Traffic lights are “damaging the economy” and 4 out of 5 sets should be torn down, think tank says

Number of traffic lights has increased by a quarter since 2000

Borough High street traffic lights car cars congestion

Borough High Sreet - a total mess

Over the past two years, cycling the 5.8 miles from my house to work, I have passed through no fewer than 40 sets of traffic lights, each way, on my journey from Tooting Bec to the London Loves Business office in Westminster.

Recently, at least another three sets were installed.

Like many other frustrated road users (we’re all sometimes frustrated if we’re on the roads in London), I am persistently exasperated by the lack of imagination road planners demonstrate.

So it is welcome news that a leading think tank has recommended that four out of five sets ought to be torn down across England.

The study by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) found that since the year 2000, the number of sets of lights in England has proliferated by a quarter, and is having a damaging effect on the environment and on the economy.

It recommends that 80% of England’s traffic lights be removed.

Economic burden

The think tank said found the growing number of lights “imposes an enormous burden on the UK economy”, and they estimate that even a two minute delay to every car journey costs the economy around £16bn a year.

“Not only is a majority of traffic regulation damaging to the economy, it also has a detrimental effect on road safety and the environment,” the report says.

Enironmental cost

The study says that despite many traffic control measures being implemented for environmental reasons, the increased level of traffic management has “serious environmental costs”.

This is due to increasing fuel consumption through forcing cars to stop and start, and increasing noise pollution due to more frequent acceleration and deceleration.

“It’s quite clear that traffic management has spread far beyond the locations where it might be justified, to the detriment of the economy, environment and road safety,” the report says.

Increased risks

In addition, it argues that having more traffic control measures make the roads more dangerous.

This is because traffic lights, speed bumps and speed cameras remove drivers’ agency over their own behaviour.

 According to the report councils’ predilection for traffic furniture “subverts our social nature and removes individual responsibility”.

“It makes road-users rely on third-hand instructions rather than first-hand judgement about how to adapt to the conditions and proceed safely,” the report states.

“The most obvious example is the traffic light: in taking our eyes off the road, it flouts the fundamental principle of road safety: to watch the road.

“Similarly, exceeding the designated speed limit may be perfectly safe in favourable conditions, whereas driving within the limit can be lethal in fog or on busy streets.”

Shared space

The report cites successful trials where traffic lights have been reduced, where less congestion and fewer accidents have occurred as a result.

The IEA’s head of economic affairs Dr Richard Wellings said: “For too long policymakers have failed to make a cost-benefit analysis of a range of regulations – including traffic lights, speed cameras and bus lanes – making life a misery from drivers nationwide. It’s quite clear that traffic management has spread far beyond the locations where it might be justified, to the detriment of the economy, environment and road safety.

“The evidence of shared space schemes shows the transformational benefits of less regulated approach, whilst the removal of a high proportion of traffic lights would deliver substantial economic and social benefits.”

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