master and his Emissary, Dr Iain McGilchrist, talked about the role and function of the brain. He deplored the destructive intrusion of compliance, regulation and other mechanisms into our lives, which interrupt the flow, and waste our potential for creative thinking (or words to that effect). Highly relevant to traffic control which wrecks the organic nature of social interaction.
Pawns in their puerile games 12 November 2009
In a new game devised by traffic engineers, drivers in Camden will be “rewarded” for doing 20mph by getting three green lights in a row, and “speeders” will be punished with a red. Not sure how it will work in different traffic volumes, or how they will stop “speeders” without stopping non-speeders in the same wave. Of course there would be no need for such games if we were free to act according to context, unmolested by “experts”.
And now for something completely similar 12 November 2009
Spotted in today’s Metro: Disabled driver Harold Cadwallader was given a £40 parking ticket after the sun bleached the print off his blue badge. Wardens said they could not be sure it was valid. “I rang the council but they advised me to put my badge where the sun doesn’t shine,” said Harold, 87, of Woodbridge, Suffolk.
Traffic control causes “accidents” and delays 10 November 2009
In 45 years of using White City roundabout (below the Westway), I’ve never seen congestion or an accident. Saturday 7 Nov 09 is the first time I’ve seen it with the shiny new signals “working”. Congestion. And a crashed abandoned car. How do the authorities justify expenditure when it causes delay and harm? The traffic control dictatorship is alive and well, and we all suffer the consequences of its unchecked intrusion into our lives.
Three killed on London roads in 24 hours 10 November 2009
Plus two seriously injured (Evening Standard 9.11.09). Two pedestrians crushed under buses, one in Knightsbridge, one in Tooting. Without investigating (and would the police tell me anything?), I can only speculate, but Knightsbridge and Tooting are both plagued by traffic lights that force road-users to fight for gaps and green time. Would those buses have been killers without priority and lights, on Roads FiT for People?
Prohibition on the roads equally counterproductive? 7 November 2009
In 1981 (writes Ben Goldacre, Guardian, 7.11.09), studies of rates of change in cannabis use based on national surveys in the 70s found the most rapid increase was in countries with the toughest penalties. Cannabis use in the UK fell after the move from Class B to C. Prohibition of alcohol provides the most famous example of counterproductive control and enforcement. “If you wish to justify a policy that increases the harms associated with each individual act of drug use by creating violent criminal gangs of distributors, driving the sale of contaminated black market drugs, blighting the lives of users caught by the police, etc, then as a trade-off, people will expect you to provide quality evidence showing that your policy achieves its stated aim of reducing the number of people using drugs.” In the same way, road safety policy based on a system of unequal rights and coercion, stands indicted.
Bristol lights out 7 November 2009
More background on the Bristol lights-out campaign and my involvement here. They edited out the crux of what I had to say, viz. that lights are only a symptom of the underlying cause of most of our problems on the road: priority. Replace the skewed system of priority with equality, and most of our problems will vanish in a puff of exhaust smoke.
Doctrinal disaster 4 November 2009
In Errornomics, Pulitzer winner Joseph Hallinan says that Hudson Bay pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, credits his team for helping bring the plane in. Instead of one chief, there was a group of equals. “As a result, it’s proven you make far fewer errors.” Similarly, if nurses stop seeing surgeons as superior beings and speak up if they see something wrong, it reduces errors. There is a clear parallel with life and death on the road. In removing responsibility and treating us as subservient “unequals”, the priority-driven traffic system is a doctrinal disaster.
Oxford Circus 2 November 2009
While Boris and Westminster congratulate themselves on obvious pedestrian improvements to Oxford Circus (costing £5m) – marking diagonal as well as right-angle crossings – Oxford Street and the rest of London continue to fume at innumerable unnecessary lights. The other day I was in a bus on an Oxford St crammed as always with bumper-to-bumper diesel buses. At one junction we had to wait for three complete signal cycles before we got out of the junction. Why? Because the “experts” who run and ruin life on the road – the engineers, policymakers and traffic managers – tell traffic to enter a junction before traffic that’s already in the junction has been able to leave. Yes, it’s priority, which underpins the system and undermines our will to live, which is at fault again. Instead of being able to filter in turn at junctions, vehicles wanting to turn right have to wait for oncoming traffic to clear, or for a big enough gap to appear, or for another infernal light change to advance a few feet, before they can move. Quel cock-up. Boris made a song-and-dance about the great engineering triumph at Oxford Circus (re-paving a square – not sure where that would sit on a scale which included the Clifton suspension bridge), but as was pointed out in the Metro, diagonal crossings are nothing new – there is one in Balham.
Sunday Bloody Sunday Times 1 November 2009
As far as I can see, the scheduled article about the lights-off campaign spreading to Bristol is not in today’s paper. Apologies to Members – I tried to broadcast a message but the system isn’t functioning.
Lights-off bandwagon 31 October 2009
Tomorrow’s Sunday Times is covering Bristol’s plans to follow Portishead in switching off lights at a number of junctions. It was inevitable that as soon as one trial showed that we’re better off left to our own devices, others would follow. The bandwagon is rolling. But as I’ve said in a piece for the Bristol Evening Post, lights are only the symptom of the underlying cause of our problems on the road: priority. Priority imposes unequal rights, it sets the stage for competitive conflict, and it produces a “need” for lights. Remove priority, re-educate the public to act according to social context, redesign streets to express that context, and we’ll all have an Uncle Bob.
We pay for the snags in the system 31 October 2009
The Guardian has a story about proposals to prosecute parents who “lie” in an effort to get their children into popular schools. Thus is the citizenry criminalised by official bodies who fail to create level playing-fields of high quality. It’s the same on the roads. They devise a dysfunctional system of unequal rights, then penalise the people for the malfunctions that follow.
Another exercise in self-defeat 26 October 2009
The use of nitrogen fertilisers to grow diesel from rape seed or ethanol from wheat produces more greenhouse gases than can be saved by using these sources of “clean energy”. Nobel prize winner Paul Crutzen said this in 2007 (reported by Dr Hans Heinrich-Witt in NYT/Observer).
Bernard Shaw on traffic controls 17 October 2009
It’s unlikely Shaw was thinking of traffic controls, but this is pertinent: “All professions are conspiracies against the laity.” Twenty years ago I worked with John Tagholm on a TV proposal called Experts can be bad for you. It challenged the medical, legal and planning professions. For the last ten years, I’ve challenged traffic ‘experts’. Yesterday a traffic engineer suggested I didn’t understand the complexities. The complexities of a system you promote? I asked. If the ‘experts’ harnessed our greatest resource – human nature – instead of concocting complex control systems to thwart it, most of our congestion and road safety problems would disappear – as is happening at the Cabstand junctions in Portishead.
Surprised? 16 October 2009
Another piece by the Bristol Evening Post [link at end] quotes Councillor David Pasley’s surprise at how well things have gone since the lights were switched off in Portishead. An angry man just posted the following comment (I think he’s angry because he’s been saying this stuff for years, and now, with virtually no reference, and certainly no payment to him, other people are shouting Eureka!). – Not everyone was amazed at the improvements brought about by switching off traffic lights in Portishead. It confirms what some of us have been saying for years: that our innate ability to act sociably and negotiate movement will come up trumps on almost every count (efficiency, safety, air quality, quality of life). All we need is the freedom to use common-sense and express fellow feeling! Traffic engineers will say the Portishead trial only proves that deregulation works there. I say it could work almost anywhere. It was “The case for a no-lights trial” (Google finds it), which prompted Portishead and Westminster to agree to test the idea that traffic controls might not be the solution, but the cause of many of our congestion and road safety problems. Could the reason for surprise at the success of the Cabstand trial be because we have abdicated control of our lives to technocrats who presume to dictate our behaviour? Who is the better judge of when – or indeed how fast – to go: you and me at the time and the place, or remote lights and limits fixed by absent regulators? The arrogance of the over-funded, unproductive, counterproductive traffic control industry is staggering. And our compliance is pitiful, although understandable given the spirit of officially-sponsored coercion and fear that stalks the land. Incidentally there are two other vital elements that need to go hand in hand with deregulation to make our roads fit for people, viz. re-education/culture change, and streetscape redesign to express a social context. Bristol Evening Post piece here.
Anti traffic lights campaign spreading 15 October 2009
My campaign is spreading, particularly to Bristol. Article here. They still seem to miss the fundamental point about priority, which makes roads dangerous in the first place and produces a “need” for lights – at least it wasn’t picked up by anyone else on BBC Radio Bristol this morning where I was asked to appear.
Poor TfL 14 October 2009
News today that BJ might increase the con(gestion) charge because TfL is short of money. The con charge is premature because it was imposed before deregulation was even tried. TfL has 70 managers on salaries of £100,000+. Doing what? Dreaming up more sites for more lights to cause more congestion so they can increase the con charge again. Vile work if you can get it.
Car crash at lights 14 October 2009
Cycling through Mayfair last night, I came across the aftermath of an accident at the junction of Park Lane and Upper Brook Street. See photos (taken on phone – sorry about quality). According to witnesses and those involved, the Merc turned right at Brook Gate on a green light, while the Honda Jazz hadn’t seen the lights as it headed south on Park Lane. The Honda hit the Merc and rammed it up the pavement. Bikes and railings were bent. By lucky fluke there were no pedestrians present. When I asked the slightly shell-shocked drivers if they would have been driving differently if there were no lights at the junction, they said, yes, we would have been driving more slowly. Another thing I noted is how dark and undifferentiated the crossroads is. With a pale road surface and no signals, or maybe amber-flashing signals, junctions like that would be rendered safe and fit for people.
Trial success spreads 9 October 2009
Traffic light de-commissioning in Portishead is “a terrific success” and spreading, not only to the town’s two remaining lights – which would make Portishead the UK’s first traffic light-free (and congestion-free) town – but to Weston-Super-Mare, where a big switch-off is in prospect, and to roundabouts at M5 exits from Weston to Bristol. This is partly about a successful challenge to 80 years of traffic policy and practice. Meanwhile, the country at large remains in the grip of high-cost restrictive practice imposed by unelected officials. Politicians have yet to wake up to the efficiency savings, CO2 reductions and quality of life gains that would accompany traffic system reform.
It’s getting better all the time 3 October 2009
Three weeks in, and the lights-off trial at the double junction in Portishead has reduced average journey times for all road-users from 240 to 20 seconds – a drop of 83%, with no adverse safety effects, indeed if anything an improvement. Engineers say it’s early days and only demonstrates that no control works at this location. They would, wouldn’t they? Extrapolate that 83% of saved time, fuel and emissions across the country, across the decades ..!
The C-word 19 September 2009
As predicted, the Portishead lights-off trial has seen congestion disappear and courtesy thrive. Public spending cuts are usually linked to deprivation, but cutting counterproductive traffic controls would disadvantage no-one except traffic officials who have fed off our misery and will have richly earned their redundancy.
Communicating danger on the road 17 September 2009
Man in a convertible sports car. Woman in a convertible driving the other way gesticulates and yells, PIG! He yells back, BITCH! Rounding the bend, he crashes into a HUGE PIG in the middle of the road.
Portishead (Cabstand) traffic trial 15 September 2009
Day 2. For motorists it’s a dream. Chronic consecutive queueing has given way to sociable simultaneous filtering. The congestion conjured by traffic controls has vanished into thin air. “It’s a million times better,” said the owner of an estate agency on the junction. “Fabulous,” said Olivia Jackson, a passer-by, echoing the views of many. But Ken Rossiter, partially sighted, said driver re-education should have preceded the trial. My sentiments too: I proposed an accompanying public awareness campaign, but the Council were unable to back it. So pedestrians are still deferring to motorists. I’ve been “coaching” some of them, criss-crossing the junctions on foot and showing that if they assert their right to the roadspace, drivers will give way. Some drivers give way spontaneously, but many assume ownership of the carriageway and ignore pedestrians in the time-honoured manner encouraged by our traffic control system. Three mothers with prams followed my advice on their way back from town and reported great results.
Red light for red-light cameras 11 September 2009
A meta-analysis by the Institute of Transport Economics in Norway found that red-light cameras (RLCs) lead to an overall increase in accidents of about 15%. Rear-end collisions went up by about 40%, right angle collisions down by about 10%. It concludes: “RLCs may reduce crashes under some conditions, but on the whole they do not seem to be a successful safety measure.”
North Devon Journal 5 September 2009
Below is a link to the latest of three mentions in the local press about my proposed lights-off trial for the potentially charming village of Braunton, near Barnstaple. The reporter quotes me accurately only in parts. So far, reader comments reveal old thinking from inside the box marked ‘priority’. Article here. (Back tab to return.)
Portishead JET 5 September 2009
A pioneering lights-off trial is due to start on Monday, 7 September. It’s lower key than Westminster’s, but potentially influential. It’s the Cabstand junction in Portishead: a double junction, consisting of two adjacent T-junctions, although one also has a petrol station entrance and exit. Currently there are four sets of lights, and separate red/green stages for pedestrians. We will monitor normal conditions, i.e. with lights, for a week, then the lights go off and we’ll monitor the results over the next few weeks, then we will produce a report.
I ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE! 5 September 2009
The Westminster lights v no lights trial is causing concern, e.g. Labour Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg: “The ‘experts’ say that removing traffic lights will speed up traffic. Well, that might be so, but how are pedestrians going to cross the road if the traffic is flowing without a break? These latest moves by Westminster Conservatives and Mayor Johnson are bad news for older people, young children, the disabled and parents with prams … If the Council wants to experiment by scrapping traffic lights then I hope that those responsible for the experiment will be the first to volunteer to try to cross the road?” – As instigator of the trial, I am more than happy to accept this challenge. I have confidence in human nature. Under the current system of control, common decency lies buried, but when given a chance, it will flourish.
Engineering support 1 September 2009
Looking something up, I re-read this letter by Keith Ray in response to my 2006 Telegraph piece, Rip Them Out – In the 1960s I studied engineering at Cambridge. A third-year project sought to improve traffic flow at the notorious Fen Causeway, Lensfield Road, Trumpington Street, Trumpington Road junction, a staggered crossroads producing severe congestion. The brightest young brains of the time never found a solution. A year after I graduated, there was a system failure and for several weeks the lights did not work. What happened? The congestion disappeared overnight as motorists filtered in turn. Even pedestrians found it easier to cross the road. The lights were removed and never replaced. Now there is a system of mini roundabouts, better than lights but worse than nothing, as they don’t encourage “filter in turn”. I agree with your article: the majority of motorists are considerate and sort out congestion problems naturally.
Credit where it’s not due? 1 September 2009
The Sunday Times were going to do a piece on our JET (Junction Efficiency Trial), but they pulled it because the story was leaked to The Telegraph. The Telegraph piece says nothing about the origins of the trial, which followed intense lobbying by me. Westminster commissioned us (my traffic engineer partner and me) on 8 April. I was asked not to talk to the press, and things have been subject to numerous delays since. Strangely, TfL, who have continually blocked my proposals for a trial (including one in 2004 which had the support of Brent), seem to claim it as their idea. The GLA and Boris too, who turned down our trial proposal last year, loom large in the Telegraph article, which is little more than an official press release on behalf of TfL/GLA. The piece is here. (If you follow the link, you will need to back tab to return.)
Artificial trees 27 August 2009
The proposal to build artificial trees to soak up and store CO2 from the atmosphere seems a good idea, but of course if all those anti-social, carbon-hungry traffic controls were removed, there would be less CO2 to soak up in the first place. Story here. (Back tab to return to site.)
In Pursuit of Elegance 26 August 2009
After reading Matthew May’s book, In Pursuit of Elegance, another element fitted into place. If you magnify a fractal, or a slice of nature – e.g. a section of coastline or segment of a tree – the underlying pattern in the close-up will replicate the pattern in the wide shot. Just as there is deep symmetry in apparent chaos, we can expect the elements that pertain on a micro scale to pertain on a macro. Thus the efficient filtering which breaks out whenever traffic lights break down at a single junction should work just as well across a network. It seems incredible that this has never been put to the test, and that councils are still squandering money on intrusive, high-cost controls. What is so negative about traffic engineering is its distrust of our greatest resource: human nature. It denies us the freedom to make the simplest decisions. The whole over-managed road network is a continuing insult to our intelligence. I’m still pursuing a JET (Junction Efficiency Trial) to test the idea that we’re better off left to our own devices. (Today I heard that the Westminster JET might get lift-off at the end of October …)
Enforcement expands, individual liberty shrinks 20 August 2009
A graph sent to me by Chad Dornsife of the Best Highway Safety Practices Institute shows US accident rates falling between 1961 and 2008 as speed limits are relaxed or removed. Accident rates continue to drop steadily as cellphone use rises steeply. In the teeth of this evidence which shows that most people behave sensibly, the bandwagon of enforcement is gathering pace and finding new ways to criminalise us. There are plans afoot to add talking to passengers and changing radio station as indictable offences under the heading of Distracted Driving.
Phantom fear 15 August 2009
Guided group cycling commutes – “pelotons”– are being organised in London. Fearful cyclists learn to negotiate the dangerous roads and are guided down quiet side streets. Often the group gets separated by traffic lights that don’t give them enough green. Note the unquestioning acceptance of a system which makes roads dangerous in the first place. Under the system of priority, the hierarchical pyramid is inverted. Vehicles are allowed to own the carriageway to the detriment of vulnerable road-users. Scandalously, the onus is on children to beware motorists, when in any civilised society it would be the other way round. That’s why blind people are worried about shared surfaces (not to be confused with shared space). They have grown up with a road culture where might is right. But might is wrong, and the culture change which I advocate – from priority to equality – will put the pyramid back on its feet. Then cyclists, children and blind people won’t have anything to fear.
Knaves’ new world 6 August 2009
More evidence of asinine red-light law and disorder here. In an early cut of In Your Car No-one Can Hear You Scream! a driver spoke about penalty points and a fine he received for entering a bus lane on the Euston Road to let a fire engine pass. They even refused his appeal. We live in a new world of knaves (technocrats).
Where lies the danger? 29 July 2009
Local councillor Rodney Cann is calling for improvements to a dangerous junction on the A361 at Westleigh. Stuart Hughes (Highways and Transportation) said, “Measures were taken last year with warning speed signs installed. It’s too early to tell if it has been entirely effective and we will continue to monitor the junction.” My advice? Remove priority, and re-design the junction to express equality. This will stimulate slow approach speeds. A sign is an admission of a failure. Failure to design the road in a way that prompts appropriate conduct. Failure to communicate the context on which motorists can base appropriate choices. Not only is a sign an admission of defeat, it’s a retrospective attempt to correct self-inflicted problems caused by roadway engineering and design faults.
Smooth as silk 27 July 2009
Ceefax, 27.7.09, letter signed “MP, London”. There is a traffic light controlled one-way system in Crayford, which is notorious for queues and delays every hour of the day. During the recent power cut affecting Dartford and Crayford the traffic lights went out and the traffic flow became as smooth as silk with no hold-ups at all. Now the lights are back on, the delays are back to normal. Traffic planners please note.
JET gets lift-off 27 July 2009
Not quite ready to go to press on this yet, but Portishead, a council near Bristol, has agreed to a Junction Efficiency Trial starting on 17 August. We’ll be monitoring before and after signals switch-off at a busy junction called Cabstand for an initial period of five weeks. They are not commissioning a public awareness campaign or promo, but that might follow later if the results are promising, in which case the lights are likely to remain permanently switched off. Also I’ll be pushing for some streetscape re-design to reinforce the idea of equality and a sharing context. Three months ago, Westminster agreed to a similar trial at two junctions, but Transport for London seem to have put a hex on that. Originally we discussed seven junctions. TfL knocked us back to two, and now there is an unexplained delay. Pitching to a council in Devon tomorrow, 27 July. Currently re-editing the film with some new material shot last week.
WMD & D (2) 24 July 2009
(Similar version published today by Newspress.) There are some fair comments in yesterday’s report from the Transport Committee, and balanced comment in some of the reactions, but no-one else seems to be pointing out that many of our congestion (and road safety) problems are caused by the traffic control system itself. Until we’ve seen comprehensive reform, any talk of congestion charging is premature. It’s obvious to everyone except the ‘experts’ that most traffic lights are not only badly timed but unnecessary per se. Sustainable solutions are at hand which involve reduced control and nothing like the cost of the current system; just a change in culture from priority to equality, and an approach based on a trust in human nature rather than an obsession with controlling it. Who is the better judge of when, or indeed how fast, it’s safe to go – you and me at the time and the place, or lights and limits fixed by absent regulators? There are huge social, economic and environmental gains to be made from removing traffic controls, and letting road-users use commonsense to filter in turn (FiT). First we need to cut out the cancer at the heart of the system – priority – which subverts the natural order and makes roads dangerous in the first place. Then there could be cuts in the carbon-hungry and energy-inefficient traffic control industry, with large-scale scrapping of high-cost control systems, and a cull of unnaccountable, unproductive managers, policymakers and engineers. Many of them mean well, and it’s good to see that some, at last, are beginning to see the light about traffic lights, those weapons of mass distraction and delay. But the old road is rapidly changing. Let them get out of the new one if they can’t lend a hand.
To warn or not to warn? 16 July 2009
Regarding our JETs (Junction Efficiency Trials – awaiting the kiss of finance for lift-off), do we give the public advance notice of a traffic lights switch-off or not? The advantage of no advance warning is the possibility of a “purer” result, with behaviour uninfluenced, and a clear reading of how people interact without formal controls. Mind you, good results have been witnessed countless times when lights are out of action, indeed it’s what started me off on this quest to change the system. But old habits die hard. Some road-users are over-cautious. Others insist on their legal right of way over others who were there first, sanctioned by priority. My view is that we should give advance notice of a change in culture, through a programme of re-education, to show that in the new civilised public realm, equality replaces priority, and might is no longer right. Despite conventional design and old bad habits, this is space to be shared equally. Above all, advance notice should communicate the fact that it’s absolutely OK to act as you would in other social situations – by taking it in turns rather than insisting on artificial rights of way. So in my view the case for advance re-education is stronger than the argument against.
Torn 16 July 2009
Next week I’m planning a bit of filming and updating of the video, The Case against Traffic Lights, for a council meeting in 10 days’ time. One of the things I might try is crossing the road with a radio mic on so I can do a walking commentary. I’m sure that if drivers only had to worry about watching the road and other road-users, things would be fine. When they saw someone trying to cross, they would slow down or wave them on. But they are torn, between a system of control telling their heads to do one thing, and years of social upbringing telling their hearts to do another. The traffic control system sets up intolerable conflicts. It nurtures a “Get out of my way!” mindset, and discourages, even outlaws “After you!” fellow feeling. It makes us act against our better nature and better judgement. It makes us obey a set of rules which are alien to our nature.
Government greenwash? 16 July 2009
There is some good material in the DfT’s grossly overdue Greener Future charter, but reform in one vital segment is missing. The segment accounts for a king-sized slice of the carbon cake. It is responsible for waste on a prodigious scale, and is run by unelected, unaccountable technocrats. It criminalises the citizenry, and turns our public realm into a stage set for conflict. The segment that needs reform? The traffic control system itself. It is built on a fatal flaw – directional priority – which imposes unequal rights on different road-users and makes roads dangerous in the first place. When things go wrong, the technocrats blame us, while they duck responsibility. Most of their high-tech, high-cost interventions are doomed attempts to solve problems which they originated or over which they preside. What we need is a change in culture, from priority to equality. This would enable all road-users to do what is natural, civilised, safe and sustainable: proceed carefully and filter, as is customary in all other walks of life. Only on the road must we fight for survival on an uneven playing-field, and compete for gaps and green time. Enabling drivers to glide through on opportunity, the FiT (filter in turn) solution would eliminate much of the wasteful stop-start drive cycle occasioned by traffic lights. Journey times, fuel use and emissions would fall, as quality of life and fellow feeling would soar. The electricity alone that’s required to power our galaxy of 24-hour traffic lights produces 57,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. Add the manufacture, delivery, installation and maintenance costs, and is it surprising that polar bears are running out of ice? The carbon footprint of the traffic control industry is colossal, and the energy savings from cutting it down to size and freeing us to use common sense to go about our business unmolested are correspondingly huge. On FiT Roads – Roads FiT for People – we wouldn’t need to produce so much energy, so people’s fuel bills could go down instead of up. Is anyone listening?
Emotional Design 13 July 2009
In Emotional Design, Donald Norman writes: “The principles for designing pleasurable, effective interaction between people and products are the same ones that support pleasurable and effective interaction between individuals.” – Our road network expresses the precise opposite of emotion. The public realm is where human beings live and interact. It is the mark of a country’s civilised values. Yet we have abandoned it to technocrats who, Dementor-like, destroy its soul. They turn it into a concrete jungle where we have to fight for survival, gaps and green time, where pedestrians are herded into “pens”, and where road safety is the responsibility of children! You see them being shouted at in infancy by parents who inherit the unreasonable burden of drumming into their little heads the age-inappropriate notion that just the other side of that grey thing called a kerb, on that grey thing called a road, lurks danger and death. The road isn’t even a different colour to help them. I spit on a system which turns our roads into rivers of death for innocent humans. There is a better way. It doesn’t involve technocrats. Just a change in culture and some emotional design.
How £much for a human life? 30 June 2009
My heated debates with traffic engineers often concern their practice of giving everything, including road safety, an economic value. They allow £2m for a life. Today, in the 4th Reith lecture about the new citizenship by Michael Sandel, I heard my objections expressed along these lines: cost-benefit analysis is spurious because there are certain things which can’t be measured or given an economic value, most notably, human life. In renouncing moral judgement, the technocrat becomes undemocratic. Yes, and on the roads, real change can only come from changing the culture – from priority to equality. That way, we will change people’s attitudes, and transform life on the roads in ways that transcend economic value.
When does a crowd become dangerous? 29 June 2009
The following, from a piece about crowd behaviour (Guardian Weekend, 27.6.09), is relevant to our debate about solutions being within us rather than in formal traffic control. Paul Wertheimer, of Crowd Management Strategies, investigated the crowd “stampede” (10 dead) at The Who concert in Cincinnati in 1979, and is the expert witness for the family of the man who was crushed to death in Walmart last year. He bases his theories on first-hand experience. “I spent 15 years in crowds,” he says. “I’m not a scientist, I don’t see people as pinballs on a computer. Sometimes the scientists leave out the human factor, because they’re afraid of human behaviour. Afraid of it because they can’t quantify it, can’t control it, can’t turn it into a pinball on a computer. There is a need for [scientists like] Keith Still [of Crowd Dynamics], but not at the expense of human behaviour.” A key to surviving in a bad crowd situation, he says, is to make human contact with those around you. Contrary to received wisdom, people don’t automatically become selfish when under pressure. “You can’t talk because of all the noise – you rely on eye contact, facial gesture, hand movement. You always want to make contact with somebody around you. People will help you if they can. Extend your hand. I call it the Grip of Life. It’s that human connection of hope and support and encouragement.” – Oh you traffic engineers and councillors, there is more potential in human nature than is dreamt of in your philosophy. Get a Grip. Let people step off the cliff of your fear, and watch them fly. You might not be able to control or quantify it, but you can admire it.
Binding human nature 28 June 2009
Discussing bio-engineering in his third Reith lecture about the new citizenship, Michael Sandel said, “Changing our nature to fit the world, rather than the other way round, is the deepest form of disempowerment”. It echoes something I said in my Newsnight report: “Instead of making human nature conform to a system, shouldn’t we devise a system that conforms to human nature?”
A silent scream 26 June 2009
Will our JET ever see lift-off? At a junction where lights failed and congestion disappeared, only to reappear when the lights were back on, we are proposing a lights v no-lights Junction Efficiency Trial to see what happens long term when people are left to their own devices. But officials are calling for signs at every single approach telling drivers and pedestrians to look both ways and beware, as if they wouldn’t do so anyway! The thought of distracting signage defeating the object by prescribing behaviour and adding to the clutter is enough to make you scream. Must council thinking and engineers’ recommendations remain forever inside the box? Our greatest resource is our inborn ability to negotiate safe movement based on context and common sense. What should be a social experiment to prove the bleedin’ obvious is in danger of falling foul of technocrats who only see reasons for inaction based on unfounded fears.
Cause for celebration? 25 June 2009
According to DfT statistics, the number of people killed on UK roads is at a record low. In 2008, there were 28,567 KSIs (killed or seriously injured), 7% down on 07. Despite that unspeakable annual toll of dead, injured and affected, these figures are publicly welcomed. On FiT Roads – where equality would bring a culture of “After you” rather than “Get out of my way!” – there might be no KSIs at all. Any accidents that might occur would be true accidents, down to human error alone, not events contrived by the dangerous rules of the road. As social beings, we want to take it in turns. But priority makes us live (and die) by a system that is alien to our nature, puts us at war with each other, and gives rise to the high-tech, high-cost network of control which fails us all by treating the symptoms and not the cause.
Moral compass 20 June 2009
Jonathan Glancey (Guardian 20.6.09) recommends Ruskin’s Unto The Last as essential reading for politicians. “Political economy is not a mechanism, it’s an organism.” I couldn’t help seeing a parallel with our unjust traffic control system. Traffic engineers see humanity as chaos to be ordered and mechanised. Would it function better if it were seen as an organism and free to self-organise? You can guess my view. Bring on the JET (Junction Efficiency Trial) to prove it right or wrong!
’til I’m blue in the face 17 June 2009
Taking it in turns – it’s how we behave as social beings. Main road priority, on which the traffic system is based, subverts the natural order. It imposes unfair rights-of-way, and puts the vulnerable road-user at a dangerous disadvantage. Most accidents are not accidents at all. They are events contrived by the rules of the road. Traffic lights exist to break the priority streams of traffic so that others can cross. Like other control measures that try to undo the damage caused by the original sin of priority, lights overlook the cancer at the heart of the system, and bring problems of their own. Remove the cancer of priority, and you remove the “need” for lights and the need for speed, enabling everyone to do what is natural and intrinsically safe: approach carefully, watch the road, and filter.
James May isn’t far off 17 June 2009
May has it about right when he says, “I’ve always believed that society should have as few rules as possible … In May’s world there’d be only one law: don’t be a prat. That actually covers everything. Not paying your tax is being a prat. Neglecting your children is being a prat. Doing 100mph through a town centre is being a prat. As long as you’re not a prat, you can do what you like.” – It’s another way of saying, “Be considerate”, which is what the vast majority are when free to choose. Prats make us pay for prescriptive regulation we don’t need, then make us pay again when things go wrong. I’d have two rules for the road, well, one rule – drive on the left (in the UK obviously), and one bit of advice – be kind.
H.I. better than A.I. 17 June 2009
An article in the New York Times about artificial intelligence (31.5.09) concludes with a quote from Dr Henry Baird, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. “Machines’ abilities are slowly improving, but there is still a huge gap between human inborn perceptual abilities and machine skills.” Yet traffic engineers and policymakers still refuse to trust us and insist on controlling our every move.
Getting into the groove 16 June 2009
Freedom from traffic controls could bring safe, happy roads. When we’re free to act naturally, we get along fine. Take away signals, abolish priority, and we’d soon get into the groove. Sweet music, like this. (Back tab to return.)
JET and safety 16 June 2009
At a meeting with a council to discuss a JET, the question arose, What if there’s a fatal accident during the lights-off phase of the trial? The council leader is a man of action, so I hope he won’t let the fear factor deter him. Lights take our eyes off the road and encourage speed: a recipe for danger. But when lights break down and there is no priority, we approach carefully and watch the road: a recipe for safety. A traffic engineer asked if I would take responsibility for a death under FiT. The question is completely hypothetical, but yes I would, especially if I could run an accompanying campaign to promote the culture of equality. Under the current system, there are 30,000 KSIs (killed and seriously injured) a year. Who takes responsibility for those?
The role of control in damaging health 9 June 2009
Today’s story about traffic pollution damaging lung function in children is not new. Despite the work that many of us are doing, the authorities fail to take note, let alone action. Under Livingstone, it was TfL’s duty to reduce seven key emissions, but he choked traffic flow with hundreds of new traffic lights, and left lights operating even when side roads were closed. Policymakers continue to preside over a system of grotesque inefficiency and waste. One of the points made in my 2007 article No Idle Matter was that accelerating away from a standing start at traffic lights multiplies fuel use and emissions by a factor of 4 compared with the low emissions from traffic gliding through on opportunity. The BBC story is here.
Fellow feeling 9 June 2009
There is endorsement of FiT philosophy (achieving the common good through cooperation) in ‘The New Citizenship’ by Reith lecturer, Michael Sandel. “Fellow feeling is not a fixed supply. It gets stronger with exercise.” Similarly, while road capacity is limited, the potential for fellow feeling among road-users is limitless. The mechanism for safe, efficient movement on the road is within us. Our greatest resource, boundless in its potential, is human nature. Systems of control, on the other hand, kill fellow feeling and take us further down the road to nowhere.
No surprise 3 June 2009
Bristol: Queues at Portishead’s gridlocked Cabstand junction disappeared – after a fault caused the traffic lights to fail. Installed in 2004 at a cost of £800,000, they were out of action on Friday between 3-5pm. Engineers rushed to replace a faulty part in time for rush hour. It is understood that as soon as the lights were off, the traffic queues along the High Street which build up waiting for them to change, melted away, only to reappear when the lights were repaired. More.
The quality of attention 30 May 2009
On a road with bus lanes, traffic lights, speed limits and cameras, the apparatus of control looms large. It demands disproportionate attention, which should be focused on the road. Isn’t the task of negotiating traffic tricky enough without the added burden of fearing reprisal if you put a wheel wrong? On a road without controls, by contrast, you are free to concentrate on the job in hand: watching the road and other road-users, and getting from A-B safely and expeditiously.
A lateral thought 30 May 2009
The fumes from diesel buses are bad enough, but what about the noise pollution? Often it is due to harsh acceleration by drivers who have no incentive to drive gently. Vast quantities of fuel are wasted and emissions generated by careless driving. Here’s a thought. Reward bus and truck drivers for extending the range of their tanks. At a stroke, emissions, fuel use and noise pollution would fall, and quality of life would improve.
Why bother? 30 May 2009
On the subject of the forthcoming traffic trial, an engineer asked, if there are no gains in efficiency and safety without controls, “why bother to remove them?” Is he oblivious to warnings of ecological meltdown? Has he missed the carbon impact of traffic control? It could be argued that even if FiT increased journey times (highly unlikely), the energy savings alone from switching off lights and eliminating the stop-start drive cycle would outweigh every other consideration.
Time to sign off? 30 May 2009
According to “research” last week by Direct Line and Brake, an “alarming” number of drivers don’t know the meaning of road signs, which are “critical to ensuring road safety”. The implication is that the only guide to safe action is obedience to instructions. No, the primary guide is context. Instructional signs take our eyes off the road. They contradict our senses and judgement. They demand our attention and reduce our ability to make intelligent decisions. They are bad news. We have a system which is so badly designed that an industrial-scale control industry is “needed” to police the mess. If we had a system designed to stimulate rather than enforce appropriate conduct, our roads would be more efficient and incomparably safer.
Painting the town WHITE 27 May 2009
Obama’s climate change minister, Nobel-prizewinning scientist, Steven Chu, is promoting an idea which is elegant in its simplicity (and akin to FiT philosophy). Paint roofs white! Buy white cars. Use pale colours for tarmac, car parks and pavements. Why? To reflect sunlight back into space. Dark materials retain heat and cause infrared radiation, adding to global warming. In winter, white roofs reflect escaping heat back into buildings. The dramatic energy savings are similar to those we’d get from letting traffic filter instead of making it queue at gas-guzzling traffic lights. Article here.
Hats off! 26 May 2009
Jigme Thinley. That’s the name of the PM of Bhutan. Once upon a time they had no traffic lights and regularly topped international happiness polls. Then a signal was installed at a major intersection. Gloom descended. So they got rid of it, and back they went to the top of the happiness league. Now, instead of working to increase the country’s GNP, they are removing greed from the sociopolitical equation and pursuing GNH (gross national happiness) instead.
All you need is love 25 May 2009
Roger Cohen (New York Times) contrasts the propensity for the Middle East to nurse historical hatreds for ever, with the ability of Vietnam and other Asian nations to move on. Communist China’s Zhou Enlai did business with the West, showing that peaceful coexistence can flourish despite essential differences. Similarly, if roads were designed for integration rather than segregation, and equality replaced priority, all road-users would be able to mix merrily. We don’t need separate cycle lanes or traffic lights. We need a culture of empathy. How do we get it? Through freedom to use common sense and common courtesy on roads free of counterproductive traffic controls.
Value of intuition 24 May 2009
On Broadcasting House, Stephen Bayley said something along the lines of, “Measurement is a modern obsession. They say if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist. Piffle! How do you measure culture?” My experience of efficient interaction between road-users when lights are out of action is dismissed as irrelevant by traffic engineers. If we lived by measurement alone, we wouldn’t achieve the change that intuition can inspire. By all means apply science for evidence, but appreciate the punch of the hunch.
Licensed to kill 23 May 2009
I make no excuses for banging on about this: the rules of the road encourage anti-social vandalism. How can the powers stand by a system which makes children responsible for their own safety when crossing the road? How can the law of the land sanction unequal rights-of-way and the idea that ‘might is right’? Don’t they realise they preside over a system which endorses a culture of aggression and neglect? Presumably not: they have built a parasitic edifice of control and enforcement to support it. Unspeakable.
Blackmail? 20 May 2009
Manchester’s proposed con charge was shelved after a massive No vote, but government is still making public transport investment dependent on con charge schemes. Manchester was told that if they voted No, there was “no plan B”. Yet within months, £1.4bn was found for the tram extension. Cambridge still pursues a charge even though road layout tweaks would ease its self-inflicted congestion problems. Birmingham’s Mike Whitby says con charging on essential car journeys is ‘morally corrupt’. Time to scrap it nationally and put public money to constructive use?
Keeping up the pressure 19 May 2009
While MPs survey the damage and seek regulation for themselves and the banks, the tide is turning against regulation on the roads. It’s a slow-turning tide, but inexorable. Here is another sword-thrust to the system. The system will survive, but sense and sensibility will win in the end.
Inner lights 19 May 2009
Traffic lights are thought to guarantee safety. Far from it. At least as many “accidents” occur at lights, and these tend to be at high speeds. Traffic lights promote a full steam ahead, get-out-of-my-way approach. No priority/no lights might not guarantee safety either, but at least people approach carefully and make common cause. I prefer to rely on human nature – our inner lights – than a system of control that brutalises us.
Roads policy – forever wrong 12 May 2009
World health agencies are criticised for focusing on diseases such as malaria and AIDS instead of dealing with the biggest cause of child death: poor sanitation. In the same way, are the traffic authorities focusing on enforcement and control, and failing in their duty to make roads safe in the first place? No question.
The language of coercion 11 May 2009
From a motoring press release: “A trial of Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA) is to be launched. It enables drivers to select an option where acceleration is stopped at the speed limit.” The only language our revenue-chasing authorities understand is coercion through expensive technology. The authentic solution is to make roads FiT by dealing with the root problem of priority, and to give drivers responsibility for their own actions.
With feeling: Ealing 9 May 2009
Some authorities, such as Ealing, are seeing the light about traffic lights, but what about the years of needless delay suffered by road-users and the avalanche of avoidable CO2 still being generated? The lights at St Pancras were left on for seven years even though Midland Road was closed for work on the Tunnel link. I emailed Camden environment chief, John Thane, three times and still he refused to act. When the TCD (traffic control dictatorship) has finally been discredited, will anyone be brought to book?
Bandwagon gathering speed 8 May 2009
Everyone’s hitching a ride. Should I see red when other journos use my material without a credit? At least Harry Phibbs in this piece for Guardian Comment quotes me later on. As mentioned elsewhere, these ideas are gaining currency, though as revealed in a number of comments, some people are still stuck in the Dark Ages. Article here. (Back tab to return.)
UK’s position on pedestrian safety 8 May 2009
According to a report from the National Audit Office, the UK is 11th in the league table of developed countries for pedestrian road safety. What do they propose? More education. Really. They propose no reform of a system which puts the onus on children – children! – to beware vehicles, when it could and should be the other way round. By accepting the status quo, the NAO – along with most policymakers – collude in a system which is anathema to a safe and civilised public realm.
Empathy 7 May 2009
Holocaust survivor, psychologist and ‘resilience’ theorist, Boris Cyrulnik, sees empathy as instinctive, the cornerstone of humanity. This goes to the heart of my views about road-user interaction. When free to think for ourselves, we can, and usually do, act with empathy. But when straitjacketed by a set of rules that defy civilised values, we suffer from fallout in the form of “accidents”, “road rage”, and congestion. And we get unjustly blamed.
Hoist with his own petard? 3 May 2009
The CEO of Serco, a major logistics company which among other things installs speed cameras, was caught by one of his own cameras doing 102mph on the A11. Tom Riall, 49, was on his way to a business meeting. He said he was on a clear road and didn’t realise how fast he was going. Safe Speed is concerned at his lack of awareness. My guess is that he was driving according to the conditions. Is it better to keep half an eye on the speedometer, or both eyes on the road?
The power of celebrity 2 May 2009
The only surprise is that it’s taken people so long to cotton on to the bleedin’ obvious. It’s ten years since I’ve been pitching these ideas to the media, politicians and traffic managers. In the same way that policymakers have been failing in their duty of care to our time, welfare and the planet, have commissioning editors been failing in their duty to air radical ideas? Well, the ideas are nearly mainstream now, so no doubt there will be a raft of programmes on the subject soon, presented as brand new. If I was Joanna Lumley, would I have had a series on air and already won the good fight against artificial priority and traffic lights?
Tide turning 2 May 2009
In a way, the news about Ealing’s ad hoc moves to ease congestion by bagging over traffic lights pre-empts news of our JET (Junction Efficiency Trial). The writer, Ben Webster, has been in touch, but I’m not free to name the council backing the JET (note 22.6.15 – it was Westminster), so he ran with the Ealing story instead. It is further evidence that the tide of regulation is turning.
The JET and culture change 30 April 2009
Details are under wraps, but thanks to the hard-won support of a council, a JET (Junction Efficiency Trial) has lift-off. The aim is to explore potential improvements in congestion and road-user interaction. The current culture – based on major/ minor road separation, priority and unequal rights – fosters a “get out of my way” mindset which flouts social custom. It produces a “need” for lights – to break the priority streams of traffic so others can cross in relative (but not guaranteed) safety). When directional priority is absent – when lights are out of action – good manners and co-operative instincts re-emerge. The current system discourages, even outlaws, civilised interaction. Imagine how other motorists would react if you slowed down on a rural A-road to let people from a B-road enter or cross. As part of the JET, I aim to run a parallel programme of re-education to say it’s OK, you are allowed to do what’s natural and right on this new level playing field. Common law values of equal rights and responsibilities, strangled for decades by misguided technocrats, should get a chance to flourish. As I was writing this, I heard John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, tell Peter Day on R4’s In Business, “Command and control will be a dinosaur. From now on it’s all about collaboration.” How pertinent.
Inefficiency and injustice 26 April 2009
Vicious parking controls, inconsistent bus lanes, 24-hour traffic lights, the ‘crime’ of ‘speeding’, no scope for intelligent discretion, above all, inequality imposed by priority. Why is that mother with pram marooned on a traffic island? Because the green light tells traffic to ignore her. Why is that district nurse facing an indefinite wait on a B-road? Because she is faced with fast-moving traffic from opposite directions on the A-road, licensed to plough on. If the law is an ass, nowhere is it more asinine, and misanthropic, than in the traffic arena.
Naturally honest and cooperative 26 April 2009
In a test of the nation’s honesty, a Sunday Times reporter left £20 notes in cash machines across the country. All except one next in line called out and returned the note, prompting the conclusion that despite our jaded view of human nature, most people do the right thing. Similarly, most people on the road are co-operative. But misguided regulation, above all the priority rule, makes us act against our better nature. The problem is not the public. The problem is public policy.
JET set 25 April 2009
It’s important to understand the context of priority in which I question the value of traffic lights. For anyone who sees my calls for abolition as extreme, I’ve always recognised that at certain junctions at peak times, some control might be needed. But how do we know until we’ve tried it? Hence my pursuit of a JET = Junction Efficiency Trial. We need to base road policy on a trust in human nature rather than an obsession with controlling it. We need a level playing-field for all road-users, with filter in turn (temporal rather than directional priority) at its heart. The new, inclusive approach will express a culture of equal rights and responsibilities, and create the framework for peaceful co-existence between all road-users.
Car scrappage scheme 24 April 2009
It seems a travesty to junk serviceable cars such as the Focus in the background. Couldn’t old cars be given to owners of genuine old bangers? Why is the scheme facilitating the purchase of new cars only? Why not fuel-efficient second-hand cars too? Why does it fail to stipulate ultra-low emissions for new cars purchased, such as the Econetic pictured? Moreover, the scheme negates the ethos of recycling. Maintaining an existing car involves a smaller carbon footprint than manufacturing a new one. All-in-all a half-baked scheme, and no doubt, revenue-led. It would be good to see the government listening to constructive criticism and taking appropriate action. Unlikely.
Think! My foot! 24 April 2009
Councils and the DfT pride themselves on their shiny new road safety campaign, Think! Along stretches of road such as the A39, panels announce road death numbers, and road signs shout Think! Will that help? For one thing, the signs take our eyes off the road. For another, they assume that road deaths are due to bad driving. Above all, they fail to recognise the role that defective regulation and road design play in creating the circumstances in which “accidents” are inevitable.
Priority turns roads into conflict zones 24 April 2009
More evidence that priority is the fatal flaw at the heart of the system in this story from the US, about Swedish visitors hit by a truck as they crossed the road. The authorities call it an accident, but could it be another avoidable event arising from the misguided rules of the road? Note how it lobs a grenade into the mechanics of human interaction and turns fellow road-users into foes.
Slow motion 22 April 2009
Pertinent piece by Will Self in Standard here. To return to the site, use back tab.
Is now the time for your tears? 21 April 2009
Roads will never be safe until there is fundamental reform of the rules which set the stage for conflict. In the transport minister’s much-trumpeted “wide-ranging proposals to cut road deaths” not a single question is raised about the defective system of priority which makes roads dangerous in the first place.
Road safety “experts” missing the point – again 21 April 2009
Speed limits are in the news again. As usual, the government approach is coercive rather than organic. If you’re trying to cross an A-road, how will it help if the streams of traffic coming at you from opposite directions are doing 50 rather than 60? If anything, the gaps between vehicles will be even smaller. No, the way to make roads safe is to scrap main road priority with its culture of aggression, and let people do what is natural and intrinsically safe: slow down for others who were there first, and take it in turns. It’s infinitely safer to be guided by context rather than numbers. Main road traffic will then be able to absorb side road traffic without the conflict, without undue loss of time, and with everyone in a relaxed frame of mind from being treated fairly.
Pythagorean skills denied 19 April 2009
Some of my favourite writing on the subject of counterproductive traffic control is by (Prof) John Adams. He calls pedestrians “Nature’s Pythagoreans”, i.e. we have an instinct for geometry, preferring the shortest route, often diagonal, between two points. But traffic engineers seek to structure our movement into a sequence of staggered right-angles, often involving backwards progress through pedestrian traffic islands (called “pens”: yes, they see us as sheep). The revamp of Oxford Circus suggests the writings of people like John have percolated through the tarmac brains of traffic engineers. Traffic lights are being retained, but railings removed and diagonal crossings installed. Progress of sorts, but it still misses the point that signals discourage positive interaction between different road-users (and stamp on us with a gigantic carbon footprint). Plenty more to say on this. Comments please!
Parallels with defective drugs policy 19 April 2009
In an “unprecedented attack on global drugs policy”, Michael Kazatchkine, head of the Global Fund to Fights Aids, TB and Malaria, says the use of illicit drugs must be decriminalised if efforts to halt the spread of Aids are to succeed (Observer). He denounces policy which treats addiction as a crime, and accuses governments of repressive measures that deny human rights and put public health needs last. He argues that governments should switch from a focus on criminal justice to a strategy of harm reduction. Followers of this blog will see parallels with roads policy. I have written that life on the roads could be transformed if governments shifted their obsession with controlling human nature to a trust its unique potential for civilised interaction.
The case for disobeying traffic lights 18 April 2009
For obvious and pressing reasons it’s our duty and inclination to save energy. If I come to a red light and can see there is no conflicting traffic, it would be wrong to wait and pollute the air unnecessarily. No good switching off the engine, because switching it back on uses more fuel and produces a burst of exhaust gases. In any event, why should I wait for no reason? So the responsible thing is to proceed with caution. So begins the case for the defence, your Honour.
Great Dane and outbreak of BSE 17 April 2009
With reference to a clip of Gordon Brown tongue-tying himself in knots over the smear ‘scandal’, the ‘Great Dane’, Sandy Toksvig, on The One Show, said there was an outbreak of BSE – Blame Someone Else. Yes, and applied to roads, policymakers contrive a lethal playing-field then BSE when things go wrong.
Accident or murder? 17 April 2009
The cyclist killed at Elephant & Castle was Meryem Ozekman, 37. Another victim of our defective traffic control system, Rebecca Goosen, 29, was killed as she turned left from Old St into Goswell St, EC1. Boris proposes left turn on red for cyclists. Nibbling at the edges! The system of priority – that’s what needs fixing! Rules should be re-thought and streets re-designed to allow civilised filtering. Then there will be an end to these unspeakable “accidents”. Is the DfT guilty of negligence? Details here.
Writing on the wall 16 April 2009
The writing about peak oil and climate change has been on the wall for decades, so the government’s announcement about support for electric cars is overdue. It’s not clear if they are finally getting round to subsidising manufacturers, or only making empty offers to consumers. Most electric cars or hybrids are unattractive, unaffordable or unpractical. Also, as I’ve said before, when we’re driving “green” cars, will we still be subject to all the oppressive traffic controls currently in force?
Hold the front page! 14 April 2009
The Mayor of London is planning to trial left turn on red for cyclists. No, what needs trialling (to prove the obvious) is substitution of main road priority with no priority – to provide equal opportunity for all road-users and to stimulate safe, efficient filtering. Then we won’t need traffic lights, or the green wave trumpeted by the DfT. Along with amber-flashing lights at side roads, the green wave has worked in Germany for decades. As usual, the people in charge of Britain are proving quick on the uptake. – Can the claim be true that the government has deliberately used signals to generate congestion to maximise tax revenue? That would be another scandal to add to a bulging list.
Calls to reform the rules of the road 13 April 2009
The rules of the road alienate us from each other and our surroundings. They negate the civil manners that structure social interaction. In life, we are sensitive to the needs of others. We take it in turns. When traffic signals break down and standard rules don’t apply, the same considerate behaviour emerges. Instead of inefficient consecutive queueing, we get good-natured simultaneous filtering. People say the rules of the road should be obeyed. I say they should be abolished.
Bus damage 12 April 2009
In today’s Observer, Sebastian Faulks notes that local objections to a new bus route through his W11 conservation area were ignored. As predicted, average occupancy is low, with empty buses – called a ‘Boris’ – commonplace. The area, writes Faulks, has been turned “into an 18-hours-a-day skid-pan-cum-test track for roaring, empty single-deckers.” Coincidentally, when getting the paper, I had noted buses speeding between lights, and braking sharply at red. As mentioned in my article No Idle Matter, the traffic control system encourages this wasteful stop-start drive cycle. What would I do? In addition to reforming the system, I’d incentivise smooth bus driving by rewarding drivers for returning higher mpg and lower CO2 figures.
Revenue generation trumps road safety 11 April 2009
Marked by flowers is the spot at the Elephant & Castle where a cyclist was killed this week. Next to it is a congestion charge sign. Livingstone preferred to spend millions on punitive control than on making roads fit for people.
Elephant & Castle is typical of our roads that are allowed to carve through communities and dominate the public realm at the expense of quality of life and space. I wanted to cross the road at this point. It meant leaping over the barrier and facing fast-moving motorists, some sensitive to a stray pedestrian in their path, others jaundiced by the rules of the road and forging ahead unswervingly.
Death of a cyclist 9 April 2009
An as yet unnamed female cyclist was killed on a London road yesterday, the third this year. It happened at Elephant & Castle roundabout. If there were no traffic lights on that lethal racetrack (I use back streets to avoid it), and if the street design encouraged egalitarian space-sharing instead of competition for green time, would she, along with all the others, be alive today? Related item here.
Infantilised pedestrians 8 April 2009
Maybe I’m a dying breed – the kind of ped who crosses the road diagonally, using the middle of the road as a safe haven, taking the shortest route between two points. Pythagorean, John Adams would say. Yet peds these days seem to take the long route devised by the engineers. How often do you see a ped press the pelican button, only to look up, see the road is clear, and cross against their red? When they’ve long gone, traffic is halted at the red just called – for no-one.
Presidential support 6 April 2009
On his visit to Turkey, President Obama said, “We stand together in the fight against injustice and intolerance.” He was referring to the twin threats of terrorism and inequality, but presumably he opposes injustice and intolerance wherever they rear their evil heads, i.e. on the roads too, so welcome to the struggle, Mr President.
The truth about traffic 4 April 2009
Driving in London after a break, I was re-awoken to the stupefying incompetence of a system that stops you time and again at one red light after another, and then makes you wait an age for no reason. It is clearly, “criminally” responsible for delaying us and producing chronic congestion. If I drive on after seeing nothing is coming, am I a criminal? The law says I am. I’m an RLJ = a ‘red light jumper’. If the police stopped me, I’d say, Give me a good reason why I should wait when nothing is happening on the junction. If they said, “Because the light is red”, I’d say, that’s no reason. That’s like telling a child not to do something, “Because I say so.” It’s no argument. There is no justification for our inept and inefficient traffic control system. Successive administrations which have allowed it to develop are failing dismally in their duty of care to the public and the planet.
Changing lightbulbs 3 April 2009
Clever article by Michael Blastland about spurious journalistic use of numbers here. Some good comments too. The author cites traffic lights in disdain at Prof Mackay’s loose use of the word ‘huge’, when in fact the CO2 savings from changing traffic lightbulbs to LEDs would be negligible (how many engineers would it take to change them anyway?). Having witnessed efficient flow and civilised interaction between all road-users at junctions when signals are out of service, I maintain that most traffic lights per se are a waste of space. The electricity alone that’s required to power them produces 57,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. Add the manufacturing, delivery, installation and maintenance costs, and the needless delay they cause; bear in mind that 27% of our CO2 comes from transport (more numbers), and that 40% of vehicle delays are attributed to flow interruptions caused by signals, and it’s clear that policymakers and traffic engineers are involved in damage on a serious scale. Also that the savings from removing signals and letting people use common sense to do what is natural, efficient and intrinsically safe – approach junctions carefully and filter in turn – would bring serious reductions in CO2 output.
“Tough new powers to make roads safer” 1 April 2009
Today’s announcement by the DfT was mainly about roadworthiness, but as ever, the sentiment behind the closed fist of enforcement is mean-spirited. It bespeaks ignorance about the system flaws over which the DfT presides. The prerequisite for safe roads is civilised interaction: the very thing the rules of the road subvert, and the DfT loves to enforce. The other basis for safe roads is intelligent design that communicates context and stimulates civilised conduct. If the DfT ever discusses it, they don’t seem to promote it. And as Chad Dornsife writes, “Enforcement has never been shown to reduce accidents”.
Defining Britishness 31 March 2009
On a Radio 4 programme about Britishness, our PM listed tolerance, liberty and fairness. On all counts, our traffic control system – with its rabid parking controls, inconsistent bus lanes, proliferating traffic lights, totalitarian congestion charge – represents the polar opposite. Harmless conduct is criminalised in a system based on lethal priority rules which defy common sense, abandon human values, and are enforced without discretion, compromise or compunction.
One Show on 50mph limit 30 March 2009
Weak report amounted to propaganda for the lower limit, especially a section with a councillor from Stockbridge (Yorks), who said average speed cameras had made an “accident”-prone stretch of road safe. There was no presentation of low-cost solutions involving intelligent re-design to encourage civilised conduct. Of course I agree with the need to reduce speeds at vulnerable points, but I question the high-cost, revenue-led standard solutions that are always promoted.
The law is an ass Part 433 31 March 2009
Eminent Australian QC and judge, Marcus Einfeld, 69, lied over a speeding ticket and is now behind bars for a minimum of two years. Snapped at 36 in a 30 limit, he was concerned about points on his licence. OK, in a sense he is the architect of his own downfall, and as Clive James said, his fall from grace is tragic in the pure sense, but to me it’s an example of Lilliputian law bringing about the pointless demise of Gulliver. The news story is here.
Traffic lights – WMD & D 26 March 2009
WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION & DELAY.
A cert yourself 23 March 2009
In A Pattern of Islands, which we read at school, a canoe capsizes about a mile offshore in the South Seas. The two occupants, treading water, find themselves surrounded by sharks. One panics and is mincemeat. The other keeps his cool and swims towards the ring of sharks. They part and let him go. That literary experience served me when I was out one day walking my border terrier (I was about 12). Suddenly, four barking, snarling Alsatians came running at us through a farm gate. Screaming blue hellfire, I ran at them, and they turned tail. Is there an analogy with being a pedestrian in traffic? I’ve always been in the habit of crossing the road wherever I choose. Almost invariably, when drivers see you, they let you go. The peds who hold up traffic are the ones who dutifully do the right-angle bit at lights. As a cyclist or driver, you can read intentions and take instant evasive action. The peds who piss you off are the ones who don’t keep going but step back, or hesitate, and wait for ‘permission’ to go. That deference comes from decades of over-regulation that has turned most of us into laboratory mice.
Satanic curses 20 March 2009
My main beef with the London congestion charge is that it was imposed before deregulation was even tried, so in my view it is grossly premature. Operationally it’s odious too, but that’s another matter. Cambridge is plagued by measures which obstruct flow, e.g. a bollard for non-existent pedestrians which turns two lanes into one and causes a permanent mile-long tailback (Coldham’s Lane). When I challenged a councillor about this and other examples where simple improvements could ease congestion, he admitted openly that it was deliberate policy – to force people out of their cars. Since when were transport planners licensed to enter the field of social engineering? Despite simple, life-enhancing solutions, Cambridge is considering a congestion charge – more high-cost, unproductive bureaucracy to tax and vex the people. Until there is an alternative to personal transport that is equally convenient in all circumstances, road capacity and freedom of choice should be maximised, not rationed. Why is Cambridge still angling for a charge, despite Manchester’s rejection? One reason is because government is making money for public transport dependent upon the introduction of a charge. Satanic scandal.
Drink and driving 16 March 2009
When it comes to raising the price of alcohol, the government expresses even-handedness: “We don’t want to punish the majority for the sins of the irresponsible minority.” Why, then, do we have to suffer lowest-common-denominator, one-size-fits-all regulation on the road?
Electric v petrol 15 March 2009
Boris Johnson’s claim that the all-electric Tesla he borrowed represents clean motoring is rebutted by Oliver Marre in today’s Observer. According to the Carbon Trust, grid electricity releases 0.537kg of CO2 per kw/hour compared with 0.25 from diesel and 0.24 from petrol.
Are traffic controls good for us? 14 March 2009
Ask a silly question. Here’s a fairly serious answer. There is overwhelming evidence that if children are badly treated when young, they not only suffer emotional damage but physical brain damage. Conversely, a nurturing upbringing produces beneficial brain chemistry (Oliver James writes about this in today’s Guardian.) The neuropeptide oxytocin is the stuff we want. The stuff we don’t want is cortisol. The traffic control system as currently misconceived generates conflict and stress, causing cortisol levels to rise, hardly the frame of mind for optimum efficiency or safety.
An argument for the 50mph limit 13 March 2009
Like most commentators, Ross Clark in The Times (13.3.09) misses the point: it’s the rules of the road which turn roads into rivers of death. Restore equal rights and responsibilities, with no priority at junctions, and people will drive according to social context. If the road is clear, they can speed up. If they see someone wanting to cross, they can slow down. Too simple?
Bandwagon gathering speed (some not on it) 12 March 2009
The Standard ran this about traffic lights by Andrew Gilligan. He quotes me without a name check (maybe the subs cut it). They published my comment, but removed my reference to FiT Roads.
A four letter word 10 March 2009
There’s a four-letter word to describe FiT philosophy. K-I-N-D. Filter in turn allows people to be kind to each other. Main road priority, which forms the foundation of the current system, encourages the opposite. If you want to be kind and give way to a fellow road-user who was there first, you will be seen by the vehicles behind you as in breach of the rules, which say you should only slow down or stop for a red light or an obstruction. Slow down for someone trying to cross from a side road, or for a pedestrian? Deeply subversive. But that’s my aim. To subvert the current order. The current approach of coercion and control, which inexplicably the vast majority accept without question, promotes the disorder. All I’m seeking to do is restore a level playing-field where all road-users can interact and co-exist in peace.
Darwin and traffic 5 March 2009
A review of Andrew Marr’s new series says that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection gained a life of its own. The idea of solving congestion by natural dispersal is gaining ground. Will it gain a life of its own?
Recommended article 5 March 2009
The corrosive effect of regulation, by Jenni Russell, Guardian Comment, 4 Feb 2009.
Recommended by Angelica. Some quality readers’ comments too. Here.
Roundabouts 4 March 2009
Roundabouts are OK, but they still have the problem of directional priority, which at peak times can produce unbroken streams of traffic on the main flow and a “need” for lights (to interrupt those streams and enable others to enter). It also means people who arrived earlier have to wait for people who arrive later. Why should they? Couldfilter in turn (FiT), aka the all-way yield, be the best of all worlds?
BBC on Ashford shared space 3 March 2009
There’s a piece about the Ashford shared space scheme here … Is it inevitable that a news report will always feature doubters and detractors? Also they don’t address blind people’s concerns about shared surfaces. It’s only a mini-report, but even so …
Another improper road safety ad 3 March 2009
Another specious public-funded road safety ad can be seen here. What gets me is the way the system puts the onus on children to beware motorists, when it could and should be the other way round. The first step towards making Roads FiT for People is to replace priority based on status of road, which generates hostility, with equality based on time of arrival, which levels the playing-field and stimulates empathy.
Specious road safety ad 3 March 2009
The road “safety” ad, where a car driver hits a motorcyclist, is a classic piece of official improperganda. Unwittingly, it illustrates the barbaric rules of the road, which condemn drivers at T-junctions to beware traffic from opposite directions, and to spot a suitable gap. Instead of devising a system in which humans can negotiate safe movement, the unmasked hypocrites of the TCD (traffic control dictatorship) preach safety, but contrive a system in which we must live, die and carry the can.
Notorious – 122mph, two wheels, in the wet, son on board 2 March 2009
Difficult to defend Robert Bennett for doing 122mph on a wet road with his 14-year old son riding pillion. The judge said the bike would have been a lethal missile if Bennett had lost control. Isn’t that the case at 70mph, OK, not as potentially damaging but lethal all the same? The judgement is based on a hypothetical. There was no loss of control, indeed it looked a competent piece of riding. In the BBC TV news item, the reporter described the bend he was approaching, emotively, as “sharp”. It looked sharp, because they were on the long end of the zoom, which foreshortened perspective, but I know the A361 and the only sharp bends are at roundabouts. So if there are no excuses, in my view there are mitigating factors, and a custodial sentence is excessive. (It would be interesting to hear what the son had to say, although with all the demonising, would he be able to give an unbiased account?)
Children in chains (Part 2) 1 March 2009
Above a harbour beach on a balmy Sunday in Devon, a family of four was sitting on a bench. One of the children got up and started running about in a little circle. “Oh no you don’t, Miss!” barked mother, nipping her daughter’s impulse in the bud. Just a few steps down, the sand rolled out a carpet of gold. Reaching the far side of the beach I looked back. Both children were still immobilised. (Yes, this can be seen as loosely analogous to parking controls.)
Second draft to transport minister: A silver bullet? 28 February 2009
If we could show how – at minimal cost and virtually overnight – road accidents could be eliminated, traffic congestion could be eased, road rage resolved, police time freed up, fuel use and journey times cut, environmental targets met, life on the roads made safe and civilised, not just for drivers but pedestrians and public transport as well – would you be interested?
We propose a demonstration project that could provide a blueprint for an efficient road network and a convivial public realm based on a culture of mutual tolerance. A number of county and city councils are interested.
We have a detailed analysis and budgeted proposal …
Draft email to transport minister 26 February 2009
A recent RoSPA press release states: “… the ultimate aim is the continued reduction of road deaths and injuries.” Amberlight says that 35,000 KSIs a year (killed and seriously injured) is unacceptable. Any hint of self-congratulation at the annual death count dropping below 3000 (seen in some press pronouncements at the time) is unspeakable, especially when you consider the point made by John Adams: “accident figures are distorted because old people hardly dare cross the road and children are not allowed out on the roads anymore”. At Amberlight and FiT Roads, the aim is the complete elimination of road deaths and injuries. We have a way of achieving it. Unlike RoSPA, BRAKE and the Government, we don’t accept the current traffic control system, indeed we think it is fatally flawed. We accuse it of turning our public roads into danger zones where the onus is on children to beware motorists – rather than the other way round – and where we have to fight for survival, gaps and green time. Most accidents are not accidents at all. They are events contrived by the rules of the road. We propose a demonstration project that could provide a blueprint for genuinely safe and efficient roads, by changing the culture from licensed aggression to mutual tolerance. The spanner in the current works – which we would reform – is the system of main road priority. Priority produces a “need” for lights – to break the priority streams of traffic so that others can cross in relative, but not guaranteed safety. Remove priority, and you remove the need for lights and the need for speed, enabling everyone to do what is natural and intrinsically safe: watch the road, approach carefully, and filter, more or less in turn. At a stroke, roads would be transformed from their current unfit state into Roads FiT for People.
Bad parenting – traffic control 25 February 2009
Bad parenting is like traffic control. Put a toddler in a house with breakable knick-knacks, be intolerant about its need to explore, then scold it when the inevitable happens. In the same way, our traffic control system sets the stage for conflict by making us operate within a framework based on directional priority, which negates social custom and fosters aggression. Then the puppeteers deflect blame and hand down punishment when the inevitable happens.
Shared space but not shared surfaces 24 February 2009
Blind people usually welcome the idea of shared space, but not shared surfaces (where kerbs are removed and there is no defined pavement). FiT Roads believes that mutual tolerance will flourish and vulnerable users be safer on roads free of standard priority and traffic lights, but until the desired behaviour shift (considerate filter-in-turn) has been shown to survive the possible Hawthorne effect (novelty wearing off, might assuming right), it is easy to understand why blind people want identifiable safe zones. How such zones are defined and designed remains open, but they must be achievable. If we can’t solve what has been called the biggest intellectual challenge – how to make blind road-users feel safe – we might as well pack up and go home. If we can make streets safe for blind people and children, they will be safe for everyone. It has to be a design that fosters conduct based on context, compassion and common sense (not coercion).
Driving distractions 23 February 2009
With all due disrespect for one-dimensional regulation, and for “campaigns” such as ‘Driving for Better Business’, which fail in their duty to question authority and pursue liberating change – if the ban on in-car phone use is justified because it distracts us from concentrating on the road, should traffic lights, speed cameras and speed limits be banned for the same reason?
Titanic and teaspoon 21 February 2009
Given the wasted energy and added emissions produced by spurious traffic controls, I’ve always seen as hypocritical government “advice” to switch to longlife lightbulbs, etc. Fresh proof that much environmentalism is fundamentally religious, writes Simon Hoggart (Guardian, 22 Feb 09), is like baling out the Titanic with a teaspoon (from David Mackay’s Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air). Switching off your phone charger for a day is used up in one second of car driving. Switching it off for a year saves the energy it takes to run a single hot bath … The cathedrals of this new religion are wind turbines … pointless monstrosities.
Burden of proof 19 February 2009
Lately I’ve been concentrating on winning support for a Trial to compare junction safety and efficiency with and without traffic controls. As Kenneth Todd has said, it shouldn’t be up to us to prove controls are unnecessary, but for the authorities to prove otherwise, something they have never done. In fact there is no law that requires junction priority or control. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we could just abolish priority and lights today – OK tomorrow, with an accompanying publicity campaign – to see how civilised and efficient egalitarian space-sharing can be? For decades we have been plagued by priority-based regulation which arguably causes congestion, blights streetscapes, divides communities, makes roads hostile, and contributes to thousands of deaths and injuries every year. With no priority, which allows filter in turn, if and when at certain times of day, certain junctions prove unworkable, we can re-introduce some part-time controls. But let’s give FiT an extended whirl!
The better judge? 18 February 2009
Who is the better judge of when or how fast it’s safe to go – you and me at the time and the place, or lights and limits fixed by absent regulators?
Unchained children 18 February 2009
Too many children are prisoners. Like the three I saw today (aged about 5 to 11) having lunch in a pub with their parents. Mother was quiet; father quite vocal, but his conversation consisted entirely of instructions and prohibitions. “Sit still. Eat your food. Be quiet. Behave.” In the faces of the children: resentment, reluctant obedience, gritted teeth. There is a tendency to equate discipline with restriction and punishment, but the primary meaning of discipline is learning by example, as a disciple learns from a master. To what extent does proscription incubate anti-social conduct? Do parents have a duty to entertain their children? Too much licensed vandalism goes on in the fields of misguided parenting and traffic (mis)management. Later, that family left and another occupied the same table. This time the parents interacted positively with their children, who purred contentedly. (The analogy with traffic controls stands up.)
Road safety 12 February 2009
Kenneth Todd calls traffic management an exercise in self-defeat. Spot on. How many organisations are dedicated to road safety, and how many miss the point? The system they accept is a system with a flaw: main road priority. Priority gives one set of road-users rights-of-way over others, not because they had arrived first – which is the civilised way to behave – but because of the artificial distinction between main and minor roads. Main roads were granted “superior” rights with a licence to plough on regardless. Priority tells us to ignore our instincts and abandon our manners. Roads will never be safe until there is a level playing-field where all road-users can co-exist as equals. That involves scrapping the misguided system of main road priority along with the edifice of control and enforcement that supports it. Removing priority removes the “need” for lights and the need for speed, enabling everyone to merge in a merry (and planet-friendly) mix.
The rules of the road 8 February 2009
What is it that makes roads inhospitable, particularly in towns and cities? Domination of public space by vehicles. Why do vehicles dominate? They are licensed to dominate – by the rules of the road. If you are driving on a main road, the rules license you to plough on. If a child or blind person or another car is waiting to cross, you are required to ignore them. If you want to do the decent thing – let them go because they were there first – you’d be disobeying the rules. The authorities spend billions on road safety measures – but these are nothing but doomed attempts to cure problems of their own making. By imposing unequal rights on different road-users, the system flouts basic safety principles. It negates age-old social custom and civilised interaction (taking it in turns). It’s the system of priority, which puts us at odds with our fellow man, that Free to Choose seeks to dismantle. We aim to change the culture of hostility to one of empathy, to enable egalitarian space-sharing. No expensive infrastructure changes are needed. Just a perception shift and the removal of misguided regulation which ignores our greatest resource – the human brain.
Bulletin board 4 February 2009
I started this thread in the absence of a general message area (in fact I just emailed Ning to suggest that instead of the largely trivial activity summary on the main page, they think about a bulletin board). Anyway, today brought valuable additions to the group: Mark Wadsworth (quick mind, libertarian views, Westminster-based), Gary Waldron (practical intelligence), John Shepherd (retired businessman, plain speaker) and Chad Dornsife, Executive Director of the BHSPI (Best Highway Safety Practices Institute) in the US. I often quote Chad, indeed he is quoted in ‘Do we need speed limits?’ Among other bons mots of his: ‘Enforcement has NEVER been shown to reduce accidents.’ Look forward to your contributions, Chad. Earlier we welcomed Mark Brindle, film-maker and website engineer, Florrie Palmer, a good friend who wrote the No.1 hit, Morning Train, and Anton Howes, 18, founder of the Social Liberalist Party (he came via the FiT Roads blog). If possible, everyone, please upload your photo ASAP as it adds to the conviviality. Good speed!
Thai pose (typos) 4 February 2009
With my linguistic punctiliousness it was with shock horror that I spotted a typo (their for there!) in a forum post about speed. Ning doesn’t allow editing after the (tragic) event, so it remains there for ever unless I delete it. But it’s followed by posts from other members, so I’m gritting my teeth and learning to live with it. Reminds me of a story about an aged don at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He played the organ at chapel services and was punctilious about his music. One night some undergrad pranksters let themselves into the chapel, began a hymn on the organ, but just before the end, left a chord hanging unresolved. Taking cover, they watched the old man, in nightcap and gown, descend the steps from his quarters, cross the quad, enter the chapel, resolve the chord, close the chapel door, and head off back to bed.
Coercion v common sense and context 3 February 2009
Depressing announcement on the News just now from the Association of Chief Police Officers. They propose average speed cameras instead of traffic calming measures in built-up areas to deter people from “speeding”. I put speeding in inverted commas because to my mind it is a fabricated crime, rather like jaywalking. Do these people live in the Dark Ages? Have they never noticed that people behave worse when herded, hounded and told what to do, and better when given responsibility and freedom to act according to common sense and context? Is it time to start installing traffic lights at cashpoints, and speed cameras on pavements, or time to start treating road-users as grown-ups?
Activity obsession 2 February 2009
Another thing I just realised about this Ning thing is that it records all your activity, however trivial, e.g. ‘Martin edited his profile’, or ‘Martin added a blog post’, and there doesn’t seem to be a way of deleting such mind-numbing, space-wasting drivel. If anyone knows how to, please let me know. Ah, just found a delete option and the default settings, so OK now!
A musing 2 February 2009
I was having difficulty editing my FiT Roads website, so thought I’d give this Ning thing a try, which I happened across today. The amberlight name has a double meaning (we like a double entendre): it expresses my live-and-let-live traffic philosophy – amber expresses cooperative alert; and of course, light goes with ning, even if there’s a dot in there. Still getting to grips with it, but so far, apart from an apparent inability to sort photos adequately, and the presence of ads, it seems pretty useable.
Where did… 2 February 2009
… amberlight come from? That’s the url I gave it when registering – amberlight.ning.com – but after posting the last entry I realise you don’t see that. Call the last post a musing to self.