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October 15, 2010 5:57 AM   Subscribe


 
via retweet by eddieizzard
posted by heatherann at 5:58 AM on October 15, 2010


at 1:28, a black car making a left turn nearly gets pounded by someone going straight. ugh.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:00 AM on October 15, 2010


sorry right turn. those brit driving sides screw me up.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:00 AM on October 15, 2010


Did they ever resolve the issue of making crossings accessible to the blind?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:01 AM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dare someone to try this in Houston, Texas.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:03 AM on October 15, 2010


Couldn't listen to the audio. How long have the lights been off?

Drivers are probably being cautious right now, because it's a new experience.

How about three months later when everyone has gone back their usual driving distractions?
posted by KaizenSoze at 6:04 AM on October 15, 2010


The one kid interviewed had a bright insight - she said that drivers used to pay attention to the lights, now they pay attention to what's going on around them, both pedestrians and drivers.
posted by yesster at 6:07 AM on October 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


If I don't pay attention to what they're saying, the interviews sound like this: Creature Comforts
posted by PuppyCat at 6:13 AM on October 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


I visited Beijing about five years ago and was amazed to see intersections between busy four-lane streets with no traffic lights, no yield signs, no nothing.

I asked my host, "How do drivers manage intersections like this without crashing into each other all the time?"

He said, "What are you talking about? Of course people crash into each other all the time."
posted by escabeche at 6:13 AM on October 15, 2010 [52 favorites]


Did they ever resolve the issue of making crossings accessible to the blind?

I suppose what would be most in keeping with this solution's spirit would be for a considerate bystander to help the blind person cross the street.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:16 AM on October 15, 2010


I don't know about traffic management, but they definitely need some help with logo design: The way the sign flashes at the start of the video, I initially parsed it as "FAT ROADS FOR FAT PEOPLE".
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:20 AM on October 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


How about three months later when everyone has gone back their usual driving distractions?

They'll still be driving cautiously because they have to.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:20 AM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I would be more interested if they got rid of the cars.
posted by DU at 6:22 AM on October 15, 2010 [9 favorites]


How about three months later when everyone has gone back their usual driving distractions?

Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. This is not exactly a unique phenomenon. In the years that I worked as a bike courier in Toronto, I saw half a dozen (maybe more?) traffic light outages at major intersections. Every time it resulted in the most safe and respectful driving you've ever seen. But I'm certain it's only because people are used to the lights and so are noting the change and acting cautiously.

There are also a bunch of stop sign intersections at in certain parts of Toronto that really should have stoplights. Those are deathtraps.
posted by 256 at 6:24 AM on October 15, 2010


Here's a Scientific American article from last year. And here's something from the BBC from 2008. This idea has been circulating for a while now, and has shown positive results in a lot of tests.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:25 AM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


At one point in the video the graphic says in 8 months without traffic lights there were only 2 minor accident and no pedestrian incidents.
posted by jeffmik at 6:25 AM on October 15, 2010


How about three months later when everyone has gone back their usual driving distractions?

Actually, if you check at 3:12 there's a note saying it's been 8 months since the switch-off and "there have been only two minor shunts and not a single injury or pedestrian accident."

So, no, everyone seems to still be doing just fine.
posted by mediareport at 6:27 AM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I suppose what would be most in keeping with this solution's spirit would be for a considerate bystander to help the blind person cross the street.

I guess. But then that makes the blind less independent. Everything's a compromise, in the end.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:28 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Except for blind folks.
posted by mediareport at 6:28 AM on October 15, 2010


In the years that I worked as a bike courier in Toronto, I saw half a dozen (maybe more?) traffic light outages at major intersections. Every time it resulted in the most safe and respectful driving you've ever seen.

I have seen the same, except in one case. There was a power outage in DC last summer, and the traffic lights and street lights were out completely. This meant people didn't even know there were traffic lights at some of the intersections, so they blew through them. At the major street crossings, this was like russian roulette, and there were some very narrowly averted accidents. Eventually the police showed up and put up reflective stop signs, which resolved the issue.

So, how does this work at night?
posted by smackfu at 6:34 AM on October 15, 2010


I had my sound muted when the video started. After the first couple of shots of people waiting (as it turns out, they were waiting at red lights), I thought, "Ha! They're English, they'll sit there waiting until the lights come back on!"
posted by mr vino at 6:35 AM on October 15, 2010 [11 favorites]


So, how does this work at night?

Vision is impaired, I cannot see.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:36 AM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


If I don't pay attention to what they're saying, the interviews sound like this: Creature Comforts
The town is Portishead, close to Bristol where Aardman Animation is based, hence the accents.

More details on the concept of Shared Space, background to the Portishead experiment and a comment on the Dutch experience.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 6:41 AM on October 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'd like to see this experiment repeated, but this time take away the police department.
posted by swift at 6:42 AM on October 15, 2010


The purpose of lights isn't to speed up traffic; it's to avoid accidents. Like escabeche, I've also been in Beijing, and I would not want to repeat that driving experience.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 6:44 AM on October 15, 2010


So, how does this work at night?

It works just fine. Your example of what happened in DC illustrates the problem that this is solving:
People that are used to stoplight intersections will always go as fast as they can down the road, and will ignore everything except for stoplights.

The ones flying through intersections flew through them because they didn't see a red light to stop at, and were not aware that normally there would be one there.

People driving in a city without stoplights would be aware that there are no stoplights anywhere, and would not be flying through any intersection.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:57 AM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


As someone who routinely rides a route in the England that involves traffic circles I call bullshit on this kind of improvement. The reality of a shared negotiated space is that some assholes in cars realize that they are assholes in cars and will bully people out of the way.

The real reason there are so few accidents at traffic circles is because pedestrians and cyclists go out of their way to avoid them if they can. On foot I 'jaywalk' before I come to a traffic circle because it is safer - i only have to monitor two predictable flows of traffic instead of 4 unpredictable flows. On a bicycle if I am not making a left hand turn at a traffic circle I usually find another route.

The one spot where this isn't possible I usually have at least one car a week jump its turn and try to run me off the road.

I realize this is one of those popular 'we can all just get along' hip new modern urbanism things that people are seizing on in the States but it just isn't the cure you need. It is just a different set of problems.
posted by srboisvert at 7:00 AM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


that involves traffic circles I call bullshit on this kind of improvement

Your complaints about this system are complaints about traffic circles, not this system.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:01 AM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder if the reason this worked so well is that the UK is so used to roundabouts. Looking at that junction at 1.40, they're all behaving like there's an invisible roundabout there.

As for blind pedestrians, there's no reason why a traffic light free area can't still have zebra crossings.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 7:04 AM on October 15, 2010


Should have previewed...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 7:06 AM on October 15, 2010


People driving in a city without stoplights would be aware that there are no stoplights anywhere, and would not be flying through any intersection.

So I guess you end up turning every intersection into a four-way stop that allows you to roll through it. Although I've been in places like Buenos Aires where that is how four-way stops were treated. I guess it worked well enough, as long as two cars didn't arrive at the same time travelling too fast.
posted by smackfu at 7:07 AM on October 15, 2010


having lived and driven in both england and america, i'm pretty sure this kind of thing would not work in most parts of america. for one, drivers in england tend to be more patient and conscientious in my experience (both in town and on motorways). also, simply the design of most roads - especially in towns - encourage more attentive, cautious driving. there aren't a lot of 4+ lane straightaways with big 4-way intersections, even in bigger cities. there are a lot of curvy, narrow, 2 (or less) lane roads interspersed with roundabouts. thinking back to driving in england, i can see most places not needing traffic signals. thinking about driving here in texas, i can't think of many signals you could take away safely.
posted by blendor at 7:07 AM on October 15, 2010


If they tried this on Utah's fast, wide roads--have you seen Road Warrior?
posted by mecran01 at 7:08 AM on October 15, 2010


And this is, as normal, completely mis-spun. This is not a matter of "Just turning the lights off". It involved reorganising the road first - proper roundabouts* (not traffic circles) really help. Traffic lights are a simple and brute force solution to the problem of managing intersecting traffic on contradictory courses - and solutions that work with people are normally better than those that work against them.

* Sometimes the concept is taken too far.
posted by Francis at 7:11 AM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was just in a neighborhood meeting this week where we agreed to petition the city to take down some traffic lights in the neighborhood and just replace them with four-way stops. The problem with traffic lights is that they cause drivers to go as fast as possible when the lights are green to try to get through them. If we put in stop signs, there's less of an incentive to speed since you know that you're going to have to stop.
posted by octothorpe at 7:12 AM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the same vein, can we remove the driver's seat-belt and replace the airbag with a big metal spike?
posted by SyntacticSugar at 7:14 AM on October 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


There was a discussion of this on BBC Radio 4's Material World earlier this year. If you have access to it (UK only?) the episode is here.
posted by logopetria at 7:20 AM on October 15, 2010



How about three months later when everyone has gone back their usual driving distractions?

Actually, if you check at 3:12 there's a note saying it's been 8 months since the switch-off and "there have been only two minor shunts and not a single injury or pedestrian accident."

So, no, everyone seems to still be doing just fine.


Good to hear. I wish American drivers could be trusted to behave so well.
posted by KaizenSoze at 7:23 AM on October 15, 2010


An idea regarding the blind: Disable all the lights, except when handicapped people are present. I.e. convert the lights to "disability signals" that enforce right-of-way for the disabled.

At its briefest, the idea is that no-lights would be normal, use lights in special circumstances.
posted by krilli at 7:30 AM on October 15, 2010


For those who are into this kind of thing, there's a whole book called Traffic on the psychology of traffic and driving. Fascinating stuff.
posted by ekroh at 7:31 AM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Echoing others, the prep work and reorg. was probably the most important factor.

Having learned to drive/bike in the Boston area I'm a fan of rotaries/etc. They seem to cost less and save on fuel and pollution too. More raised catwalks are needed though, as a lot of large roundabouts are not passable by pedestrians.

Chicago and New Haven taught me that a lot of stop signs are optional for drivers. NYC was where I found the most respect (by autos) for traffic lights.

My favorite scheme was in Chang Mai. IIRC, where there were no intersections and few simple traffic circles, rather there where a lot of elongated ovals where roads at right angles dumped to a straightaway, then you had to travel to your right in order to get to the U turn and go the other way after a few hundred meters.

Of course, all this will be decided by which scheme works best for automated Google Transport vehicles.
posted by drowsy at 7:34 AM on October 15, 2010


This may work for busy intersections where cars know they have to be on the lookout for other cars and huge groups of pedestrians. But it would never work for heavy arteries without a lot of cross traffic -- the flow of cars would just take the right of way, and it would be impossible to cross on foot.

Also, there are practically no traffic lights in Vietnam, and the organic traffic flow in Saigon is truly a thing of beauty, the country has an extremely high rate of traffic fatalities and injuries.
posted by yarly at 7:37 AM on October 15, 2010


Actually, if you check at 3:12 there's a note saying it's been 8 months since the switch-off and "there have been only two minor shunts and not a single injury or pedestrian accident."

How many were there in the 8-16 months prior? A single value is not an indicator of change.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:47 AM on October 15, 2010


Fairly recently a roundabout in my local town was replaced with a mind-bogglingly complex junction and all the traffic lights in about half a mile around have been 'updated'. The cycle of the lights for the pedestrians wanting to cross is now so slow that they are ignored by at least 3/4 of them who just cross when they see a gap in the traffic.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:49 AM on October 15, 2010


Feels like a parallel universe to me. Do this here (Argentina) and you will have several fatalities per day (when there's an unexpected power cut and the lights go off for a while, there's always assholes wrecking each other even with traffic cops around trying to help things a bit, and the busy intersections without lights are the ones where the worst accidents happen). Well, I mean several EXTRA fatalities per day, as it is we probably have the worst drivers in the world except perhaps for Nigeria (and we're getting there, it's no longer unheard of that people in an accident shoot or stab the other party in their instarage).
posted by Iosephus at 8:00 AM on October 15, 2010


Did they ever resolve the issue of making crossings accessible to the blind?

I suppose what would be most in keeping with this solution's spirit would be for a considerate bystander to help the blind person cross the street.


I was walking across a pretty busy intersection, and there was a blind lady with a walking stick trying to cross the intersection. Somehow, she lost the painted crosswalk line, and had nothing to keep her going toward the next corner. She started walking into the middle of the intersection, veering left from the crosswalk. People honked, and cars cautiously drove around her. I was close enough that I ran and helped her back to the crosswalk, and onto the sidewalk. If there aren't any other pedestrians around, it's not always as easy.

A while back, some European towns did away with all traffic signs, in part from work by Hans Monderman. His idea was that the streets themselves should provide context for driving, not signs. If the streets are more narrow, you drive more slowly. Broader, and you are more comfortable speeding up, signage be damned. This CS Monitor article says the recent death of Monderman has revived interests in his work, specifically in reference to this "lights out" experiment.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:12 AM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Roundabouts. On every fucking corner.

Then everyone will walk.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:18 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


If they tried this on Utah's fast, wide roads

It's probably only a matter of time until someone there suggests it. Get big government off our backs and roads!
posted by weston at 8:19 AM on October 15, 2010


Part of the problem with the DC power outage was that the lights were inconsistently effected. One block would be on, and the next would be off. Because most of DC's traffic signals are located to the sides rather than overhead, it's genuinely possible to not see them if they're not lit, especially if it's at night, and the street lights are also out.

In neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, which have a uniform street grid, there's a mix of 4-way stops, 2-way stops, and traffic signals. If you don't see a lit traffic signal or a reflective stop sign, it's generally a safe (and lawful) assumption to proceed through the intersection without stopping or yielding.

There are also a number of main roads in DC that are signalized for their entire length (with those pesky on-the-side signals that are impossible to see when unlit). For a driver unfamiliar with the layout of the street, and unaware that there is a power outage, it's not unreasonable to assume that they'll proceed through the intersection at speed.

This did cause accidents the last time I saw it happen. DC and its suburbs must be one of the last enclaves on the planet to have not yet fully adopted LED traffic signals. I don't think I'd seen a broken traffic light in at least 10 years before moving here.
posted by schmod at 8:22 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]



For those who are into this kind of thing, there's a whole book called Traffic on the psychology of traffic and driving. Fascinating stuff.


Read that book, very interesting. I now merge late, a zipper merge, thanks to that book.

I like the idea of less traffic signals, but we need much stronger driver education in the states before I think that's possible.

Of course, there's always the conversion about getting rid of cars in city centers...
posted by KaizenSoze at 8:22 AM on October 15, 2010


having lived and driven in both england and america, i'm pretty sure this kind of thing would not work in most parts of america.

I grew up in a small town in W. Massachusetts which basically has had this setup since I can remember. Works just fine.
posted by hanoixan at 8:22 AM on October 15, 2010


I wonder if the reason this worked so well is that the UK is so used to roundabouts. Looking at that junction at 1.40, they're all behaving like there's an invisible roundabout there.

Yeah, basically it turned the junction into an invisible roundabout - people just adapted how they treated the junction to one that fitted the lack of lights. I didn't see how well any large vehicles fared through there, though, but I imagine a slower accelerating truck or two may cause more of a back-up.

The issue with roundabouts is that they take up a lot of space and there is an issue with how much you let people see - if they can see too far in advance, some numpty will try and blend into the traffic without slowing any more than absolutely necessary and then accidents become likely. You can't restrict visibility so much that people slow down too much, or you just get the congestion back. Also, you need to have a big enough island/notable deviation that people can't straight line it too easily but without slowing traffic too much or making the corner too tight for long vehicles.

Four way stop signs are nonsensical for anyone that has used a UK/French style roundabout (emphatically NOT a traffic circle). A four way stop has all the required rules of a roundabout but none of the advantages of one - traffic must stop unnecessarily and so create more vehicle wear, pollution from regaining speed and from what I have seen from extensive driving in the States and Canada, it totally prevents the majority of drivers from bothering to look ahead in the slightest. It's 'drive to stop line. Check to see if there is any other traffic. Then look ahead'. With mini-roundabouts in the UK (the ones you can drive) over if you need to, people are more aware of traffic approaching from other directions and can maintain a reasonable speed (even 10mph is better than stopping every time) and flow improves. 4 way stops are nonsensical to me.

However, all this depends on a decent level of driver training and, maybe more so, a necessary minimum level of respect for other motorists and the traffic regulations. There doesn't seem to be that same level of respect in the majority in the US as there is in the UK and Europe. There seems to be more of the "why should I slow down for you?" attitude that means you can't trust enough of the population to make the system still work. There isn't even the same level of respect for traffic lights (especially here in Toronto) where people try to squeeze as many through as possible and the line between go and stop blurs into constant movement and driving around cars when your light goes green.

I think there is also a decent amount of truth related to the level of attention that people need to pay - in the UK it's much, much more demanding on your attention that driving in the US/Canada. Like several orders of magnitude so. I couldn't believe how big the roads were when I got here (US and Canada to the most part), how the structure prevented you needing to look ahead for the vast majority of the time as the road design actively prevents you needing to. So the comment about people sitting and staring at lights until told what to do fits the US more so, but either way it's a bad way to encourage people to be. US road systems spoon feed you so much that people who only ever drive here most likely have a very different perception of how much mental capacity to put into driving than a European or someone from the UK.

If people pay more attention to how they interact with other drivers and have consideration, this sort of new system (old system?) will work fine. In cultures where that kind of consideration/respect is not as much of a consideration (US, Africa, China, Italy, Mexico - and basically most larger countries!) the level of respect will be inversely proportional to the effectiveness of the system.

There comes a point where spending too much effort on trying to integrate such large volumes of traffic becomes irrelevant anyway. Better to legislate and research automatic control of cars (from cars becoming attachable/detachable carriages like rail cars to intelligent speed control and the like) to prevent the human nature factor screwing up the optimum traffic integration and flow.
posted by Brockles at 8:26 AM on October 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


I realize this is one of those popular 'we can all just get along' hip new modern urbanism things that people are seizing on in the States but it just isn't the cure you need.

What? We don't do polite and thoughtful driving here in the States. Seriously. I'm sure there are some examples because this is a big place with many, many cities and drivers and intersections, but most American urban planners do not think of traffic in terms of "can't we all just get along". This seems like a point of view way more prevalent in Europe, and I think it is supported by more stringent requirements for getting a license, and therefore a bit more education for the drivers themselves. The default for the American driving idiot, when confronted with a dearth of information, is to drive faster.

At one point, San Francisco experimented with putting in mini traffic circles on some two lane intersections in residential neighborhoods where there had formerly been four-way stopsigns. The idea was that everyone would slow down and pay attention and carefully maneuver around the intersection. Instead, people just blew through them. "Getting along" here means "don't let anyone stand in your way".
posted by oneirodynia at 8:31 AM on October 15, 2010


If I was a Yankees fan I'd suggest they try this in Boston. I'm a Mets fan so I'd suggest they try this in Philly but that would just be cruel to the disabled.
posted by spicynuts at 8:41 AM on October 15, 2010


4 way stops are nonsensical to me.

Well, they only cost four stop signs and four lines painted on the pavement. Rather than redoing a whole intersection to take up twice the space. So it depends on what kind of sense you are looking for.
posted by smackfu at 8:55 AM on October 15, 2010


Durn Bronzefist Roundabouts. On every fucking corner.

Then everyone will walk.


The 'new town' of Stevenage had no traffic lights at all until the early 90 (92?). Had a population of about 70k, plus lots of commuters but very few traffic problems. Some artery dual carriageways with big roundabouts, and minor roads with mini-roundabouts.

In 92 they put in a traffic light on the industrial estate. Which was hated. And cause traffic problems. So they added some more lights...

What I really don't understand in the UK is our love of traffic lights on roundabouts. All of the ones I know well work infinitely better when the lights are turned off.

apart from one spectacular time when the lights on the roundabout stayed on, but the lights entering the roundabout all died. That was fun.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 9:04 AM on October 15, 2010


Yeah, my jokey comment was more North American-centric, where we can't seem to handle roundabouts at all and would rather face just about anything else (except a walk, probably).

My experience with "uncontrolled intersections" in Smalltown, Saskatchewan, is that you need to fricking know it is one. At relatively high speed (40km/hour or whatever) with hedges blocking your view, etc.. Because otherwise, the natural thing for me, and I'm sure at least a few others, is to assume that it's a two-way stop, and you aren't facing one of the ways. Tremendous invitation to disaster (narrowly avoided until I understood the situation), but I suppose that's less of a danger where there are few out-of-towners.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:12 AM on October 15, 2010


Well, they only cost four stop signs and four lines painted on the pavement. Rather than redoing a whole intersection to take up twice the space. So it depends on what kind of sense you are looking for.

Mini roundabouts don't take up much more room (if at all) than the majority of 4 way stops (even residential) that I have seen (providing you use an appropriate sized roundabout for the junction and it's likely traffic flow). Certainly once you are outside the older parts of a city. See example here for a small suburban style one. You do maybe need to lose the corners of the converging streets, which would be additional work, to maintain the clearance between the roundabout and the kerb in the round shape, but it wouldn't need widening nor be in any way twice the size of the existing junction. It wouldn't be entirely redoing the junction unless you were installing a full (but small) roundabout.

And I think urban pollution should take a significantly higher priority than losing a couple of kerb corners, personally.
posted by Brockles at 9:23 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I first moved to Dakar there were several places where 4 lane roads crossed with no traffic control at all. They have since added roundabouts, but at the time the way things worked is that one direction would have the right-of-way while the other direction would wait, inching slowly forward, until they had inched forward enough that the oncoming traffic was forced to stop. At that point the right-of-way switched, and the inching forward started again.

This worked okay actually. Except on a scooters, because you weren't big enough to intimidate the people trying to take right-of-way, so you had to be careful to cross the intersection next to a car. Essentially letting the car run blocking for you.
posted by Nothing at 9:25 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


And I think urban pollution should take a significantly higher priority than losing a couple of kerb corners, personally.

Yes, but in many cases, you'd lose sidewalk space, or have to encroach on an existing building. Both of these things are bad for urban populations, where pedestrian traffic should take priority over vehicular traffic. Cars are simply not an efficient or sustainable means for moving through a big city.

Although air pollution is an issue, "space pollution" is just as big of a problem. We dedicate a ridiculous amount of space for roads and parking, when neither are strictly necessary in a properly built urban area.

*"Sustainable" meaning that there's simply not enough room for every city-dweller to have a car, once you pass a certain population density. Eventually, you'll reach a breaking point where the traffic gets so bad that you'll either have to begin abandoning cars, or stop growing both upward and outward. NYC, and most old European Cities reached that point a long time ago, but compensate for it through good transit and pedestrian conveyances. LA's reaching that point, even with its massively wide roads, and there's no easy fix.
posted by schmod at 10:08 AM on October 15, 2010


Wait, so how do pedestrians deal with a traffic circle? Do you just mark stripes and hope people obey the "must yield to pedestrians" law?
posted by smackfu at 10:12 AM on October 15, 2010


I've noticed the same effect at major intersections for years - when the power is out, people treat them like stop signs, taking turns. Cuts my wait at some of these lights by 75% or more. I've always wondered why traffic engineers never noticed.

Of course I have worked with traffic engineers. Many, if not most, of them blindly follow AASHTO as if it were the word of God. Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, is known for slavishly and mindlessly following regulations, even when doing so clearly doesn't make sense. The number one priority is reducing liability from lawsuits for the public agency. Actual public safety and reducing traffic congestion are second. I am not suggesting they don't care - but don't pretend they are there primarily to reduce traffic issues. It's always, first and foremost, about liability. It's not their fault, though. Nobody wants to sit in court and try to explain why they didn't follow "the standard". On the other hand, it's a relatively easy thing to sit in court and point out that the plans clearly and closely adhered to "the standard".

Obviously, the thing to do is to change the standard. Not an easy thing to do.

The more information we can get out about these kinds of situations, the better off we'll be.

There is one thing I would like to add. Queueing, taking turns, these things are cultural. This works in England, would probably work in northern Europe and English speaking countries. Probably would not work so well elsewhere, at least until people were educated about it. My friend in college, Mintasso, was from Jakarta. We were talking about the differences between the U.S. and Indonesia, and he said that one thing he loved about the U.S. was it's "organization". I asked him to explain what he meant. He said that for example, when a lighted/controlled intersection fails here in the U.S., everyone takes turns - like at a stop sign. It all works. He said that in Jakarta, when a light fails, everyone tries to go at the same time, resulting in massive gridlock in the intersection, and nobody gets anywhere at all. They wind up honking and screaming at each other.
posted by Xoebe at 10:16 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


when the power is out, people treat them like stop signs, taking turns. Cuts my wait at some of these lights by 75% or more. I've always wondered why traffic engineers never noticed.

I think it's about scale. If there is only one car queued at the stop sign, it is much faster than a stop light. If there are ten cars queued, it is slower. The throughput through a green light is much, much faster than through a stop sign.
posted by smackfu at 10:20 AM on October 15, 2010


Wait, so how do pedestrians deal with a traffic circle? Do you just mark stripes and hope people obey the "must yield to pedestrians" law?

Either pedestrian refuges at each arm where you can make a half dash to the centre and another half dash to the other side. Used on less busy roundabouts I suspect.

Or hilariously have a button operated proper pedestrian crossing on every arm. Absolute fucking chaos at rush hour with gridlock but good if you're a pedestrian and excellent if you're a blind/hard of seeing pedestrian.

Sometimes set further back from the roundabout but studies show that people would rather risk life and limb than walk in the wrong direction for a hundred metres so I guess that's why they're so close.
posted by Transparent Yak at 10:33 AM on October 15, 2010


How many were there in the 8-16 months prior? A single value is not an indicator of change.

The issue was not accidents; it was extreme congestion. The point noted was that a 20 minute commute had become as short as a 5 minute commute, with no notable upsurge in accidents (just two fender-benders and nothing involving pedestrians.

RE: the problem with the blind.

I'm 6-foot-3. As such, I can't sit properly in roughly two-thirds of the bus seats in my town (not enough leg room). Also, economy air travel sucks, particularly anything long-haul. And so on. Should we re-design all buses and airplanes to accommodate my physical peculiarities? The point here is not to dismiss the concerns of those who are blind; just to point out that it's not practical to insist that we (society that is) accommodate every concern of every member, equally.

Do we shut down every restaurant because some people have violent peanut allergies? Do we ban peanut butter sandwiches in school lunches? Do mandate that everyone wear a safety helmet from the moment they get out of bed in the morning until the moment they get back in bed at night (it would certainly cut down on brain injuries)? No, we figure out a way to work around these things. If it happens to involve people communicating with one another more often than they previously might have, this is not entirely a bad thing.
posted by philip-random at 10:52 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Inevitably, someone argues that it works there, but would never work here. I must quote from a fantastic rant against exceptionalism at Raise the Hammer (making one substitution):

Human nature does not change from one city to the next, and there is no reason why basic principles of good transportation design that work in every other city around the world where they are adopted would not work in [your city]. Incidentally, in every city that has successfully created large cycling cultures, there were initially large numbers of naysayers insisting that those proposals might work elsewhere but THINGS ARE DIFFERENT HERE.

In every single case, the naysayers were wrong.

posted by parudox at 11:29 AM on October 15, 2010


Human nature does not change from one city to the next

Societal norms and cultural priorities do change, though, and do so significantly. It's not about Human nature at all, so that quote is missing the point in this context. People do not treat each other the same all over the world and priorities can (and are) radically different for different people. So there very much is a real 'that will not work here' point of view - its' accuracy depends on each example and each locale and how well it is represented in the 'naysayers' depiction of the difference between the two cultures being compared.
posted by Brockles at 11:38 AM on October 15, 2010


FWIW, I know that Seattle did some fairly extensive experimenting with small roundabouts in the 90s as a means of traffic-calming. but then, they also have a lot of steep downhill streets with no stop signs at the crossings. Struck me as accidents waiting to happen, but who knows.

Brockles makes a very good point about societal and cultural priorities and their expressions. Eventually, we might get results like this in America -- hell, we might get them quickly -- but America is a pretty radically individualistic place. Giving way or looking out for other people tends to get you dismissed (albeit often clandestinely so) as a chump. We have lots of cultural expressions and valorizations of that, at the same time that we have valorizations of selflessness and sacrifice. We're pretty schizophrenic about this stuff -- no middle grounds, especially not lately.

So, while I think this kind of thing might well work here in America, it would take at least a generation for it to really settle in to a point where it couldn't get overturned by populist backlash fed by folks who just doesn't get the idea that rigid control doesn't necessarily get you more efficient traffic. We chafe at rigid control, but we also lionize it, trying to automate and routinize as much as we can at the same time we want to preserve our right to drive like maniacs.

(I love this thread.)
posted by lodurr at 12:52 PM on October 15, 2010


Queueing, taking turns, these things are cultural. This works in England, would probably work in northern Europe and English speaking countries. Probably would not work so well elsewhere, at least until people were educated about it.

There's a four-way stop near my parents' home about which I like to wax philosophical. What is it about the nature of this town and its people that everyone cooperates so harmoniously, with no need for light-mandated rights of way?

Then I found out that everyone reacts to it with apoplectic rage.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:04 PM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


ANARCHY!!!
posted by azarbayejani at 1:15 PM on October 15, 2010


So, while I think this kind of thing might well work here in America, it would take at least a generation for it to really settle in to a point where it couldn't get overturned by populist backlash fed by folks who just doesn't get the idea that rigid control doesn't necessarily get you more efficient traffic.

That's one of the reasons why any sort of major change that affects the majority of the population such as a radical difference in traffic control direction would need to be may not work in the US - for the project to be tolerated long enough to allow attitudes to adapt to make it work. Any furore or resistance or inconvenience is immediately leapt on and used to political advantage to whomever is opposite to the body that instigated the change. So the populist backlash will be ridden all the way to the polls for someone's own advantage. There's little chance of it being installed apolitically and so left long enough to allow attitudes to change accordingly as the population learns the advantages of the new system. Even if it were introduced quietly, it would be grasped by someone who wants to overturn someone else's office and then it'd get caught up in non-related arguments and the system tarnished with the political agenda of one side or another.

This is one of the downsides of a political system like that, especially with such a reactive and pervasive media. Back in the UK, any major problem that would need more than the 4 year political cycle to show change (things that get worse before they get better) were often avoided because the worst part of the cycle would coincide with the next election - guaranteed political suicide. In the traffic example, the initial added accidents (related or not to the system) and maybe delays in the bad areas would be all over the news (not the perhaps larger areas of positive change) and used as a lever to oust whomever implemented the system. It isn't just about driving standards, attitudes or general politeness and tolerance to queueing that will affect if something will work of this type, but also about the tolerance of the population and the system to allow the new concept a fair crack at the whip before judging it.
posted by Brockles at 1:18 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


When traffic can be predicted, we can make decisions based on that predicted behavior. Road signs, painted stripes, traffic signals and stop/yield signs set up a predictable construct from which we can predict behavior.

The trouble is, that behavior is predicted based on what people are supposed to do; on the rules. So, when someone breaks a rule, an accident results (or at least some animosity on the part of people who witnessed the unpredictable behavior.) Behavior that breaks the rules, even if safe, is considered confrontational and aggressive. Because, you know, rules.

Meanwhile, what of those playing by the rules? The same rules apply, over and over, all along the drive. Rule modifications typically happen over large geographical distances, so not much attention needs to be paid to the other people following the same rules, and nobody anticipates the rules changing. That's another reason why everyone loses their shit when someone breaks the rules: it's startling, and nobody likes to be surprised. Incidentally, this is also why the Orange Line (a bus line in Los Angeles) opening resulting in a year's worth of "oops I drove into the side of a bus" accidents, as people simply hadn't onoticed that the rules changed.

So, throw out the rules. Now what? Initially, epic caution, without question; this video reflects it, as do our experiences with traffic lights that are out of commission, or traveling to a new place with different rules and attempting to drive there. Over time, we get used to the new rules, which are rules based on observation and courtesy and timing and proximity. Those rules are implicit and negotiated regionally in real time, so the learning curve is significant and the cautionary period extends for quite a long time. It also requires rapt observation of other drivers et al, because the likelihood of any given driver fully intuiting the rules -- and having them be the same rules you've intuited from your experience -- is low.

Still, some problems remain; first and foremost, all the uncertainty around what the new rules actually are can make folks nervous and prone to errors that somewhat offset their newfound caution. Over time, people in a given region will get used to that region's behaviors, and newcomers will be more disruptive (in Los Angeles, two people make the left turn on a yellow, no more, no less; in Chicago that rule doesn't exist, and if you tried to be the second car a little too late, you'd get hit.) Still, this level of uncertainty coupled with the requirement for alert observation missing from a managed traffic pattern would presumably lead to fewer accidents overall.

What's frustrating, though, is the people who flouted (or were ignorant of) the rules would still raise the hackles of everyone else, and so the hostility that makes up a large part of the shared driving experience -- and leads to poor decisionmaking -- isn't going to go away.
posted by davejay at 2:26 PM on October 15, 2010


I have often been fascinated by how human beings are able to subconsciously control walking traffic in crowded cities. Dozens if not hundreds of people within eyesight, all moving, all possibly affecting your path. Collisions are rare and people tend to stay as far away from others as possible. Sometimes it's just so crowded you need to brush shoulders but for the most part it is amazing that we have this ability even while talking on a cell phone (and I have seen people do it well while reading books.)

The reason this experiment was probably a success is that much of the roads that I saw in the video seemed to be someone organic and natural in nature. Given a small bit of experience you can easily merge with another lane of traffic. That's how walking traffic flows work. What is not natural to us is this Cartesian system of square blocks with intersections. We don't move in only four directions, neither do we think that way. While it might make sense from a planning perspective, for pure traffic purposes it is less than ideal.
posted by chemoboy at 3:47 PM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I'M WALKIN' HERE!"

[thump!]

"I'M CRAWLIN' HERE!"
posted by bwg at 5:45 PM on October 15, 2010


parudox quotes: 'Incidentally, in every city that has successfully created large cycling cultures, there were initially large numbers of naysayers insisting that those proposals might work elsewhere but THINGS ARE DIFFERENT HERE.'

Which sounds really good, and gives many people a nice warm fuzzy self-righteous feeling in the tummy, but in order to make its point it conveniently ignores the important half of the statistic - how many cities unsuccessfully tried to create large cycling cultures?

I mean, if for every 10 that try only 1 succeeds, then the naysayers are right 90% of the time…
posted by Pinback at 6:59 PM on October 15, 2010


davejay: When traffic can be predicted, we can make decisions based on that predicted behavior. Road signs, painted stripes, traffic signals and stop/yield signs set up a predictable construct from which we can predict behavior.

You would think, yet experience suggests otherwise. or at least, otherwise unless you dedicate massive resources to the problem, as they've done in Singapore.

Overall, I think you're probably more likely to get good results (maybe not quite as efficient, but more predictable) if you go the way you seem to want to, than if you go the way of total control and behavior prediction. Plus, yes, the assholes don't go away -- but we are all made to function in a regime that by its nature makes us less likely to valorize them. I.e., they're not rebellious rule-breakers anymore -- they're just antisocial jerks.
posted by lodurr at 8:26 AM on October 18, 2010


pinback -- i agree that there's a case for regional special pleading. however, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
posted by lodurr at 8:27 AM on October 18, 2010


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