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Experimenting with the Elimination of Traffic Lights

10:14 AM EDT on May 4, 2009

Today from the Streetsblog Network, Tom Vanderbilt writes on his How We Drive blog about an upcoming experiment in London. Traffic lights at seven intersections in the borough of Ealing will be covered with bags, and drivers will be expected to safely navigate by making eye contact with pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists. The move was inspired by an accidental signal failure that resulted in improved traffic flow, catching the eye of planners. Vanderbilt cautions:

157822087_5953f0434c_m.jpgPhoto by Ed Lawes via Flickr.

Of course, careful attention will have to paid to safety results, particularly with pedestrians (the piece refers to some new mid-block crossings but one has to entertain the idea that these treatments may
reduce pedestrian’s perception of safety and thus, potentially, one’s inclination to walk). The one day of outage could have represented a novelty effect. But the interesting thing about these novel treatments
is that they are often done with much more care and concern than the standard “out of the book” approach that is applied automatically.

Eliminating traffic lights is one element of the "shared spaces" planning approach advocated by the late Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman. However, without the other elements of Monderman-style design, for example the use of varied street surface texture and color, it remains to be seen if a street without signals serves pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers.

Other food for thought from around the network: WashCycle enters the debate about what traffic laws merit the most vigorous enforcement; Fifty Car Pileup writes about the growing movement to eliminate urban highways; and Orphan Road argues that while $8 billion may not be much in the grand scheme of things, it does effectively change the national conversation on high-speed rail.

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