Monday, January 22, 2007

Let's Get our Streets 'Naked'

If you think the Tories never come up with interesting ideas on transport, think again. The Times reports HERE that the Conservatives want 'naked streets'. Ooh er, missus. This means that many traffic lights, road signs and white lines would be removed from many high streets with the aim of improving road safety and reduce congestion.
Road humps, chicanes and other physical measures designed to reduce
the speed of vehicles would be removed and the question of who had priority
would be left open deliberately, making drivers more cautious... In the town of
Drachten, the removal of traffic lights at one major junction has resulted in
accidents falling from thirty-six in the four years before the scheme was
introduced to two in the next two years. The average time for each vehicle to
cross the junction fell from 50 seconds to 30 seconds, despite a rise in the
volume of traffic... The idea of removing traffic lights was supported in a
report published last month by the Institute of Economic Affairs. Martin
Cassini, the report’s author, said: “Removing lights removes barriers to traffic
flow and improves behaviour. If you observe a junction where the lights are out
of action, there is rarely congestion. People approach slowly, wave each other
on and filter in turn. Lights and other controls hamper instead of harness human
nature, causing untold delay and harm.”


I think this is really interesting thinking. For too long in this country we have been taken in by transport planners, who seem to be judged on the number of new traffic lights they can erect. It's crazy to have so many traffic lights on roundabouts, for example. This also highlights the amount of redundant 'street furniture' there is. I was driving up the A2 through Bexley last night and there seems to ba some sort of road sign every ten yards along a half mile stretch. Several of them tell the driver that they are driving on the, er, A2. Really useful that. I have no doubt at all that we could remove half the road signs in Britain with no trouble at all. They're an eyesore and an intrusive form of visual pollution. I almost wonder whether they shouldn't have planning permission, but I would never want to hand more power to the planners. They're dictatorial enough as it it.

53 comments:

mark williams said...

Lots of European countries have a default rule of "priority to the right", which as well as making an admirable political slogan, ensures that pontenial confusion and conflict is avoided.

One of the most fascinating sights in Paris is the view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe during the rush hour, watching the cars on the 12 roads that meet at the Place de l'Etoile, which has a roundabout with the equivalent space of 6 lanes across. There are no road markings and no lanes, but traffic manges to pass across, mostly guided by priority to the right.

AMAR said...

It's certainly appears true when traffic lights go out traffic seems to flow better.

Reduce unnecessary signs but improve directional signs. Parts of the UK still have the WW2 (Kent in particular)mentality that directional road signs are an aid to the enemy.

Not all of us have Sat-Nav.

Anonymous said...

Won't happen ,it requires people to think.

Anonymous said...

This sort of thing is not uncommon in the countryside already. I recall at least one village in Bucks that decided to remove the middle white line from the main road through it. Traffic automatically slowed down as drivers lost confidence about which bit of the road was theirs.

Inamicus said...

Tory-controlled Ken & Chel council has a good record on this and it can have benefits in terms of street safety and street vitality (see Ken High St). However I would caution against the assumption that the same logic can be universally applied. There is also a significant element of "Poujadist" Conservatism which does not sit easily with Dave's green message when it comes to issues such as bus lanes and anti-congestion strategies.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy photos of street scenes in earlier eras. The streets look so much nicer with less furniture and signage. Pedestrians should be king of the streets!

Anonymous said...

Hmm...Foolish though this idea is, one is forced to concede that in Bristol, drivers pay no heed to pedestrians crossing, so removing pedestrian crossings might work. And they pay no heed to red traffic lights, so taking away the actual traffic light itself is not such a great leap. And they don't slow down or stop for a zebra crossing, so why harm the 'visual environment' by having it.

I can tell by this load of twaddle that you don't spend a lot of time cycling or as a pedestrian, Iain.

Anonymous said...

YES!

It also massively reduces the scope for greedy and corrupt (these are factual statements, not insult-words) Councils and 'regional assemblies' to charge for road picing, parking, 'congestion', parking 4-wheel drive vehicles, etc.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see that as a world crisis is brewing in the Persian Gulf we're worried about road signs.

More like the Lib Dems with every passing day....

Mike Wood said...

"Priority to the right" is an absolute disastor.
Nobody is quite sure at a junction whether priority to the right applies or whether traffic on the main road has priority. The usual result is that, instead of slowing down and waving people through, both drivers put their foot down to see who can get to the junction first.
Even France ahs abandoned the system now. Belgium's the only country that I can think of that still uses it for most junctions.

Anonymous said...

This whole philosophy could work everywhere.

In a liability court case in the USA, a car designer was asked, where is the safest place to put a fuel tank.

His answer:
In the driver's lap, it'll make him drive more carefully.

machiavelli said...

This was in the 2001 Conservative manifesto.
It's nothing new, albeit a bloody good idea...

Anonymous said...

What an absolutely blindingly/achingly good idea.

Half of my problem with this country is the number of streetlamps, traffic lights, bumps, signs crap that goes everywhere.

Marquee Mark said...

Too much to hope that one day, so-called traffic planners will understand that the best way to deal with traffic is to speed it up and reduce journey times, rather than slow it to a crawl in the vain hope no-one will use their car. Halve the journey times and you could have twice the traffic currently on our roads...

Anonymous said...

How about introducing the US system where you can turn right if clear at a red light - ie left in the UK. Speeds traffic flows immensley.

Would have avoided my only road traffic offence!!

Nick said...

I agree strongly with the proposal and many of the comments. As a driver in London I increasingly aware that TFL's road policy is to deliberately build in congestion (see Clapham) thereby slowing down traffic and journey speeds and increasing pollution. Like other commentators I find that journey times are reduced whenever traffic lights are out as drivers make their own decisions, frequently unselfish ones, about when it’s safe to cross a junction. For one happy week three sets of light were out on my daily commute, resulting in some of the shortest journey times I've enjoyed.

Anonymous said...

The number of traffic lights is truly ridiculous in places. My office has just changed location which means an 8 mile journey to work via the countryside rather than a 3 mile journey into the town. Guess which one is quicker? The 8 mile drive takes me 20 minutes as opposed to the half hour or more it used to take into town.

My town driving was a nightmare thanks to some genius who had decided to put 20 (not kidding here, folks) sets of traffic lights on a 2 miles stretch of inner ring road.

Anonymous said...

Halve the journey times and you could have twice the traffic currently on our roads...

How did you work that out?

Anonymous said...

Ken and Chelsea have done an amazing job on KHS - all guard rail barriers, clutter etc removed and the street made into a slightly fuzzy area of 'Modal Share' to use the jargon. Pleasant and much safer.

This was not achieved without blood, sweat, toil and tears from K&C's (Conservative) leadership. Highways officers refused to put up the report that ignored so much of the 'guidance' from the Department for Transport. Councillors therefore amended the report they did get at committee and explicitly assumed the risk of any personal legal action that may result. Brave decision, much to be applauded.

What came out of this was the extraordinary revelation that there is no legal or statutory requirement for most of the rubbish that makes our streets such unpleasant and dangerous places - just guidance. Which may be ignored.

Cattle-pen barriers are the most objectionable feature. They pen pedestrians in and give drivers a false sense of security. They actually cause more accidents than they prevent. Likewise the DfT's own figures show that much-loved Zebra crossings are safer than light controlled crossings. And from my own experience preferred by drivers who are not held by lights at an empty crossing. Yet the DfT, surely the only Department of State still stuck somewhere in the 1970s, continues to advocate both barriers and light-controlled crossings.

Neil Craig said...

I think there may be something to this. A few hundred yards from here there are 2 pedestrian crossings on the same road about 150 feet apart. On the other hand we do move from adding more such being fashionable to taking them away being fashionable. Lets not get carried away.

Anonymous said...

Not far from where I live is a big roundabout on top of the M53 ,when the road marking s were origonally put in the traffic flowed quite orderly filtered well ,last year they remarked it ,now its a bl"""dy danger spot ,you get cut up and chopped up and a number of minor accidents have happened ,so for safety

PJ said...

Tell me I'm paranoid, but....

There you are toddling along a 50 limit road, speed limit signs every 100 yards or so. Junction approaches. 20 ft high, green main route advisory, smaller local route advisory, yellow sign saying they've been digging the road up for the past two years, traffic lights, lane direction sign, no right turn sign, bus lane sign....and what's that way down at the edge of your visual field just disappearing behind a large truck? 30 limit sign about 18 inches across. Half a mile down the road, with not another speed limit sign passed, a camera busily flashing cars doing over the limit.
This isn't planned?

Vienna Woods said...

Having lived out here for almost 20 years, returning to the UK only sporadically, I can tell you that despite the great increase in traffic volume, the UK has much safer roads than most countries. I do believe that the facts prove that the UK enjoys the second safest roads in Europe.

With regard to giving way to traffic approaching from the right (would be the left in the UK), I can tell you that this is an absolute catastrophe in practice. We have the situation here in Austria where only half the “T” junctions have “Give Way” signs and you are forced to try and see the back of the triangular sign on all roads on your right. They’re not always so visible and it’s sods-law that you have right-of-way. Driving standards, despite very stiff licensing approvals, are deplorable and the police are a waste of space.

There are many ideas for improving road safety and it is correct that there are too many traffic lights and hindrances on today’s roads, but one half baked experiment in Holland doesn’t mean that we all jump on another of Dopey Dave’s “thoughts of the day”. I reckon the bugger will eventually publish his own “little blue book of crazies” way before he thinks of anything useful!

Anonymous said...

The static cameras create conflicts , you watch them braking even if they are doing 25mph ,a nice big police mobile full of markings in a prominent position now thats safety

Marquee Mark said...

Halve the journey times and you could have twice the traffic currently on our roads...

How did you work that out?


Ed - er, its basic sums. If 1,000,000 commuting hours are undertaken at 10 mph, if the traffic doubles to 20 mph, then those same journies only take 500,000 commuting hours. Which gives you capacity for the same number of cars again, if you want the roads to take 1,000,000 commuting hours. So whereas now say twenty cars go past a fixed point in a minute, double their speed and forty can go past.

So it is every driver's duty to go as fast as his car will allow at all times. Officer.

You're not a traffic planner are you?

Anonymous said...

Marquee Mark,

I apologise for my ignorance - we can't all be experts on everything!

Interestingly, when the speed limit on the M4 between Heathrow and London was reduced journey times actually reduced as well because there was less stop-start.

Your sums look nice but you have ignored the fact that cars aren't the only things which use the road. I'm not sure I would want to use a zebra crossing on a road where cars were travelling at 60mph. I'm not sure you would want to be in the car behind one that suddenly had to stop for a pedestrian either.

Anonymous said...

"some sort of road sign every ten years"
Doesn't sound that bad to me!

newmania said...

This has been tried in Amsterdam hasn`t it ? No seriously the roiad signs type of naked. I thought I remembered that it didn`t work.

Curly said...

I think this is an interesting idea worthy of further exploration, but just yet I don't have sufficient confidence in it's prospects. Not because the concepts are wrong, clearly they are not. What worries me is the fact that we don't seem to be such a caring sharing nation as Holland, our government have just nominated 40 Charva Centrals for more anti-social behavious cash!

Anonymous said...

Well done to the Tories on re-hashing a story covered by the national media in great detail as long as two full years ago. Brilliant idea from Dave/id.

And haven't the French thought better of the murderous Prioité å Droite Mark Williams?

Not a Tory said...

Ahhh machiavelli says it was in the 2001 Conservative manifesto which trumps the 2005 press stories from chris p. The electorate just loved that manifesto didn't they! Not quite as much as the one in 1997 mind.

Though of course Dave/id's 2005 dog whistle old Toryism was the corker which set the parties fortunes in the right direction of travel. What a shame about his subsequent U-Turn to mad-for-it Blairism. What a fruitcake.

Anonymous said...

Re: Chris P

Hmmm. So if this has been so well known for at least two years, why haven't nuLab Transport Ministers done anything to promote it? Surely even they are in favour of reducing road casualties? Or maybe they're happy that pedestrians in Labour Hackney are more likely to be killed on the roads than those in Conservative Kensington & Chelsea?

Just another failed opportunity for this moribund administration to add to all the rest.

Roger Thornhill said...

KHS is indeed a much better place and that is as a driver and as a pedestrian.

Vietnam and to a lesser extent Bangkok shows how lower peak speeds in urban areas can actually improve flow. Doing 20mph means there is little need to stop for people, as the speeds are low enough for peoplel to walk across the road and, if necessary, stop in the middle in safety without an island.

I think highly geared manual cars have a lot to do with the subconsious need to exeed the 30mph limit.

mark williams said...

Priority to the right in France: Er, no it is still there. It is not in use at many roundabouts, but the Arc de Triomphe is not one of those. It is in use in most towns where junctions are often not marked, although it doesn't apply to marked junctions.

If you see a sign with a thick vertical arrow and a horizontal line through it, you are on a priority road to which priority to the right does not apply. If you see a sign with an X-shaped cross you are approaching a junction where it does apply.

Some of the roundabouts in Belgium also do not have priority to the right any more, but otherwise it is much more widely used.

No warranty implied ... etc., but mind how you go.

Anonymous said...

YES! Dig 'em all up, I'll help!

Anonymous said...

Where I live the metal thieves have decided how many roads signs we should have- nearly ever other sign has been nicked and not replaced.

Jess The Dog said...

This has been implemented in the Netherlands and in one or two UK towns.

The visual clutter of street signs is unsightly. Most markings require constant upkeep as well, although there is a requirement for these to support traffic orders that regulate parking and turning etc.

Other methods such as different materials for raised pedestrian crossing points, narrow streets to slow traffic, the use of parked cars as natural traffic calming etc are more effective than road signs.

The reason that planners have "too much power" is that the outdated laws date back to the 1940s. 95% of small householder planning applications are approved - so what is the point in having this check if something goes wrong. At the same time, councillors will bend over backwards to developers waving cash around (under section 106 of the town and country planning act in England), hence many of the eyesore buildings and clone housing. Planning should involve people far more.

MorrisOx said...

An absolute guaranteed vote winner and a richly deserved poke in the eye for the government and county council transport nannies, who have been secretly implementing their own unannounced anti-roads policy for years.

These are the people whose supposed anti-car safety crusade has disappeared so far up its own road hump that it is no longer understood by the motorists or pedestrians it is aimed at.

Never mind the must-spend-the-budget administrative incompetence that leads to signs being repeated in triplicate, what about the oceans of white paint splattered across perfectly safe dual carriageways in an effort to discourage anyone who dare consider the heresy of an overtake?

There are roads and streets all over this country now where the volume of signage is no so repetitive, dense and excessive that it becomes impossible to take anything in.

It is an obsessive, undemocratic, ineffective and incompetent policy that has turned our streetscape into an ugly mess.

Ditch it and ditch the people responsible.

verity said...

Houston has staggered traffic lights on the routes into downtown, meaning, as long as you maintain a speed of around 28 mph, you will have green lights all the way in.

verity said...

Anonymous 12:38 - Mexico has this system as well, although not at every red light. The red light has to have a sign up that has an arrow pointing right and says "Proceed with caution". Again, it speeds up traffic for everyone.

Vienna Woods - the arrows and 'proceed with caution' signs here are up next to the traffic light, so you don't have to crane to see them. If you are looking at the light, you see the sign.

Vienna Woods said...

verity wrote,

the arrows and 'proceed with caution' signs here are up next to the traffic light, so you don't have to crane to see them. If you are looking at the light, you see the sign.

Eh! I wasn't talking about junctions with traffic lights! I was referring to normal junctions, which may, or may not, have a "Give Way" sign. Why should one have to look out for the back of a sign on somebody else's road. It's bloody ridiculous.

Quite different from the normal traffic lights you have in the UK, which are controlled by capacitive wires measuring the volume of traffic, we have to put up with mainly "timed" traffic signals which waste energy and actually hinder traffic flow. We've also just had the socialists here put a blanket speed limit across the whole of Vienna (40MPH) to try and curtail the fine dust from diesel engines. Of course the brainless mayor has no idea of engineering theory and the emissions have actually increased. They have now been forced to increase the speeds on main artery road because of severe congestion and it's not going to be long before the rest of Vienna returns to sensible limits - but it will be done very quietly!

verity said...

Sorry, Vienna Woods. I thought you were referring to turning right on a red light!

Tom Tyler said...

The section that you quote there is absolutely spot-on. I recall an occasion last year when lightning knocked out pretty much all the traffic lights in my town at 5pm, and, just like it says, traffic flowed much faster than normal, because everyone was relying on their own judgement. Sounds crazy, but it works.
Similarly, a new industrial development at the north end of my town has seen a perfectly good roundabout turned into a multi-laned & lighted monstrosity. Multiple lanes are alright if they're designed properly, but whoever designed these must have been on LSD, its a death-trap, with double lanes on the roundabout leading straight into single-carriageway roads.

hg said...

In Italy there is priority to the right so that those on the roundabout give way to those coming on; except for some roundabouts (unmarked) where it's like in England with those coming on giving way to those already going round. All of this is done as fast as we can go so it's very exciting - it'll be the death of me.

Anonymous said...

Priority to the Right is under severe attack wherever it is in force, and the government in France is planning to end it.

The key (and essentially unaddressed) problem in all these issues is that whilst many drivers are cautious, pleasant and well behaved, a determined and fairly large element are not. This element also are frequently driving overpowered modern cars with scant regard for pedestrians and others. The net result is that in many areas, roads are nests of what can only be described as terrorism. Young male drivers in particular (but not exclusively) are frequently quite unable to determine risk.

Governments around the world are slowly realising that they need to bite the bullet and remove a substantial number of drivers from the roads. This is practically impossible if, as in Britain, you lower the numbers of traffic cops. In the US and Germany, where it is being implemented aggressively, road accidents have fallen, driver behaviour has improved and roads flow better because there are fewer stressful incidents.

With the wrong driving culture still in place, trick measures like removing road signs and markings will rapidly be undermined by the "mental" brigade who don't care about other drivers or other people in the way.

Anonymous said...

I remeber driving into Cambridge and was suprised how the traffic was flowing. The reason, a main set of traffic lights had failed and instead of waiting for about 5 mins.I drove straight through. The trouble is that we have car hating establishment that delight in making car journies difficult and/or more expensive

Anonymous said...

I counted about 80 street signs in Caden Road just recently. It's street vandalism!

Colin said...

While I agree with raedwald that K&C have done a good job in kensington High Street, it hasn't extended to removing the seven or so sets of traffic lights that have sprung up on that stretch within the past few years and which cause so much of the traffic congestion with cars and vans waiting unnecessarily at red lights. Why not, please?

Anonymous said...

I've seen this in action: Nairobi has hardly any traffic lights and it's not safe to stop at them anyway. Result: pedestrians race for their lives and deathrate astronomical. It does work when it is about giving pedestrians and cyclings ownership of the road and making car drivers nervous and cautious and unable to assumje the road is theirs. But as a Tory policy - is just more Friend-of-the-Motorist nonsense.

the_camp_commandant said...

One solid piece of evidence that this would indeed work to reduce congestion is buried in TFL's own statistics. According to their website, over the last 12 years or so, traffic speeds and the number of daily car journeys into London have plummeted; meanwhile, "traffic calming" schemes, speed bumps, traffic lights, no-turn signs, etc have all proliferated.

Basically, the more cars and the less clutter you have on the streets, the faster traffic moves; conversely, the more buses and traffic management schemes you have, the slower it moves.

Nirvana was around 1982, when we had twice as many cars coming into London in the rush hour and yet somehow they were all moving faster.

Logically therefore one should find a way to turn the clock back to 1982. Livingstone wouldn't even need to quit.

Anonymous said...

Of course "Priority to the right" would have to be changed to Priority to the Left for the UK context. Hope all Tories would support that.

Anonymous said...

No, no, no.

This is one of those occasions wheory theory is a triumph over practicality.

The approach IS used in Holland, but the guidelines are clear. It only works where traffic flows are very low ... some 800 cars a day (that's 1 or 2 a minute).

My friendly local London borough has done this in a couple of roads. It looked nice to start with ... lots of bushes and trees (to hide the sightlines so you can't see what's coming and persuade you to slow down) etc etc

The reality? Trees demolished. "Pavements" (actually road edges) not wide enough for a pushchair. Cars speeding.

No deaths yet. But I give it a year.

Anonymous said...

Why should the needs of motorists always come first? What about pedestrians? Even the most die-hard car driver gets out of their car sometimes and takes a few teetering steps, sometimes across a road. At that point, they realise what a death-trap many of our urban roads have become, with people disobeying everything from traffic lights to pedestrian crossings. What makes the driver-faschists think it will get any better by planting a few bushes?