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Lose the Traffic Lights to Improve Our Streets?

by Kate Trainor on January 23, 2008

SharedSpace Lose the Traffic Lights to Improve Our Streets?
Traffic lights are an integral part of how pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles interact and how traffic flows in a somewhat orderly fashion. According to organizations like Shared Space, along with prevailing street design philosophy, they’re also to blame for man’s isolation and alienation from one another. Interpersonal interactions and relations are replaced by red, yellow, and green.
From Shared Space:

The traffic sector has to realise that public space is not its exclusive domain. And experts from different disciplines - landscape experts, sociologists and historians - must understand that they provide a substantial contribution to the development of a public domain that enables people to be human.

Intro to Shared Space Video, after the jump:


The goal is a more harmonious relationship between all road users. Although it sounds far-fetched to imagine motorists becoming courteous and respecting other vehicles, cyclists, and peds, early experiments have shown otherwise. Pedestrians are no longer “slow interruptions” as they are in American traffic plans – they’re people with a face to whom cars are more likely to yield.

As BBC News reports, machines ruling our lives is not just the stuff of science fiction – just look at the amount of public space devoted to cars, as well as the traffic lights that govern our commutes.

From BBC News:

Traffic lights make us stop when it’s safe to go, defying common sense, extending journey times, and producing congestion that damages the economy. They take our eyes off of the road, flouting basic safety principles, maximize emissions from the stop/start cycle, deface streetscapes, and cost the earth to install and run. The system is a violation of our freedom of movement.

London motorists claim the traffic flows more naturally when the lights are out of order. When the traffic cop who could interpret how to keep things moving was replaced by automation, the system largely went to hell.
We don’t have traffic lights in skating rinks or skateboard parks – Shared Space thinks that downtown traffic should work in much the same way. Use human nature and our ability to interact efficiently rather than regulating with an inefficient, dehumanizing system.
Bohtme, Germany is one of seven European communities transforming parts of their downtown into Shared Space. As local delivery van driver Uwe Muther told NPR, pedestrians wanting to cross the busy road would often have to wait for five or ten minutes under the traditional traffic model. Now, the town has taken a busy main street and removed traffic lights, road signs, and even curbs and sidewalks to truly integrate all forms of transportation. The streetscape is painted red, alerting motorists that now they, rather than the lights and signs, are responsible for safely accessing the situation.
"We don’t want the cars alone to have precedence, we want to try and make the area pleasant for everybody," says Bohmte’s mayor.
Though it sounds like pedestrians are being thrown to the automobile-lions, anecdotal evidence indicates otherwise.
From NPR.org:

Brigitte Asshorn, who owns a hotel and restaurant on a road that is being turned into more Shared Space, says that since this part was finished, she’s had drivers actually stop, smile at her and signal for her to cross the street, without a marked pedestrian crossing or a light. She thinks it has caused a change in people’s awareness.

But the evidence is not limited to anecdotes and hearsay. In Norrköping, Sweden, one particularly accident-riddled intersection has seen its accident rate plummet to ZERO since removing traffic lights in September, 2000! There are no crosswalks, and largely no rules for pedestrians. The streets belong to them, and they’re free to use them as they see fit.
See also: the BBC News Video, Call to Abolish Traffic Lights.

Related posts:

  1. Amsterdam Cyclists Get the ‘Green Wave’
  2. Making Streets Complete
  3. Stanford Provides Free Bike Lights
  4. Blazing Saddles: Brighten Your Bike with X-Mas Lights
  5. Reclaim the Streets
  6. Recent Posts

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ChipSeal March 7, 2008 at 7:51 am

It is hard for me to understand how Obama can see so well from Washington what my local needs are. I am likely to be better served by my locally trained politicians.

[i]“Cut traffic congestion and dependency on cars with more efficient urban planning.”[/i]

I don’t want Washington planning my city. That is not likely to be a good change.

[i]“Stop sprawl and create more livable, walkable communities.”[/i]

I detect some property rights issues here! Having Washington micro-manage zoning in our cities would truly be “change”. Sorry Mr. Obama, I don’t think you have the expertise nor the local know-how to execute these promises. Sounds like hokey-doke to me.


2 Mr Man March 8, 2008 at 6:04 pm

Yeah it would be very interesting to see how Obama implements those ideas because they definitely sound like areas best dealt with at a more local level. Although developing rail networks is probably part of his responsibility.


3 Mark R. March 10, 2008 at 2:27 pm

ChipSeal! LOL are you suggesting Obamas plan is a “patch job?” ;D

Doesn’t his plan sound nice? maybe we should elect him Miss America instead of the President?

I don’t know what I dislike more Democrats calling for bigger more expensive government that force more regulations you don’t need, specifically plans that could take away property rights, or people who think everyone should live on top of each other in a densely populated cesspool called a [s]concentration camp[/s] err city?

I’m just venting because my guy dropped out of the race last week and I think ALL the potential leaders are the worst of the worst, (well with exception of Romney). Now I’m waiting for who has the best vice president nominee because that’s probably how my vote will fall. not for the big bonehead but the second.


4 Carl March 12, 2008 at 9:16 pm

There’s a lot that the president can do. As for the highlights mentioned above, many of them are definitely federal issues: Amtrak, nationwide high speed rail, and safeguarding against terrorism.

As for the others, the president can help provide federal funding and support for local communities to make these decisions on their own. This is already being done. For instance, there is federal money which may be coming NYC’s way for congestion pricing, to be used how NYC decides to.


5 Josh June 17, 2008 at 1:53 pm

There is a great deal the president can do to curb sprawl. First off, up until President Reagan, the federal government awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to local planning agencies. Since then, it has been cut by 95%. That’s local decisions. Second, the president can drive policy concerning what programs have funding. Providing funding for mass transit, pedestrian, and cycling amenities at a much higher rate will directly translate into having better services. The Federal government subsidizes road construction - even you local neighborhood roads - why not non-car transportation? Next, the President can rebuild programs that keep central cities vital. These programs include HUD, crime prevention, and job creation programs. Suburbs attempt keep “problems” like abandoned buildings, crime, and noise out by using exclusionary zoning techniques which are essentially tools of economic, demographic, and social segregation as they are land use separation.


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