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Ditch the lights says IEA

By: Dave Robbins
10 January 2017

Open up our roads and we’ll all get to our destinations – whether that’s a delivery drop or workplace – quicker and more safely. That’s the view of UK think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).
The IEA is of the opinion that the UK’s command and control traffic management policy of recent years isn’t working.

Whilst introduced with the laudable aim of reducing accidents and vehicle emissions, the IEA reckons that the plethora of traffic lights, 20mph zones, cycle and bus lanes has failed to do either and has led to an increase in costs for vehicle operators because of greater fuel use.

Their views are, perhaps, borne out by facts and figures from a number of influential bodies. A survey produced by the TUC has shown a significant rise in the number of workers whose daily commute is now in excess of two hours. In 2015 their report states that 3.7m people now fall into this category. Admittedly other factors other than our crowded roads could be coming into play here; the high cost of housing may prevent workers from living near to their place of employment.

You can also throw into the mix the fact that our cities are getting bigger and therefore pulling in more commuters. The UN has predicted that by 2050, in developed countries, it’s possible that 86% of the population will live in cities. The most recent INRIX Traffic Scorecard showed that drivers in the UK now spend around 30 hours stuck in traffic jams every year.

So what’s the answer? The IEA reckon that an increase in ‘shared space’ might be the thing. Shared space minimises the segregation of pedestrians and vehicles, removing kerbs, road surface markings and traffic lights. A shared space environment creates greater uncertainty as to who has the right of way, thus reducing speed – and accidents.

Whilst not exactly one of the world’s mega cities, the idea has been tried at a major junction in Poynton, a small town in Cheshire. The measure has reduced accidents and improved the ambience of the town centre. However even the man behind the scheme, Ben Hamilton-Baillie accepts that it isn’t the perfect fit for every situation.

The way he sees it, there are two kinds of streets: high-speed roads “intentionally shorn of any context”, which enable drivers to travel quickly without being forced to make decisions. Then there are slower, local roads, filled with everything from cyclists to pedestrians and traders. It’s the latter which, in his opinion, can benefit from the increased human interaction and reduced speeds of shared spaces.
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