Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Organic v processed traffic

Consider the phrase "organic traffic". It suggests a living entity, capable of intelligent self-organisation. Like organic food, organic traffic is natural, sustainable. Traffic processed through a system of control is a less benign beast. Through an increasingly complex web of enforcement, traffic management seeks to control our thoughts and movements. It blocks our impulse to co-operate and go with the flow. Like commercial food production and control, processed traffic has untold dire consequences.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Naked streets

Ilfracombe is going naked:

Robot drivers

http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/Baths-closed-and-traffic-lights.4555083.jp When the lights were out of action, says the report, "Motorists had to be careful", implying that when lights are "working", they don't have to be (as) careful. Paradoxical but true. Lights remove responsibility for decision-making. They turn us into robots, programmed to act according to switchgear, not innate intelligence or the needs of the moment. But when we have to keep our wits about us, we are more likely to do the right thing.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Secret intelligence

If I’m guilty of seeing ubiquitous analogies to coercive, counterproductive traffic controls, so be it. In today’s Observer, New York Times section, John le CarrĂ© says: "By extracting information under torture ... you obtain information that isn't true. You receive names of people who are supposedly guilty and aren't ... You miss what is being handed to you on a plate, and that is the possibility of bonding with someone and engaging with them and talking to them reasonably." OK, traffic controls are not exactly torture, but arguably they do contribute to untold death and injury. They do impose behaviour patterns and extract obedience. And conflict on the road is amenable to a simple solution which is staring us in the face, namely a live-and-let-live approach that enables all road-users to interact positively.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

A sign to get your goat(ie)

Bideford, Devon. Apart from the mean spirit the Cyclists Give Way sign reveals, you can imagine the decision-making and manufacturing processes it went through - in true local authority carbon-footprint expansionist tradition!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Accident figures

Now the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) is welcoming the 2007 accident figures. 2,946 deaths, 27,774 serious injuries, 217,060 slight injuries. As stated in various posts and articles, the unreported cause of accidents is the law of the road itself. Main road priority imposes inequality and makes roads lethal. So lethal that, as John Adams says, children aren't allowed to cross the road and old people daren't cross them. The figures are cooked. Rules should be tailored to fit human nature. The opposite is the case. When things go wrong, who gets the blame? The devisers of the system? No. They go unquestioned. We get the blame. And we have to bury our dead, tend our wounded, and face more coercive control.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Road deaths

In its press release today, the RAC welcomes the news that 229 fewer people died on UK roads in 2007 than 06. It thinks safety campaigns have helped. 72 fewer young drivers died, but made up 42% of driver deaths. 33% of accidents were caused by inattention; 16% by drink driving. The RAC warns against (though doesn’t attribute any deaths to) mobile phone use. It says there is no room for complacency, and accident rates "can only be tackled by consistent, high-profile enforcement of the law by expert traffic police".

Not a word about rethinking the rules of the road that make roads lethal in the first place.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

From the scandalous to the sublime

Another female cyclist, Lisa Pontecorvo, killed at traffic lights. Holloway Rd, junction Fielding Crescent. Crocodile expressions of regret from the officials who preside over our unfit roads.


Sublime, but only for a while: at a major junction on Honiton Road in Exmouth, lights were out for three weeks. People wrote in saying how pleasant and uncongested it was. Now lights are back on, it's a return to familiar delay and aggravation.


Monday, 25 August 2008

Dangerous rules of the road

A classic example of the rules setting the stage for conflict. I was in Brighton (Hove) trying to turn right from a "side" road into a main road. DfT guidance says conflict points should be minimised, but if you're trying to exit from a side road, you face conflict from both sides. I began to nose out to see past the line of parked cars to my right. Nothing coming, so I look left, and someone is bang in front of me, inches away, turning right across me, gesticulating. Don't let me go first, will you, even though it’s good-mannered and much easier for you to give way to a right-turner whose view is restricted. Again I start inching out, and whoosh! another car travelling at an inappropriate but legal speed goes uncomfortably close. If roads were fit, if all road-users had equal rights, people would show consideration and take it in turns. In a sense, those aggressive drivers are not to blame. They are just following the rules of the road, which create war zones with battle lines drawn by policymakers. They f*** us up, the engineers. They may not mean to, but they do.

Injustice system

“Instant justice is creating a nation of criminals”, says a report by Professor Rod Morgan, former chief inspector of probation and ex-chair of Youth Justice Board. He warns that increasing use of fixed penalty notices is leading to criminal records for minor matters such as fare dodging, while serious violent offenders receive cautions. Analagously, the rules of the road kill and criminalise us, while the unaccountable perps in the traffic control dictatorship continue to lord it over us to our detriment.

Tragic traffic management

Tom says driving is a complex task, but seems to blame human inability to concentrate or cope. I’ve always advocated phasing in the advanced driving test, but for my money the original sin is fatuous traffic regulation bolstered by barbaric road design and a culture of coercion, blame and enforcement. Traffic "experts" manufacture an alien environment which interferes with our innate ability to negotiate safe and efficient movement - in Ken Todd's phrase, it's "an exercise in self-defeat". After they tie us in knots, we are left to carry the can. It would be a farce if it wasn't a tragedy.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic

Observer review of Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic concludes that "most of our traffic problems come down to the innate weakness of our species – inability to judge risk, thrill-seeking ... greed." The book must be more subtle, but in response I reiterate my point that if you remove the unfit priority rule, you’ll make roads fit for people and peaceful coexistence will break out.

Carping about parking

On the back of a Brighton bus was this from a 2006 RAC report: 28% of motorists drive an extra 20 minutes in search of parking. Presumably it’s intended as an argument for going by bus. Or is it a case for making parking easier? Not everyone can suddenly start going by bus. A bus can’t do door-to-door or enable multiple trips with equipment. If parking were less restricted, there would be an immediate drop in fuel use and emissions from 10m motorists x 365 days a year. Or is it better to continue punishing the people and the planet?

Friday, 22 August 2008

Lights = trouble. No lights = no trouble

1. Trouble http://www.eveningstar.co.uk/content/eveningstar/news/story.aspx?brand=ESTOnline&category=News&tBrand=ESTOnline&tCategory=News&itemid=IPED22%20Aug%202008%2008%3A26%3A33%3A320
2. No trouble http://www.seacoastonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080821/OPINION/808210384&sfad=1

Dead red time

With the unquantifiable dead red time it generates, the traffic control system is inefficient. By making us watch lights and cameras rather than the road, it's dangerous. Far from easing the task of negotiating movement safely on busy roads and streets, the system's battery of control adds to it, unnecessarily and vexatiously. After the predators catch us in one of their traps, they criminalise and penalise us. Endless instructional and warning signs distract and unsettle us – BUT WHERE ARE THE DIRECTIONAL SIGNS WHEN WE NEED THEM!?

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Nudge theory

Below is another piece about "nudge" theory. It also applies to traffic and the public realm, and supports the idea that coercion and control are less effective than freedom of choice and well- designed streets which encourage rather than try to dictate positive behaviour.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Con charge

The charge does nothing to reduce danger and delay on roads plagued by priority rules and traffic lights. Imposed before deregulation was even tried, it's premature. TfL admits failure http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/aug/06/congestioncharging.transport but still deflects blame, citing the usual suspects – roadworks, volume of traffic. When will people realise that lights are the under-reported cause of urban congestion? If you remove priority, you remove the "need" for lights and the need for speed, enabling everyone to filter. That’s how to maximise road safety and capacity, and to minimise congestion.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Retro car tax

What do I think about the retrospective road tax? Contemptible is one word that springs to mind. For years, I (and no doubt others) have been calling for government to subsidise alternative fuel research, and, partly through taxation, to steer future buying habits towards greener choices (not just for cars, but buses, taxis, trucks, the lot). OK, sections of the public have been slow to wise up, but the government has been so remiss in taking action that the retrospective tax seems a wheeze to make up for lost time. It will punish the less well-off, who won’t be able to afford a new, greener car, and won’t be able to sell their old one ... OK, the Environmental Audit Committee is addressing some of these concerns. They say a car scrappage scheme should be considered to offer drivers of high emissions cars a payment to trade in their vehicles for more efficient models. But will the government listen? Maybe, if enough of us shout, "We're not going to take it anymore!" Meanwhile, it continues to support a multi-billion traffic control system that causes congestion and accidents, and costs the earth to install and run.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Safer with automated traffic signals?

Approaching traffic signals, the first question you probably ask yourself is, Have I got a green, red or amber light? If it's green or amber, the second question is likely to be, Can I reach it in time? the third, Am I within the speed limit? the fourth, Is anyone in my way? If the light starts to change back to red, the fifth and sixth questions might be, Can I stop in time, and Shall I keep going? Add to that the inner conflict created by the wish to avoid another hold-up, so a seventh question might be, Can I make it over in time? Then, if there is no conflicting traffic, in which case, objectively, it would be safe to go, you might start looking out for cameras ... By contrast, FiT Roads (which advocates freedom to Filter in Turn) involves one simple question: Is it my turn to go? Which is more conducive to road safety?

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Targets and red tape

The Home Secretary has announced the scrapping of targets to free the police from red tape so they can concentrate on their job of solving crime. An apt metaphor for the roads? When will we be free of intrusive controls so we can concentrate on our job - watching the road and getting from A-B safely and expeditiously?

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Carbon rationing or freedom to move?

Colin Challen MP, Chair of the all-party climate change group, says: "we need to recognise that early carbon reductions are the most important step." He wants behavioural change through carbon rationing. I say we can save lives, time, money and emissions by rethinking misguided traffic controls.

Needless deaths

Traffic lights cause needless delay, and they cause needless death. Victoria Buchanan, 28, Emma Foa, 51, and Amelia Zollner, 24, were all killed on their bicycles as they waited at lights at minor junctions. If traffic had been moving and interacting instead of held in regimented queues, those women would be alive today, as would countless other victims of the unaccountable traffic control dictatorship. Transport for London tried to suppress a report which said that cyclists are safer NOT waiting at lights.

Thursday, 26 June 2008


ROSPA and the RAC welcome the news that 229 fewer people were killed on UK roads in 2007 than 2006. Hang on. Should we be congratulating anyone for 3,172 deaths on our roads?

"Today’s child road-death rate is not evidence that roads are safer," writes Professor John Adams. "Roads are seen as so dangerous that children are not allowed out anymore."

Most accidents are not accidents at all. They are events contrived by the rules of the road. Safety measures are doomed because they fail to address the fatal flaw at the heart of the system: priority. Priority makes roads dangerous in the first place. How? By conferring superior rights on main roads at the expense of minor road traffic and pedestrians. In all other walks of life we take our turn in the sequence in which we arrive. Not so on the roads, where main road traffic is licensed to plough on, regardless who was there first. To break the priority streams of traffic so that others can cross, in relative but not guaranteed safety, lights are "needed". Lights make us stop so we avoid the inconvenience of slowing down. They make us compete for green time. And they set up intolerable conflicts. What do you do if you’re approaching a green light at a legal 30mph and a child appears in your path but an unsighted 10-ton truck is on your tail? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Traffic lights flout basic safety principles by taking our eyes off the road. They encourage us to speed as we try to avoid another red. They defy commonsense by making us stop when it's safe to go. They conjure congestion by making us queue consecutively instead of allowing us to filter simultaneously. They maximise fuel use and emissions by the stop-start drive cycle. All-in-all, traffic lights spell trouble.

Remove priority and you remove the "need" for lights, freeing everyone to follow their better nature and simply filter in turn. Filter in turn is how this system (or joyful absence of system) is known in the Channel Islands. In the US it is known as the all-way yield. What could be fairer, safer, or more efficient as a form of junction control?

"One thing we know for sure," says the US Best Highway Safety Practices Institute, "is that when given a choice, the vast majority act in a co-operative manner."

The trouble is, the current system deprives us of choice. In dictating our conduct, it negates our innate ability to negotiate movement. It interferes with our primary task of watching the road. It puts the onus on children to beware vehicles. Is that reasonable? No, it's unspeakable. When lights are out of action, or in "shared space" towns such as Drachten in Holland, the onus shifts to where it belongs: drivers beware pedestrians. A new hierarchy emerges with vulnerable road-users at the top. Even blind people can go in safety, because on roads free of counterproductive traffic controls, people can act on commonsense, courtesy and context.

If policymakers harnessed human nature instead of hampering it, they would see most of road safety (and congestion) problems disappear.

Although it’s not up to us to prove traffic lights are unnecessary but for the authorities to prove otherwise – something they have never done - FiT Roads is currently preparing a proposal for a lights-off trial to test the case. To be continued.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Using our own judgement

Traffic regulation based on fear and enforcement benefits no-one except the unaccountable traffic control dictatorship. People behave better, and life is sweeter, when we are free to use our own judgement.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Lights in Northern Michigan

At http://www.record-eagle.com/opinion/local_story_176094024.html is a heartfelt cry against traffic lights, particularly inefficient phasing. As noted before, anyone can see that most lights are ineptly phased except, perhaps, the experts who phase them. But, of course, traffic lights are bad news per se. A simple solution exists: in the Channel Islands it's called filter in turn; in the States, the all-way yield.

Why the system of priority is dangerous

The worst safety feature of the current system of priority is that it multiplies conflict points. What happens when you come to a T-junction at a main road? You have to look both ways and wait for a big enough gap in two traffic streams, one from the right, one from the left. Main road traffic is licensed to ignore side road traffic and pedestrians. The advantage with right-side priority is that at least you only have to worry about traffic coming at you from one side. But best of all is natural first-come first-served priority, or filter-in-turn. With everyone approaching slowly, instead of dangerous conflicts, you get civilised interaction.

Shared space in Germany

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1028740/Accident-free-zone-The-German-town-scrapped-traffic-lights-road-signs.html is about Bohmte, which followed Drachten in scrapping lights and introducing shared space, and solved its congestion and road safety problems. I posted a comment (not showing yet) to the effect that where others lead, UK policymakers fail to follow.


http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article4131930.ece?Submitted=true is an obituary of Frank Blackmore, inventor of the mini-roundabout. My comment is that although mini-roundabouts are a vast improvement on traffic lights, the offside priority rule isn’t the optimum solution, because it allows traffic from the right to dominate, and can cause other traffic to back up. My hunch is that temporal rather than directional priority, i.e. the natural interaction of filter in turn, is the best answer to congestion and safety on our roads.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

The spirit of H&S

One for Prof John (risk compensation) Adams. On the News Quiz, Andy Hamilton described an incident on location when yellow Health & Safety vests were handed out to the crew. What happened next? They all stood in the middle of the road.

Not just me

I joined Cezary Bednarski, nominee, at the British Home Awards last night. Sat next to Deborah Pullen of the MBE KTN (Modern Built Environment Knowledge Transfer Network). She was spot on regarding traffic lights, e.g. the pointless waiting, stopping and re-starting. She mentioned lights at the A1/M25 which cause huge hold-ups except when they are out of action and she sails through without incident or delay. I've seen that same signal-infested roundabout (and others) cause tailbacks beyond the slip-roads for miles up and down the motorway. In today's Guardian there is an item about Derek Turner, operations director at the Highways Agency (lampooned in the long version of In Your Car No-one Can Hear You Scream! [Google finds it]). Why are the defects in the system obvious to us, but not to the highly-paid experts who run it? Vested interests? Currently I'm drafting a pitch for a lights-off trial. One of the sponsors of last night's event was Velux. Its founder, Villum Kann Rasmussen, was quoted thus: "One experiment is worth a thousand experts."

Friday, 13 June 2008

Kensington High Street - shared space?

Kensington High Street is often cited as an example of shared space. It's certainly tidier, but unfortunately it is still plagued by traffic lights that conjure congestion. Apparently it's the best that was achievable in the teeth of opposition from traffic engineers. Ironically, it's even less fit for cyclists than before, because the wider pavements and centre islands leave no gap between kerbs and traffic for cycling up, either on the inside or the outside.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Musings on MPG

My current piece for Traffic Technology International is about steps being taken by car makers to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Today I took delivery of a Skoda Fabia Greenline (same 1.4 diesel engine, "taller" gears and aerodynamic modifications as VW Polo Bluemotion or Seat Ibiza Ecomotive). Fuel consumption showed 54.6 mpg when I started my journey from Bicester. By the time I reached Staines (driving gently), it was reading 75.8mpg.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

More or fewer accidents at lights?

http://www.drianwalker.com/ & bamboobadger.blogspot.com/ are very good. A propos, the DfT doesn't distinguish between "accidents" at junctions with or without signal control. A London policeman once told me that at least half the accidents he attends occur at signal controlled junctions. To my mind, accidents are rarely accidents. More often than not they are events contrived by the rules of the road.

When is it legal to distract drivers?

If it’s against the law to drive and use a mobile phone on the ground that it distracts us from watching the road, should lights, limits and cameras be outlawed for the same reason? The extent to which our concentration is fragmented and road safety compromised by traffic controls is worthy of study.

Road safety and speed

The ‘road safety’ ad where the film is reversed and the dead girl comes back to life is specious. The message is that she might have survived if the driver had been doing 30mph instead of 40. But look closely and you’ll see it’s a residential street where 30 is equally inappropriate. A limit implies a universally-applicable safe speed. No such thing. One-size-fits-all limits can't fit all circumstances. They distract us from watching the road and acting according to the context. One-size-fits-all regulation might be fit for policymakers (who make roads unsafe, then leave us to pick up the pieces), but it is not fit for people.

Are warning signs irrelevant?

Who is the better judge of appropriate speed – you and me at the time and the place, or limits fixed by absent regulators? Once I was caught in a cloudburst on the M4. Everyone had slowed to a crawl. Twenty minutes and ten miles later, after the storm had cleared and we had long since picked up speed, a gantry sign warned: SPRAY! SLOW DOWN! That's how irrelevant signs are to the needs of the moment.

Road signs

The roads are littered with instructional signs – but where are the directional signs when you need them!?

Monday, 9 June 2008

Cameras! Lights! Tension!

We perform best when we're in a state of relaxed alert. Lights, limits, cameras, bus lanes - the whole apparatus of control puts us on edge and at odds with our surroundings. Driving should be an organic activity, informed by commonsense, courtesy, context. But we are reduced by the battery of controls into a state of frustration and fear.

Grand prix

Was it a coincidence that Lewis Hamilton had his prang at a traffic light?

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Sicilian traffic

From Sam Llewellyn: Saw your Newsnight film, sneered a bit, thinking, this might work in Scandinavia, but never in London let alone points south. Then went to Sicily, where there are many traffic lights and road signs, but no-one pays them a blind bit of notice. Town traffic flows at a calm, steady 15 mph. Seemed to me the system was based not on Scandinavian altruism but on a Latin reluctance to lose dignity and get your car wrecked. Worked like a dream.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Climate change

Official advice about climate change is all about cutting car use or changing lightbulbs. Of course we need to find other ways of getting about, work more from home, do our bit. But the powers are in a position to make a real difference. Stiffer taxes for high-polluting vehicles are overdue (though it's unfair to impose them retrospectively), but what about high-polluting buses? What about the array of 24-hour traffic lights that treat us like zombies, cost the earth to install and run, and maximise emissions from the stop-start drive cycle? The authorities preach and dodge blame, but they are the ones who need to act. Meanwhile, the waste and carnage go on.

Road safety

According to The Commission for Global Road Safety, the roads kill more people than malaria or diabetes. "Make Roads Safe" is its slogan. But apart from vague talk about safer roads, it doesn't say how. The answer is to turn unfit roads into FiT roads by scrapping main road priority, which contrives conflict, and restoring natural rights-of-way so that all road-users can filter in turn.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Safer for pedestrians with or without lights?

Bruce Rosar via Eric Britton (New Mobility, The Commons):

Q: Are marked crosswalks safer than unmarked crosswalks?
A: The City of San Diego conducted a study in the 1970s, and the report conclusions are often cited as the first comprehensive study of crosswalk safety. Investigators in San Diego observed over 400 intersections during a five-year period. The study reported that "... more pedestrian accidents occur on marked crosswalks than unmarked ones by a ratio of approximately 6:1. Furthermore, comparison of the volume of pedestrians using the marked and unmarked crosswalks shows that the use ratio is approximately 3:1. This indicates, in terms of usage, that approximately twice as many pedestrian accidents occur on marked crosswalks as unmarked crosswalks. Evidence suggests that this poor accident record is not due to the crosswalk being marked as much as it is a reflection on the pedestrians' attitude and behavior when using the marked crosswalk..." Bruce Rosar http://www.rfcity.org/eng/Information/Crosswalks.htm

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Towards a new Highway Code

This poignant passage from The Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce is relevant to our call for freedom to use our innate abilities on the road. "The early child cannot knowingly disobey a parent or wilfully misbehave. He can only obey the inborn intent that moves him, much as a puppet is moved by its strings. Arising from programmed, autonomic brain controls, a child’s intent literally impels his body into interaction with the physical world. Intelligence, like the body, can be injured or nurtured, stimulated or starved. What we as parents are called upon to do is to nurture, not supplant, the genetic plan which programmes the child’s development. In so doing we will find that most of our problems with children will never materialise. From infant psychosis to the generation gap, our problems with children are largely man-made, caused by ignoring nature’s plan." - Similarly, most traffic controls interrupt our concentration, demand our attention, force us to act against our better nature. If they just let us get on with it, they might find that most of our problems on the road would disappear. Same with referees on the football field. Most decisions can be made by players, in a spirit of fair play. If clarification is needed, let them use the instant technology upstairs.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Theory of "spontaneous order"

The more complex the ballet of human movement, the less useful are attempts to control it. This is true in a skateboard park, a station concourse, and on the road. Humans have evolved over millennia to negotiate movement. Far from helping, external controls get in the way. The optimum form of control is self-control.

Reduce tax on fuel

The fuel duty escalator, which pushed up petrol taxes by more than the rate of inflation, should be replaced by a ‘duty moderator’, which would allow reductions when high pump prices boost the Treasury’s VAT take, said former Transport Minister, Stephen Ladyman. 30 May 2008

Monday, 26 May 2008

What the Fed says

The Federation of Small Businesses says the Treasury has the scope to cut fuel duty by 9p a litre without affecting public finances because of increased tax receipts from energy firms thanks to the the oil price spike.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Government profiteering?

How can government justify a percentage tax on fuel when crude prices have shot up from $20 a barrel a few years ago to $135 today? And how many of the dubiously-raised millions go on control measures such as congestion charging which add new tiers of enforcement that do nothing to reduce danger and delay at junctions plagued by priority rules and traffic lights?

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

FiT aims

The aim of FiT Roads is to sensitise people to the defects in the current traffic control system, especially the main road priority rule which spawned a "need" for traffic lights.

Without priority, all road-users - on foot or on wheels - can use commonsense and common courtesy to filter in turn. This is the parallel aim of the campaign: to show there are simple solutions to our congestion and road safety problems.

We need rescuing from years of negative conditioning so we can watch the road and act on context, compassion and commonsense.

Happy filtering - on fit roads, roads fit for people.