As I was driving home from dinner yesterday (don’t worry, we carpooled!), I literally ran into every single red light along War Memorial Drive. I tried to speed up, but it was no use, because if you hit one, you hit them all. Making the situation even more frustrating was the fact that there were minimal cars on the road. I had to stop for three minutes just to let one measly car get through the intersection. Despite the obvious (or what I thought to be obvious) safety benefits of traffic lights, I couldn’t help but begin to daydream about a world without them.
Apparently, my daydream isn’t all that far-fetched. According to Hans Monderman, the Dutch engineer who originated the idea of shared space, “red lights and speed limits take away our capacity for socially responsible behavior on the road.” He even went so far as to say, “When you treat people like idiots, they’ll behave like idiots.”
Cities around the world have begun to try out “naked streets,” and have found that traffic does become more efficient. It makes sense; lightless streets require drivers to think and to pay attention. With our complex transportation systems of traffic lights, yield signs and left-turn lanes, drivers are turned into robots that are not responsible for making decisions, but for following instructions. Drivers that are made to be consistently aware of their surroundings become safer drivers. They notice the biker on the side of the road and the pedestrian crossing the street, for example.
Another added benefit to lightless streets? Improved fuel efficiency. For instance, drivers might race up to red lights, stopping only when the light orders them to stop. As we learned from a previous blog, aggressive driving is a no-no for fuel efficiency! Drivers should drive like they are riding a bike. “While on a bike, you have a natural tendency to conserve your energy and coast to red lights.” Not only would this help drivers be less aggressive with the gas pedal, but also, more aware drivers are slower drivers. And again- slower driving = better fuel efficiency!
Now, I’m not saying that we should go out tomorrow and remove the traffic light at the intersection of University and War Memorial. Doing something so drastic without warning would cause a lot of stress, chaos and potential wrecks. However, it is important to think outside of the box and realize that there is more than one way to design our transportation systems.
Check out the links below to see how communities across the world are re-imagining their streets!
Auckland, New Zealand
Drachten, Netherlands; Christianfield, Denmark; Suffolk and Wiltshire, England; West Palm Beach, Florida: