Re Four Thought

From Matt Cooper (received 17 July 2012)


Just heard the radio 4 lecture you did.

I used to live in Tottenham and you are absolutely right about traffic improving when the traffic lights are not working. Tottenham Hale is always horrendous except when the traffic lights are broken and then it is transformed, the queues virtually disappear, the traffic merges naturally.

I’ve travelled a lot in poorer countries too and I noticed that what you envisage works perfectly well. Phnom Penh is a great example where the traffic just flows and seamlessly merges at busy junctions.

As a stop gap I’ve written to the government a number of times that making red lights equal to Give Way rather than Stop might be a step forward.

Another observation of the poorer countries is that they normally have buses that stop anywhere, you can flag them down wherever you are standing and you can get them to stop anywhere on the route. That would encourage use and also reduce traffic thereby.

good luck

Matt Cooper

Andrew Currie:
Heard you on the radio – good to hear there is someone else who understands the problems created by ‘experts’.

Most people seem to think road safety is a battle between drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users. They are all road users – mostly incompetent, as are highway engineers and police with their limited and simplistic knowledge of road safety.

Having studied driving for over 40 yrs I have considerable insight into driver behaviour but I’m not professionally involved. I try to do my bit towards road safety but it’s difficult when vested interests lobby badly informed politicians, eg the mobile phone law which has clearly made the roads less safe.

For 8 years I was a volunteer driver for the ambulance service in north Wales but gave up when it became clear that I could not do the work as safely and efficiently as I wanted, due to a speeding prosecution which has made me more of a hazard to other road users as I now worry too much about the precise speed I’m doing (looking at the speedo much too often rather than concentrating on the road).

Ricky Harding:
Hi Martin / Equality Streets,

I have long held a similar view with regard to traffic lights and have often seen the way the vast majority of responsible road users react at a junction where the lights are not working. I cannot recall the amount of times I’ve turned to my passenger and commented about how easily, quickly and safely we had managed to navigate the junction without the need for lights to tell me how to do it!

What really gets my goat is active traffic lights outside of peak road use hours. I live near Junction 30 of the M5 and as with the majority of motorway junctions, it consists of a large roundabout with a number of entrances and exits including those to and from the motorway itself, all of which are controlled via ‘dumb’ lights. Outside of peak hours, its common to be held 3 or 4 times at red lights as you navigate around the junction and not see any other vehicles. There are a number of reasons why this is so utterly frustrating, but to me the main ones are, wasted time, wasted fuel (starting and stopping) and the associated cost and environmental impact and last but by no means least, safety. Although I am now 40 and have turned the corner from impetuous youth to considered adult I still feel the temptation to ignore the red light in favour of my own ability to see that it’s safe to proceed. I hasten to add, my adult nature wins over the temptation! I am sure though, there are many who do not beat the battle with temptation and as such can present an safety concern. With the lights removed from service after a given/agreed time, these frustrations would be replaced with a sense of empowerment and dare I say it, freedom.

I don’t know how many traffic lights there are in the UK but I imagine that the costs involved in maintenance and powering them is astronomical. Turning them off, even for if was only outside of peak hours would surely assist, the UK Government, in some small way, to claw its way out of the current financial crisis as well as help to reduce our carbon deficit, as well as all the other direct benefits to reduction in frustration induced accidents/incidents, reduction in pollution, increased productivity for road reliant businesses.

I’m sure that you and your organisation have considered all of these and more, however, I just wanted to vent my frustrations to someone I know who will understand and empathise!

I wish you all the very best of luck with your endeavours and will be keenly following your progress.

Robert English:

I was interested to hear your talk on the radio regarding traffic regulations etc.
I drive a car, ride a motorcycle and a bicycle … and I am of course a pedestrian at times.
I certainly agree there are a very large number of anomalies and problems when it comes to traffic regulation.

For me one of the most illogical and frustrating and indeed dangerous anomalies is that the vast majority of bus lanes do not allow motorcycles – some in central London now thankfully do. I had a particularly annoying and not to mention very dangerous experience of this anomaly on a long stretch of the A406 where I was forced to gingerly weave through miles of congested traffic, whilst to my left was a completely clear bus lane. Yet only buses but cyclists and taxis are allowed on all bus lanes. It would make absolutely no difference whatever to buses on a bus lane were motorcycles allowed to use it as well. After all motorcycles are just bicycles with engines. I wrote to the Department of Transport about this issue not so long ago and received some irrelevant reply, as I knew I would.

Another irritation / anomaly concerns the old chestnut of speed limits. Speed limits are often set either too high or too low. The best example of too high is the speed limit on country roads. It is absurd to allow the national speed limit on winding little country roads. We have all experienced the too low speed limit – a nice wide fast road, yet subject to 40. Then the maddening variable speed limits. I sometimes travel on roads that switch from 40 to 50 to 60 back to 40 back to 50 and so on, for no apparent reason.

The issue of speed cameras. One might think it was logical, or at least helpful, to have the speed limit next to the camera. This rarely happens. Often I will travel passed a camera at a certain speed assumed to be the limit and yet it then turns out that the road allowed for a higher speed, but it is impossible to work out or know this as there is usually no sign next to the speed camera. Also when speeds are displayed, for some inexplicable reason they are often on tiny little signs and difficult to see.

Traffic lights. Too many, too often, too confusing. Lights showing red when there is no traffic, green when there is no traffic, red when there is no pedestrian and so on. Road works traffic lights are the worst and within a short space of time there is usually huge congestion.

In a nutshell I agree with what you had to say in your talk on traffic regulations and I agree that when people are left to negotiate traffic without traffic lights etc. things normally go much more smoothly – and we see that whenever a set of traffic lights are not in use as you say.

I think that years of over-resourcing, over-thinking and over-planning regarding our roads conjoined with a distinct lack of trust of the motorist has led to a spawning of never ending signs, edicts, signals, restrictions, warnings and instructions.

Actually this brings me to perhaps the worst example of a combination of all of these things – which is the infamous traffic sign which only permits traffic to enter, what by all appearances is a perfectly normal road, at certain days and at certain times. A few months ago I was riding my motorbike when I approached a sign that contained so much information that, never mind the danger of being so distracted whilst I read it, but when I got to the end of it (it really should have started ‘Chapter 1’) I realised that I had entered a road that I could no longer enter due to a time restriction that I breached by a few minutes. As this sunk in, a nice glossy photo was being taken of the back of my bike. That cost me £60. I wrote to the council and explained it was an innocent error and that I was on a motorbike I had no need to enter a restricted road and I explained I was in the process of reading it as I did so. I suggested a simple electronic ‘No Entry’ sign would be more effective. The council of course not remotely interested in anything other than relieving me of the £60 now firmly due.

I could probably go on and on and on, but will stop now.

Philip Hands:

Very well argued piece on 4-thought — well done.

It recalls to mind an experience I had on the traffic-light controlled roundabout at M4 J8/9, when approaching from High Wycombe on the A404(M).
I think there may have been some road works on the approach, but not on the roundabout, so I doubt that’s in any way relevant. I don’t do this trip very often, so I have no idea how regular an event this is.

Anyway, it took about an hour to get from the A4 to the M4, a distance of about 2.5 miles. When arriving at the roundabout, it became apparent that only about 1 or two cars were making it onto the roundabout at a time, because the roundabout was gridlocked (not quite the right term I imagine, but it’ll do — as a computer scientist I’d call it a “deadly embrace”).

In short the traffic lights on the roundabout were causing tailbacks past the previous exit, preventing people getting off the roundabout, causing more tailbacks, preventing people getting onto the roundabout, generating enough frustration such that people were willing to dive into any gap rather than be polite.

I drive a Landrover Defender 110. Being high up meant that I could see what was going on from quite a distance back, so I straddled two of the
3 lanes as I came up to the lights (you can get away with that sort of thing in a Landy), and then when I was at the front, ignored the green for two pulses (causing a small amount of angst behind me).

This allowed most of the people on the west of the roundabout to drain off the roundabout towards Maidenhead, since I and those I was blocking were no longer fighting to get onto the roundabout. By the time I went on the third pulse the gridlock was loosening up on the east of the roundabout, and I was on the motorway after only a brief pause at the opposite lights, with the problem at least temporarily solved.

It occurred to me at the time that if one had a way of detecting the gridlock, and pausing the lights on red slightly longer you could force this behaviour, but I greatly prefer the idea of simply discarding the lights because there is no way people would be stupid enough to gridlock the roundabout if the lights were not encouraging them to do it.

Pondering on this problem since it occurred to me that on roundabouts with uneven traffic flows, that prevent the side-road getting a chance one might be able to fix that encouraging good behaviour, rather than sticking lights all over the place.

One possibility might be a sign (set back along the busy road) that encourages people to pause at the entrance to a roundabout if they can see that the next exit has traffic waiting at it, perhaps with a standard way to signal that you’re letting them in, to reduce the thinking time required for the beneficiary of this act.

I would prefer something that causes people to randomly select themselves, so the sign asks if the day part of your birthday matches todays date, and if so maybe you’d like to put a smile on someone’s face by letting them in — difficult to encapsulate in a sign, but with a spot of advertising, and only putting those signs up where people can tell that they’re needed, it might take off, and doing those favours would cheer people up on their way to work.

If that doesn’t work, perhaps bribery would — re-purpose the now obsolete light-jumping cameras to take photos of people that pause at the junction for longer than they strictly needed to, and put them into a lottery for a nice cash prize — make a TV show out of it, interviewing them to see why they were feeling generous that day.

Anyway keep up the good work.

Cheers, Phil.

Bob Hinton
Heard you on Radio 4 last Saturday – at last someone talking sense about traffic.  Listening to you was like a shot in the arm. I have been saying very much the same thing for years.< More power to your elbow!  And if you need any supporters you have my email.

Alex Heron:
Hello Martin,

I heard you on Radio 4 last night. What can we do to make planners see sense?
Good to read and register on your website, we need more independent thinkers!
Please come and visit Edinburgh sometime, I think this is the worst place I have ever driven and most of the problems are created by the city council abusing their powers by putting up too many bus-only, taxis-only and cycle-only Turn Here signs. Is this legal, is it fair – after all, a car is public transport: I am a member of the public and it is the most efficient method of public transport for me, if you allow it to work.
If you can visit Edinburgh and observe the crazy waste of money that is the Edinburgh tram project, you will find that roads you were diverted down one week have changed, with new signs telling you where you can’t go but offering no alternative.
Priority for buses buses buses, subsidised and making profits for the “arms length” council business.
Edinburgh would be a perfect example for documenting the issues of road and car control, you won’t find many worse examples, and all within a few miles of each other.
How about bus priority lanes rather than bus lanes? if a bus is in the lane, then let it pass. It is mad to look at an empty bus lane from the congested outer lane.
Of course Edinburgh council do this on purpose to make it seem that the cars are the problem. Compared to London there are very few buses here.
Sorry for the moan. I have lived here all my life and seen the road system getting worse and worse. Edinburgh is not working – help!

Geoff Magnay:
Hereford has lights everywhere and as you say, when they break down, traffic flows well. I have concerns about pedestrians (in Hereford we have the National College of the Blind hence there are a lot of blind people), but some thinking could accommodate them I’m sure.

One set of lights was installed at a junction which worked well without lights, the council stated it was due to a bad accident record at that place. Local people who had lived right there for 30 years said they had never been aware of any accidents. It’s more about using up budgets and empire-building in my view. Hence our council tax has increased madly.

John Gooch:
Bristol – a labyrinth of mediaeval streets, semi-modernised for motor traffic, with traffic lights costing God-knows how much per set every fifteen yards, an absolute forest of signage, growing exponentially. Sweep them all away and allow human beings to exercise their common sense. I believe in Equality Streets wholeheartedly.

Bob Scruton:

Very interested to read the article on the BBC News website.

Chatham town centre seems to be a case study in the over-use of traffic lights but if ever you need an example of a set of traffic lights which are not only unnecessary but also likely to provoke lawbreaking you should look at the system on the roundabout by the Medway Tunnel on the A289 in Chatham.

The roundabout itself is large, the sight lines are good, the main flows – either way along the A289 and from Chatham left through the Medway Tunnel – do not touch the roundabout at all and the volume of traffic is low so the need for traffic lights is difficult to understand. However this is aggravated by the fact the lights themselves are all on long cycles and are not sensor controlled so even in the middle of the night when there is not another vehicle anywhere around there can be a considerable and unnecessary wait (if the signals are obeyed). I have also seen people (who presumably know the lights well) loose patience which has sometimes resulted in a near miss. It would actually be safer (as well as less annoying) without the lights!

Russell Knight:

I’ve just read about your efforts on the BBC news website and just wanted to congratulate you. Since moving to Central London, I have sold our car and my motorbike was stolen, so these days I cycle everywhere. I am from Swindon originally and grew up in West Swindon where every road was developed with roundabouts in mind. I have also driven in many different countries whilst on holiday and as a police officer in London, understand the rules of the road and notice when they are broken. I am not in uniform anymore, having taken the detective route, but I still use unmarked police cars and am trained to response level (blues and twos).

Forgetting my profession, I have always been interested in the flow of traffic mainly as my mind seems to constantly be seeking the most efficient path in anything and everything that I do. Constantly being held up by poor traffic management schemes is frustrating. I would suggest, as you have, that most people are decent and understand the principle of ‘first come, first served’. I have just come back from America where I drove for over 2000 miles on a mini road trip. I was impressed at how law abiding and calm the drivers were. Everyone pretty much drives calmly and to the speed limit. I understand that their police give out speeding tickets with little discretion which may be one of the reasons for this. However, all of the traffic lights made any journey quite an effort as anywhere close took at least 20 minutes to get to.

I was interested in their stop signs, especially their ‘4-way’ or ‘all-way’ stop signs. My English friend who lives there had to explain it to me, but it seems to make perfect sense, first to stop at the line goes first. However, I do think that actually having to physically stop when a give way would work, is a bit excessive. The other useful thing they have is the ability to turn right at a red light when safe to do so.

Going back to Swindon now, and growing up with roundabouts, the area of West Swindon was a joy to drive around compared to the rest of the town. Swindon has recently had a northern expansion and they decided to make the trunk road and the adjoining roads controlled by traffic lights. If you catch the road at a bad time, you can sit at numerous red lights even when there is nothing going through the greens. Roundabouts would have worked fine.

Like you, I have always been amazed at how traffic flows freely when traffic lights are out of action as we are all given the choice and use common sense.

It’s unlike me to make contact with strangers, but I just wanted to wish you luck as what you are proposing seems to be for the good and ultimately makes sense.

Stephen Appleton:
Hi Martin
Really good to have discovered your website. I’ve been arguing [perhaps ineffectively] for 25 years for abolition of traffic lights! I remember driving to work through Hampton Hill and on several occasions the lights were out – sheer bliss, no queues in any of the 4 directions, but courteous driving with merging traffic. I wish you well with your cause.
Having moved to Scotland about 6 years ago, while we have much less traffic, we still have ridiculous and increasing numbers of traffic signals creating nothing but disadvantage to all but traffic light manufacturers, installers and a few local authority employees! Where there were roundabouts, we now have traffic lights and long queues to go with. Increased pollution from traffic and power to lights, increased costs to us all [installing and maintaining traffic signals are very expensive], increased journey times, increased frustration. I cannot think of any benefits.
I look forward to the fruits of your campaign!

Tony Williams:
Dear Mr. Cassini,

I’ve read your views in the magazine sections of the BBC News website. Comments below. I think you are wrong. I’m relieved that you’re unlikely to get the chance to prove it,

Yours sincerely,
Tony Williams

You say “Instinctively, we want to be kind to each other, especially out on the road.” That is not what I observe when people are in their cars. They are insulated from the rest of the world. They cannot hear what others may be saying to them, and they cannot be prevented from doing whatever they choose to do, as they might be if they were on foot with other people and tried to push their way to the front of a queue, for example.
I am not surprised that at some junctions things work better than usual when the lights are out of action. It’s an exceptional situation and most drivers understand the need for exceptional care and caution. If it was the normal situation they would behave normally. I think it likely that there are other occasions when the lights aren’t working and there is huge congestion, but you have chosen not to mention them.
However, you are wrong to think that “once you’ve removed priority you’ve removed the need for traffic lights and the need for speed because we’re in no rush any more”. Many motorists would continue to rush because that is how they behave. You can observe such people at any time of day on a motorway, for instance. If priority at junctions no longer existed, or was no longer enforced in turn by traffic lights, there are many drivers who would continue to act as if they should take priority.
You say “In my view most accidents are not accidents. They are events contrived by the rules and design of the road.”
This sounds like someone trying to blame someone or something else for the consequences of his own behaviour. In my view, an accident occurs when two people or their vehicles try to occupy the same point in time and space. In almost all cases at least one of them could have chosen to be somewhere very slightly different and the accident would not have happened *.
As an example of your view of things, you say:-
“When you see a green light, are you watching the road? You’re probably watching the light.
“Driving recently, I was about 20 yards away when lights changed to amber and I thought, shall I put my foot down and try to beat the amber….
“….Luckily I did not. As I stopped, between the traffic light poles a pedestrian appeared. If I had put my foot down it would have been a disaster.”
Here is what I think would happen in that situation if there were no lights at the junction.
A motorist approaching the junction as you were doing would be watching the traffic in front of him and the junction itself. If he saw that the traffic in front had established forward movement over the junction and traffic from other directions was waiting for it to pass the debate in his mind would be “Shall I put my foot down and try and beat the waiting traffic before it starts across?” That’s the equivalent, in the changed circumstances, of your “Shall I try to beat the amber…?” He wouldn’t be watching “the road” for a pedestrian any more than you were – though that is what he should be doing, because we know that we should drive in such a way that we can stop if necessary, and we also know that pedestrians are likely to try to cross a road when the traffic lights are red for the traffic. There would be much the same risk of an accident such the one in which you might have been involved.
If that accident had happened, who would have been to blame? To some extent you, especially if the light had changed to amber by the time you passed it, but you could instead have stopped. And also to some extent the pedestrian, especially if the light hadn’t actually changed to amber when you passed it and he had stepped into the road without making sure there was no approaching vehicle. I think the situation illustrates my definition of an accident: you did take the action that was open to you not to occupy that particular point, and so should the pedestrian.
You refer to the number of deaths and serious injuries on the roads (you probably included serious injuries because they make the totals more impressive), and say that although the numbers have been coming down “a traffic control system that presides over those sorts of figures is still getting something profoundly wrong”. It seems to me that if the number of deaths and serious injuries is coming down then the traffic control system is getting something right – especially in a context of generally increasing numbers of vehicles in a country much of which is seriously overcrowded. Other factors will include “the rules and design of the road”, and the design of vehicles. The situation is affected by several factors, and replacing one of them by an absence of control would be dangerous.
I think your ideas show another widespread mistake – to suggest that a new approach offers the complete answer. You have referred to junctions where, at certain times, vehicles have to wait because the lights are red although there is no other traffic. Probably there are other times when there is steady traffic from all directions. So there may be a case for an amber warning light at times when the volume of traffic is very small, and for normal traffic lights to operate when it is heavier. There will be other junctions where traffic lights should operate at almost all times. Advocating the complete removal of traffic lights takes your proposal from something that might be useful in certain circumstances to something ridiculous.

* This idea isn’t original. It came from someone with whom I used to drive to and from work nearly fifty years ago. He had been driving since the 1920s. At that time cars weren’t the fantastically engineered creations that they are today, and there was a much greater need to understand what you were doing.

The gist of my repy:
No time to reply in full now but I was speaking off the cuff and have written better on the subject elsewhere. The point I meant to make about the amber light and hidden pedestrian was that given no lights and no distracting street clutter I would have seen the person on foot, and reacted accordingly, i.e. wouldn’t have dreamt of speeding to beat a traffic signal that was not only taking my eyes off the road but concealing the vulnerable road-user. I would have been driving with true care and attention, according to human context rather than in obedience to signals programmed by absent regulators – incomparably safer.

Morena Thabo (18.5.12)
Dear Mr “Six points” Cassini

“Campaigner Martin Cassini argues that our system for managing traffic is overdue for radical reform and should be based on trust in human nature rather than an obsession with controlling it. He says a drastic cut in the number of traffic lights would begin the transformation, saving lives, time and money. Four Thought is a series of talks with a personal viewpoint recorded in front of an audience at the RSA in London.”

From your Four Thought talk broadcast on 16th May 2012:

“Normally, I’d wait for three entire signal changes before getting through this junction.” You did not say what time of day it was, what day of the week, whether there were any other factors reducing the traffic load. You also ignored the obvious fact that when the lights are green in your favour you do not wait for any signal changes but sail straight through. An inconvenient truth?

I imagine you drive a car, not a 44 tonne artic, so looking out for chance takers as you manoeuvre a long trailer round a 90 degree sharp corner is not part of your daily life.

You got emotional over the 2,500 people injured or killed every year. Just what did you mean by “people spending a lifetime on life support”? As you well know, the term life support is used to describe people hooked up to tubes and needles for limited lengths of time.  Only the occasional coma patient will be hooked up long term. And how many of your imagined accident victims were involved in traffic light related accidents? I presume your personal research has produced the accurate figures, not pie in the sky generalisations.

Yes, zero RTAs would be ideal, but people got killed by horses, mules, donkeys, even draught and riding elephants long before steam and  petrol and diesel powered road vehicles.

The RoSPA website clearly states: “Sadly, driver error remains the most common cause of road accidents.” Yet, you want to provide millions of more opportunities for driver error by removing all/most traffic lights. Where in these RoSPA figures do traffic lights appear?

Around 430 people a year are killed in crashes in which someone exceeds the speed limit or drives too fast for the conditions.

Drink Driving
Around 250 people die a year in crashes in which someone was over the legal drink drive limit.

Seat Belt Wearing
Around 300 lives each year could be saved if everyone always wore their seat belt.

Careless Driving
More than 300 deaths a year involve someone being “careless, reckless or in a hurry”, and a further 125 involve “aggressive driving”.

Around one third of fatal and serious road crashes involve someone who was at work.

More than 430 people are killed in crashes involving young car drivers aged 17 to 24 years, every year, including over 150 young drivers, 90 passengers and more than 180 other road users.

Failed to Look Properly
40% of road crashes involve someone who ‘failed to look properly’.
Loss of Control
One third of fatal crashes involved ‘loss of control’ of a vehicle. Failed to Judge Other Person’s Path/SpeedOne in five crashes involve a
road user failing to judge another person’s path or speed.

If you trust human nature so much, why not remove all the railway level crossing barriers? Think of the cost of installing and powering them. Then there are the Pelican and Puffin pedestrian crossings with all those expensive lights and push buttons.

Some 2,000 years ago a man on a mission – not unlike you – wanted to change the way everyone thinks. Some 1,400 years ago another man on a mission – not unlike you – didn’t like what the man 600 years previously had come up with; so he invented his own way for everyone to copy, or suffer the consequences.

Your one or two examples of not working or turned off traffic lights were in isolated situations. How about getting the People’s Mayor
Boris to do it for the whole of London within the M25 for 24 hours?

Over my almost half century of driving, I’ve been stuck in countless jams when lights have failed.  No one was “shuffling through like a sweet pack of cards”. “Poetry in motion” HA! HA! And I cannot recall one instance – unless it was when the roads were empty anyway – when to quote you, I “breezed through”. And anyone breezing through non-working traffic lights is just asking to be hit by another vehicle.

To talk of “that number dying and [sic] being seriously hurt” shows a sloppy attitude to language as well as thinking.

When you said, “you can’t put a cost on a life”, what you meant was, “you can’t put a cost on a death”. That is what the DoT has come up with.

One very obvious use for traffic lights is to link them to speeding traffic, as is done in Spain. Drive over the speed limit and the lights ahead go red.

Fitting countdown displays as is done in India and Thailand is another positive addition.

Where did you get your £19 or £20 billion figure from as “cost of accidents alone”? You are quoted as saying on the BBC website, “One estimate puts the annual cost of accidents at between £15bn and £32bn”. Figures plucked from where? Which is less wrong?

What a wonderful thought to savour: “Most accidents are not accidents, they are events contrived by the rules and design of the road.” So, the rules and design of the road make people speed, drive when drunk, not look where they are going, drive unroadworthy vehicles, have loose loads? At this point, I gave up taking you remotely seriously.

Your next bit, “You see a green light. Are you watching the road? You’re probably watching the light actually” is another red herring.  How about “You see a Belisha beacon. Are you watching the road? You’re probably watching the pavement actually”? How about “You see a  speed camera. Are you watching the road? You’re probably looking down a couple of feet away from you inside your vehicle, at the speedometer actually”?

I presume you have a driving licence and you know the law: amber means stop unless you are so close that to stop might cause an accident. Or by the laws of physics, you cannot stop.  So for you to talk of “beating that amber” shows what sort of driver – and man – you are. As for the pedestrian who “appeared” when you had stopped, no doubt he or she saw you had stopped and that it was safe to cross. As for “it would have been a disaster”, another bit of hyped up language.

As for your possibly true figure from Westminster City Council saying, “44 per cent of personal injury accidents happen at traffic lights”, just how many would there be if pedestrians or all types had to weave their way through your random traffic flow just to cross the road?

Just how long was the footage shown on Newsnight of junctions with and without traffic lights working? Ten hours? One hour? Ten minutes?  One minute? In your profession you know full well that a camera can be used to show whatever the operator or producer or director or editor wants to be shown. I’d as a soon trust what was shown on Newsnight as trust Blue Peter not to substitute a studio pet because one had died.

As for “Filter in turn”, we have several filter in turn roads in Bournemouth. All it takes is one of your so-rare-to-been-on-the-CITES- endangered-species-list maniacs to race up alongside a speed- limit-obeying driver and all the ingredients are there for a crash.

Your best joke was “Let human nature take its competent course, its cooperative course. We want to be kind to each other, especially out on the road.” As for your “when you first meet a stranger, unless you’re a mugger [ha! ha!] you want to be nice to that stranger”, says who? The Kray twins?

Oh dear, we are “corroded and corrupted by the system of control which subjugates us.” That’ll be the system that says breaking speed limits is a crime, driving when drunk is a crime, and mugging is a crime. Let’s get rid of speed and alcohol limits and let “human nature take its competent course”.

So “the fatal flaw in the heart of the system is priority.” Really? So, do away with ALL Give Way lines, ALL Stop lines.

Having heard you talking on your pet topic, I came to the conclusion that what was dysfunctional was not the road traffic system but what goes on in your brain. As for you championing Priority from the Right because that is what happens at roundabouts, it’s there to stop traffic going straight onto roundabouts and bringing everything to a complete halt. Main road priority was brought in because of the number of collisions between vehicles on major and minor roads. Even France, which had major road traffic giving way to joining traffic saw it was wrong, and got rid of most such instances.

Just how far from abolishing traffic lights are you going to get, when you start on about “a mother on a pram on a traffic island” and “a 10 tonne truck on your tail [nice bit of artistic alliteration]”? Linking that to junctions and your hypothetical green light was another non sequitur.

As for your linking Kenneth Todd’s “they make us stop to avoid the inconvenience of slowing down” to the mother with the pram, what mother looking at one or more lanes of traffic is going to trust it to slow down for her to cross? Might as well expect a cannibal not to eat a missionary.

What rubbish, “If the lights were not there, we would naturally approach carefully, approach slowly”. Says who? Those mystically competent human natured individuals?

No, the traffic light does not MAKE US SPEED UP to beat the green, any more than an open stretch of road MAKES US SPEED UP. Except it might make you do so. Are you one of the maniacs you talk about? See Barnstaple.

So “You can’t even legislate for maniacs”. The drink driver who knows alcohol impairs driving ability yet still drinks and drives is one such maniac. So, remove all safe levels for drinking.  Psychopaths kill, but don’t lock them up.

As for “hypothetical deviants”, they aren’t hypothetical. They are out there in large numbers: parking illegally, speeding, driving untaxed and uninsured vehicles, driving without licences,  using handheld mobile phones, the list goes on. Doing 91mph.

You went into hyperbolic hyperdrive into hyperspace with “the fatal flaw in the system, the cancer, the original sin of priority.”

As for linking speed and rush only with traffic lights is a further blind spot in your mind. There are no traffic lights on open roads with speed cameras, yet millions of motorists slow for a camera then race to the next one before hitting the brakes again. The trouble with single-object causes is that they create tunnel vision. And while the light at the end of the tunnel might not be a traffic light, it might well be another vehicle.

So with no red lights, all queues will disappear? I feel no drama or crisis, whether it be slow traffic on a straight road, at a Stop line, at a Give way line, or at a traffic light. Let’s also get rid of traffic lights at roadworks too.

Who says it is so different when “leaving from a pop concert”? Only you.

What you failed to mention is having traffic lights display flashing yellow or flashing green aspects (as in Turkey, for example) when traffic is light. Both mean you do not have to stop. A flashing yellow means give way to traffic that has the flashing green light. No one has to stop at a red light just because it is red.

Portishead is a small town, so is Poynton – not somewhere like London or Birmingham. Once again, hypothetical savings figures. With computers we were going to have paperless offices. Instead, more paper is used, and wasted. If you take several lanes of traffic and create  just one, then the traffic is still there. It does not “disappear”. As for “becoming a place of silence”, were the cars, buses, lorries,  tractors, vans all electric? As for your birds singing, I bet they were cuckoos.

As for the government “missing a huge trick”, just look in the mirror and say that again.

And for “Traffic system control is the last bastion of institutionalised inequality”. LAUGH OUT LOUD.

Finally, as for trusting “human nature”, human nature gave us what supposedly happened in the Garden of Eden, and the regimes of Genghis Khan, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, and Tony Blair.

Well, it was going to be “finally” until I read this:

“But his poem failed to stop him being hit with a £175 fine. Cassini was also given six points on his licence after he was caught speeding at 91mph on the 60mph A361 North Devon Link road. He admitted speeding but told JPs in verse how he had put his foot down to overtake a slow-moving vehicle.

Despite agreeing that the fine was fair, Cassini thinks speeding is a fabricated crime.
‘A speed limit is a number. 91mph in 60mph sounds bad but there were no 60mph signs, and of course I wasn’t doing 91 all the time, just to avoid delay down the other side of the hill.’ He added: ‘Confusing and conflicting signs distract you from the job in hand: watching the road and acting according to context and the needs of the moment.’

So, no 60 mph signs, so you can do 21 mph more than the national speed limit – as long as you are acting according to context and the needs of the moment.’? Or to avoid your royal highness being delayed “down the other side of the hill” !!!!!! No mothers with prams waiting to cross??? No one waiting to pull out of a side road???? No – just a selfish twit who thinks “A speed limit is a number”. Like Mr Number One: Mr Martin Cassini.

Just how did you get your fifteen minutes of fame on Radio Four ? Oh yes, your day job is making  TV programmes, including those about trusting competent human nature. To know nice!!!!!!!  Cassini – a walled plain in the first quadrant of the face of the moon: about 36 miles (56 km) in diameter. Well your tosh is certainly out of this world.

Just stick to the fantasy world of televisionland. As another TV character used to say: “Mind how you go”. Especially around Barnstaple. But he was part of your hated institutionalised state, the police – who direct traffic when the lights fail.

Morena Thabo.

I replied (18.5.12):
Gosh, that was quite a gale of invective. No time to address all your points now, but can I suggest you view the video (in two parts) at the Equality Streets Media tab? The lights-off trial in Portishead went permanent after journey times fell by over half with no loss of safety – scotching the myth that civilised, uncontrolled filter-in-turn is a novelty effect. Poynton has over 26,000 vehicle movements a day and thousands of pedestrians crossing. In a few months we will publish a film documenting the transformation. I’ve cycled through central London during power cuts when NO lights were “working”. The familiar congestion, conjured by endless lights, had vanished into thin air. The Cambridge lights-out junction was a normal time of day, normal day of the week – thought I’d mentioned that. The talk was off-the-cuff and I know it could have been a lot better. I’ll get back to you on the other points when I find time.

Martin Cassini

My 2nd reply (20.5.12)

I don’t have time, at least not now, to deal with all your points, but will just make a few of my own. When lights fail here, police don’t direct traffic (what country do you live in?). Here we use self-control, and make a far better fist of things than when we’re bossed and bothered by intrusive, counterproductive regulation. There is no contradiction in my “speeding offence”. Rather like jaywalking, speeding is a fabricated crime. Painting by numbers is for infants, and driving by numbers allows no scope for intelligent judgement based on context. In urban settings, especially when children are around, we should go at walking pace. As an elegant trade-off, when no-one is around, or on the open road, we should be free to choose our own speed. I’ve written this elsewhere, but to my mind the biggest indictment of the current system is it puts the onus on children to beware motorists. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Oh, I suppose because it’s the law, you subscribe to it lock and stock. Well, when I see something and I know it’s wrong, I want to do something about it. By the way, I might publish your email on my website. Presumably you would have no objection?


Morena Thabo (5 June 2012 – my responses in italics)

Thanks for your thoughtful email. Responses embedded

Dear Mr Cassini,

Thank you for your two replies to my email to you following your BBC Radio Four Four Thought “off-the-cuff” talk broadcast on 16 May 2012.  It seems a pity that the figures you might have written on your cuffs were either not referred to, or were in invisible ink.  You are welcome to put my emails on your website, but only as long as they are published in full, and verbatim.

Already done, verbatim

You ask what country do I live in: England.  And I have seen police directing traffic at intersections where the lights have failed.

I haven’t seen police directing traffic for as long as I can remember. The form these days is to hang lights-out-of-action signs from signal poles and let people work it out for themselves, which in all my observation and experience, they do extremely well. There is no dead red time, just low approach speeds and sociable filtering. In one of my videos, you even see a post-office van and a white van driver giving way, something you would never see when lights are making them see red. In the local press, or on radio, when lights are out of action, you sometimes see or hear announcements saying, “Exercise caution”, as if when lights are working, we don’t need to exercise caution.

You said: “The lights-off trial in Portishead went permanent after journey times fell by over half….”  On journeys starting where  ̶  and ending where, please?  A hundred yards either side of the junction with no lights?  Obviously not if a journey starts in Bristol and ends in Portishead.   It is such claims that give statistics a bad name.

I don’t know the exact distance back from and beyond each junction arm, but yes, monitoring by Colin Buchanan (now SKM Colin Buchanan) measured journey time over a standard traffic engineering distance every which way through the (double) junction. Pedestrian as well as driver journey time was measured. Anne Brewer states in the video that she timed her journey before and after switch-off. Before, it took 20 minutes to get up the High Street and through the Cabstand junction. After switch-off, it took her just 5 minutes.

You said: “I’ve cycled through central London during power cuts when NO lights were ‘working’. The familiar congestion, conjured by endless lights, had vanished into thin air.”  Whether true or not, the story that Mayor Livingstone had the light sequences altered deliberately to slow road traffic has been around for years.  Whilst traffic lights could be removed from most roundabouts and circulatory systems, I strongly doubt if crossroads such as Oxford Circus would see congestion vanish into thin air.

I have often wondered if natural flow would work at Oxford Circus. The only way to find out would be to try it. But highway authorities rarely give permission to prove something that could put them out of business. Over the years, monitored trials which I have proposed, and had the backing of local councils, parish councils and MPs, have been refused by unelected traffic managers at numerous authorities, including TfL, Bristol, Devon Highways and Reading.

Leave a car unlocked in Bournemouth (where I now live) and it would most likely not have its contents stolen or ransacked; do that overnight or even during the day in London W4 (where I used to live) and it’s an invitation to theft.  I speak from real experience.   Your videos showed a curious lack of lorries, buses and HGVs trying to cross or turn at the intersections visited.

I don’t own a camera and sound kit, so I can’t film every junction or event I spot. But I have new interesting clips (towards a longer documentary) which show a very busy junction, with HGV traffic, which is undergoing a design transformation. The clips are approved but not yet formally released by the council, but on the understanding that you treat them in confidence, I could send you private links. They show how removing signal control in favour of redesign can achieve what control will never achieve: civilised interaction, lower speeds, less congestion, less noise (and presumably less air) pollution.

I am again nonplussed by your “There is no contradiction in my ‘speeding offence’.  Rather like jaywalking, speeding is a fabricated crime.”  Are you any relative of Professor Joad, he of The Brains Trust of yore who believed paying for travelling by train was optional.  He too landed up in court.

No relation! Amusing comparison, but not exactly a parallel.

No doubt, as a broadcaster you are conversant with such things as volume controls and transmission frequencies.  In your non-fabricated world there would be no need for standardised numbers on knobs, dials and displays, and Radio Four could go out on daily, or hourly, changing frequencies.  All those accursed fabricated wavelengths.  Then there’s your fabricated salary scale.

I’ve always been freelance, so never been on a salary scale.

All crimes are, by definition fabricated, in that certain things are made illegal by the legislators.  The crimes of murder, theft, incest, etc are all made-up crimes.  Now openly encouraged by the state, buggery once ensured a prison sentence.  One day, watching TV without a licence in the UK will no longer be a fabricated crime.

No-one objects to sensible laws, but a law that puts the onus on toddlers to beware motorists is a cruel law, and a law which licenses traffic on a main road to neglect the needs of side road drivers, forcing them to fast-moving traffic coming at them from opposite directions is dangerous, asinine and in dire need of reform.

Just whose “intelligent judgement” should decide what is the correct speed?  The son of an OAP in a wheelchair or someone who thought doing 91mph “to overtake a slow-moving vehicle” was fine?

My 91mph was on a dual-lane overtaking stretch with light traffic. I was endangering no-one.

If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then bleating about children is the last refuge of the emoter.  For someone who claims to have used his “intelligent judgement based on context” to do 91mph on a road designed for normal traffic travelling at no more than 70mph to then say we should all be driving at no more than 3mph  “when children are around” invites not “a gale of invective” but a storm of bellyaching laughter.

Why? I don’t see that at all.

As for “to my mind the biggest indictment of the current system is it puts the onus on children to beware motorists. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?”, both should be  aware of each other.  Since the word “children” covers anyone from three to eighteen, you are using a blanket term to create fabricated emotion.  A sixteen year old child can drive a moped; a seventeen year old child can drive a car, van or light lorry, or if in the armed forces just about anything.

I mean toddlers, forced to learn age-inappropriate road safety drill, and forced to try to tell the difference between a grey pavement and a grey road surface. It’s inhumane.

As for your “Oh, I suppose because it’s the law, you subscribe to it lock and stock”, that’s hardly a barrel of laughs.  There are plenty of laws I don’t “subscribe” to.  And, having lived and worked in countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australasia, I’ve deliberately broken laws on all four continents.

You obey sensible laws by the sound of it, but have scant respect for nonsensical laws. Seems right to me.

Finally, as a “Well, when I see something and I know it’s wrong, I want to do something about it” crusader, what other causes have you taken up arms against?  Religions forced on babies at days old?  The UK taken into the uberstate of the EEC/EC/EU by a traitor called Heath?  There must be more than two other campaigns for which you have nailed your colours to the mast.

There is at least one other injustice I have tried to expose, but having been shafted by a shark in the business, I am no longer in the broadcast swim, and thus far, my intense efforts to win documentary commissions have been unsuccessful.


Morena Thabo