Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pull The Damn Traffic Lights!

Tom Vanderbilt reports:

The idea that made [Hans] Monderman, who died of cancer in January at the age of 62, most famous is that traditional traffic safety ­infra­structure—­warning signs, traffic lights, metal railings, curbs, painted lines, speed bumps, and so ­on—­is not only often
unnecessary, but can endanger those it is meant to protect...

As I watched the intricate social ballet that occurred as cars and bikes slowed to enter the circle (pedestrians were meant to cross at crosswalks placed a bit before the intersection), Monderman performed a favorite trick. He walked, backward and with eyes closed, into the Laweiplein. The traffic made its way around him. No one honked, he wasn't struck. Instead of a binary, mechanistic process--stop, go--the movement of traffic and pedestrians in the circle felt human and organic.

A year after the change, the results of this "extreme makeover" were striking: Not only had congestion decreased in the intersection-- buses spent less time waiting to get through, for example-- but there were half as many accidents, even though total car traffic was up by a third. Students from a local engineering college who studied the intersection reported that both drivers and, unusually, cyclists were using signals-- of the electronic or hand variety-- more often. They also found, in surveys, that residents, despite the measurable increase in safety, perceived the place to be more dangerous. This was music to Monderman's ears. If they had not felt less secure, he said, he "would have changed it immediately."

Downtown Los Angeles has the most totalitarian enforcement of pedestrian traffic laws in the country (probably the world). With no traffic from any direction anywhere, you are apt to get ticketed for crossing against the light, by motorcycle cops hiding from view.

If full totalitarianism comes to America, it will probably start in California.

Via Megan McArdle

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