In 2009, my first attempt at a lights-off trial in the potentially pleasant village of Braunton in north Devon was supported by Nick Harvey, MP, but kyboshed by Devon Highways. The current attempt in 2013 was gaining popular support but the town suffers from a dilatory parish council notable for its lack of gumption.
January 2013: the forces of reaction, supported by a pusillanimous and perverse Parish Council, have won in Braunton, where new traffic lights have gone in, at a cost, I estimate, of £400,000. I wasted untold hours exhorting the Council to trial Equality Streets, which would have transformed that traffic-dominated, potentially congenial corridor village.
This piece in the North Devon Journal is from 5 September 2009. (To save the pain of loading it, here is the copy, with my quotes corrected. There follows a piece from 2013):
A CAMPAIGNER wants to turn off the traffic lights in Braunton and let motorists decide who should go first.
TV producer Martin Cassini campaigns for road traffic reform and wants to trial a revolutionary no traffic lights scheme at the Square in Braunton, switching off the current four-way system.
Braunton Parish Council invited him to a meeting last Monday where he gave a presentation.
Thousands of tourists head through Braunton for Saunton, Croyde, Ilfracombe and Woolacombe during the summer months, leading to regular congestion in and around the village.
Some Braunton councillors agree that no traffic lights could help alleviate this congestion.
Mr Cassini told the Journal
“We need a change in culture from priority to equality so all road-users can interact sociably and take it more or less in turns. Rather than spend money on traffic regulation and turn South Street into a no entry, let’s launch a Junction Efficiency Trial (JET) and put our faith in cooperative human nature.”
Mr Cassini appeared on Newsnight in 2008 and has launched a campaign called Equality Streets (formerly Fit Roads). He also featured Braunton in a recent video.
He said: “Human are perfectly capable of negotiating safe movement under their own steam. When lights are out of action, we use common sense and common courtesy to approach carefully and filter in turn. It’s poetry in motion. We have evolved over millennia to give and take based on survival instinct. The evidence suggests – particularly from Drachten in Holland where traffic lights were scrapped years ago – that accidents and congestion virtually disappear.”
Braunton Parish Council now plans to write to Devon County Council asking for its solution on the Square and its opinion on having no traffic lights.
Roy Lucas, the chairman of North Devon Council and a Braunton parish councillor, said: “This could help alleviate the situation. When the lights are taken out, everything slows and we abide by the rules of the road, giving way to the right.”
Chairman of the council Caroline Chugg said: “We will say to Devon County Council that doing nothing is not an option.
“The current congestion in Braunton is horrendous.”
It is understood an agreement with Tesco means the supermarket giant could give money towards a traffic scheme in Braunton.
This piece is from 14 August 2013. Again, to save the pain of loading it, here is the (corrected) copy:
FILMMAKER and traffic campaigner Martin Cassini from Ilfracombe explains why creating Equality Streets could solve most of North Devon’s traffic problems.
AS everyone who lives in Braunton or passes through it knows, the village has serious problems with traffic congestion.
At the parish council meeting on July 4, there was harrowing testimony of serious delays, made worse by the one-way system in South Street. Some claimed a bypass was the only solution.
In fact, there is a solution which is not only far less expensive and less disruptive, it would transform road safety, congestion and quality of life. I call it Equality Streets.
Presiding over a death and injury toll of 25,000 humans every year, many of them children, our traffic control system can hardly claim to be a success.
The biggest indictment of the current system? It puts the onus on children to beware motorists when it could and should be the other way round.
The idea that traffic lights ensure safety is a myth. The latest safety audit from Westminster City Council shows that no less than 44% of personal injury “accidents” occurred at traffic lights. I put “accidents” in inverted commas because most accidents are not accidents. They are events contrived by the rules and design of the road.
Every traffic light costs an average £150,000 to install, £10,000 a year to maintain, and they need “upgrades£” every 15 years.
In 2009, North Somerset Council agreed to a traffic lights-off trial in Portishead. The minute the lights were bagged over, the traffic jams melted away. A year later, the trial went permanent after monitoring showed that journey times fell by over half with no loss of safety. This was despite a return from back-street rat-runs and greater numbers using the now free-flowing main route.
4 years ago, Braunton Parish Council, then chaired by Jasmine Chesters, backed my proposal for a lights-off trial. It was supported by Nick Harvey MP. But Devon Highways, blocked it. Not only are Devon Highways now proposing to renew Braunton’s traffic lights, they want to add another set in Wrafton. When are they going to realise that traffic lights are part of the problem, not the solution?
Conventional priority and signal control deny infinite filtering opportunities and expressions of fellow feeling. While priority yells, “Get out of my way”, equality says, “After you.”
Jumping a cashpoint queue is unthinkable, but on the road we accept such delinquent behaviour without question. Why should it be any different on the road?
When roads are designed for equality, the “need” for regulation disappears. No longer is there any urgency to beat the lights. No longer is there any stress from being held up, often needlessly, at red. Instead of driving by coloured lights and numbers, we drive according to context.
It’s a humane, inclusive approach that harnesses human nature. My interest in avoiding collision with you mirrors your interest in avoiding collision with me.
What about the “maniacs”? You can’t even legislate for maniacs, so why hobble the vast majority with one-size-fits-all rules (a contradiction in terms) devised to catch the hypothetical deviant?
Designing for equality needs to be combined with re-education to change the culture from priority to equality. Other reforms are needed, but the main point is to replace anti-social regulation with a language that stimulates empathy.
Despite briefings I gave to Braunton Parish Council members, despite traffic surveys conducted by local volunteers, and despite the offer of sophisticated, virtually cost-free computer simulation by a leading traffic engineer, the council was dismissive about the authentic, affordable solution to the traffic problems that are plaguing the village.
We complain about the traffic and blame other drivers, but could it be traffic control that is the problem? Without a doubt.
To see the transformation in safety, efficiency and quality of life when road-users are left to their own cooperative devices on streets designed for equality, I urge you, especially those who think a bypass is the only solution, to view the first two videos at Equality Streets > Media. Poynton, which features in the second video, shows how the public realm need not be a misery. It can be a joy.
For more information visit www.equalitystreets.com.