Traffic lights do more harm than good, says research


Written on Saturday, November 04, 2006 by Gemini

Experiment In Dutch Town Helps Pedestrians, Motorists Coexist Safely

Most traffic lights should be torn up as they make roads less safe, one of Europe’s leading road engineers said on Saturday. Hans Monderman, traffic planner involved in a Brussels-backed project known as Shared Space, said taking lights away helped motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to coexist more happily and safely.

Residents of the Dutch town of Drachten have been used as guinea-pigs in an experiment which has seen nearly all the traffic lights stripped from their streets. Only three of the 15 sets in the town of 50,000 remain and they will be gone within a couple of years.

The town has seen some remarkable results. There used to be a road death every three years but there have been none since the traffic light removal started seven years ago. There have been a few small collisions, but these are almost to be encouraged, Monderman explained. “We want small accidents, in order to prevent serious ones.”

“It works well because it is dangerous, which is exactly what we want. We only want traffic lights where they are useful and I haven’t found anywhere where they are useful yet.” Monderman, compared his philosophy of motoring to an ice rink. “Skaters work out things for themselves and it works wonderfully well. I am not an anarchist, but I don’t like rules which are ineffective and street furniture tells people how to behave.” In short, if motorists are made more wary about how they drive, they behave more carefully, he said.

The main junction in Drachten handles about 22,000 cars a day. Where once there were traffic lights, there is a roundabout, an extended cycle path and pedestrian area. In the days of traffic lights, progress across the junction was slow as cars stopped and started. Now tailbacks are almost unheard of—and almost nobody toots a horn.

However, it is not cars which seem to be involved in the greatest conflict, it is the cyclists and pedestrians who seem to jostle for space. Driving around Drachten, vehicles approach roundabouts with considerable caution—traffic approaches from the left, but cyclists come from either side. Cyclists, almost none of whom bother with helmets, signal clearly at junctions making sure motorists are aware of them.

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