A new approach to traffic in towns

Between 2000 and 2008 the number of traffic light installations in the UK rose by over 30%, boosted by an additional 1800 sets imposed on London’s streets under Ken Livingstone. There are now thought to be over 30,000 signal-controlled junctions and 25,000 pelican crossings. The nature of these controls has been changing too. Between 2007-2008, for example, the number of signals giving priority to buses more than doubled to 8,500. Junctions with a full pedestrian crossing stage – when all vehicles are held at a complete standstill whether or not a pedestrian is in sight – are also becoming increasingly popular with local authorities.

There has been little appreciation, however, of the economic costs associated with such controls, which is unsurprising given the absence of commercial incentives facing transport planners. With approximately 33 million road vehicles in the UK, unnecessary delays at junctions translate into major economic losses. To give some idea of the scale involved, it has been estimated that just two minutes added to all vehicle trips costs £12 billion annually. In addition to the cost to drivers there is the burden on taxpayers for installing and maintaining the infrastructure and equipment. Moreover, traffic jams resulting from traffic controls increase fuel use and pollution levels, while driver behaviour near traffic lights (e.g. speeding up to beat the green) heightens danger. The latest safety audit from Westminster City Council shows that no less than 44% of personal injury accidents occurred at traffic lights.

A handful of local authorities have begun to recognise the negative effects of traffic controls. In 2009, lights were switched off at the Cabstand double junction in Portishead. Despite an increase in traffic, queues disappeared, journey times fell by over 50%, and there was no decline in road safety.

A more recent and much wider-ranging case study suggests that the benefits of removing controls go far beyond time savings for motorists. In the biggest such scheme yet seen in the UK, Poynton in Cheshire has removed traffic lights and highway clutter at Fountain Place, a major crossroads carrying 26,000 vehicles a day through the heart of the village. Now there is an attractive, open streetscape in which free-flowing traffic interacts sociably with pedestrians. Not only have delays for through-traffic and pedestrians dropped markedly; since the scheme was unveiled six months ago, trading activity in local shops has doubled. This alternative approach to traffic management has therefore brought substantial regeneration benefits as a result of reducing the delays and negative environmental effects associated with traffic controls. A short film, available here, describes the evolution of this pioneering project. 

The accumulating evidence from such case studies strengthens the case for an about-turn on traffic policy. A first step would be to end the funding of new traffic control schemes, which threaten to increase further the costs imposed on road users, taxpayers and local residents. Policymakers should look closely at Poynton – a blueprint for delivering substantial economic and quality of life benefits stemming from a different approach to traffic.

How interesting. You can add to the traffic lights item the new craze in Surrey for narrowing lanes onto roundabouts. What this does is make vehicles line up one behind the other not allowing those that go left to slip put and do so. Thus traffic builds up in queues creating all the usual issues of pollution and longer journey times and frustration.. This is happening in back roads not just main highways. Why I ask? So I did ask, and so far not a single councillor has replied.
I read the article, which starts by mentioning "(traffic light installations) boosted by an additional 1800 sets imposed on London’s streets under Ken Livingstone". Also that there are "25,000 pelican crossings" and that "Between 2007-2008, for example, the number of signals giving priority to buses more than doubled to 8,500". You can see what they're trying to do here, right? Clearing some space so that walking, cycling and using public transport can grow into it, even if this (rather questionably) costs us, economically, in the here and now for the sake of relieving the burden of private transport in the future. You then go on to draw on Poynton in Cheshire as an example. This is a small town with just two trunk routes crossing pretty much at right angles. I have no doubt that changes to road traffic control here has had an impact on what is a very small scale and simple arrangement. Now scale this up to something the size and complication of London. Not only are the road networks vastly more complicated, they also have to consider the vast increase in both pedestrians (including the blind, partially sighted, deaf, disabled) and cyclists which need enforced protection. An increase in cycling and walking coupled with public transport use will reduce the economic impact of car dependency. Like anything, the horse has to go in front of the cart; we need to make this space first and coax people back out of their cars and into this space even if this seems to be uneconomical now (although it doesn't, to me). Not only this, but looking at other studies almost all of these traffic flow experiments have resulted in a net increase of car traffic. Is anyone at the IEF actually performing total accounting here, i.e. including the costs created by having a sedentary population with in active lifestyles? Costs of treating health related issues, accidents and injuries? Noise pollution? Air pollution? Environmental impacts of road maintenance and even manufacturing / decommissioning of the cars themselves? Is the success criteria of the Poynton scheme that it does carry 26,000 vehicles a day through the heart of the village? Really... You go on to say that "The latest safety audit from Westminster City Council shows that no less than 44% of personal injury accidents occurred at traffic lights." This statistic is hardly surprising and is most likely more to do with the fact that the places pedestrians most frequently come into conflict with motor traffic is at crossing, which have traffic lights. Do "traffic jams resulting from traffic controls increase fuel use and pollution levels" at the same level that the net increase in cars resulting from most of these schemes does? You say that "A handful of local authorities have begun to recognise the negative effects of traffic controls. In 2009, lights were switched off at the Cabstand double junction in Portishead. Despite an increase in traffic, queues disappeared, journey times fell by over 50%, and there was no decline in road safety". Do you understand that the increased traffic is not a good thing? Do you understand that there not being a decline in road safety *could* be related to a decline in the use of such roads by cyclists and pedestrians? I don't know as there is a lack of citation. However, an increase in traffic alone will act to increase the perceived danger to potential cyclists and pedestrians wanting to use the roads and the provisions around them. Again this is another relatively small scale, "not in London" example used, after opening with criticism of London planning. To conclude I'll repeat my initial assertion that these traffic flow measures are the early stages of transition. They're there to create a space for alternatives to the "locked in" patterns of car usage we have. Such car dependency is only going to be economically problematic as we see fuel prices continue to increase and people demand viable alternatives, which are arguably being suppressed by the thinking on display in this article.
Rob you seem to be a transport planner or a councillor commited to the policy of making it very hard for the motorist. If you are then please create more cycle paths on the pavement and allow the cars to to use the roads that werecreated for them. Tony Blair started this whole anti car affair because he didnt want to spend money on roads , so he possibly created a plan to create conditions that made congestion so bad - sick Integrated transport schemes so that exits from motor ways have massive que backing onto the motor way creating huge ammounts of congestion. These planners are only out to tax us more - the congestion charge in london will go up be sure because the loony councils have created forests of traffic lights - "creating more and more " CONGESTION TO TAX and thus have more and more of our hard earned money - What we need are traffic light and councillor /transport planner DREDGERS to dredge all the muck they have placed on OUR roads ( roads that were onece good but are now so clogged up that the very economic engine of the UK is in seriouse danger of collapsing - people have to MOVE , shops need people that can move .We dont need a Nanny state that tells us how we should move AND then provides no flexibility in the way we can move.Try standing at the bus stop in the pouring rain or waiting for the extortionate train. No we dont need little tin pot transport dictators/ councillors ruling us we can and must be able to make our own choice . And we demand free flowing roads so we can get on with our lives instead of waiting in never ending traffic jams created by forests of traffic lights and road tinkering .
Transport planners , many are cyclists who live in city centres and dont have to commute. These people together with councillors do not know what democracy means. They have forced their narrow mindedness onto our roads and are wrecking the UK Economy. Look at any exits from motorways( with huge tailbacks blocking motor ways - resulting in collisions and huge delays ) onto towns and cities and observe the incredible danger created by the "Integrated Transport Systems" - forests of traffic lights and massive tinkering with perfectly good road networks. Stealth Tax - yes , they want more and more of our money , since their goal is the same as Livingstone ( plus Boris - )Congestion charging - "create the congestion" and then charge the motorists which dont have any allternatives........bus stops ....waiting forever in the rain for some dirty and crowded cattle truck .. extortionate rail fares .for cattle trucks on rails . . This policy has nearly destroyed the high street - forcing people to out of town shoping centres .................... Lets Dredge this lot of scoundrels( include here the Environment Agency) from "our land" -so that we can move freely again, and let this country ROAR INTO LIFE !

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