Removing traffic lights would ‘boost economy and road safety’

12.00 | 25 January 2016 | | 6 comments


Eight in 10 traffic lights ‘should be ripped out’ over concerns they are detrimental to road safety, the economy and the environment.

That is the conclusion of a report from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), which says that an ‘alternative approach’ – shared space – can improve road safety without the ‘colossal costs’ associated with traffic lights.

‘Seeing Red: Traffic Controls and the Economy’ concludes that a two-minute delay to every car journey equates to a loss of approximately £16bn every year.

The report advocates the use of shared space schemes which involve the removal of conventional traffic infrastructure such as traffic lights, road markings and bollards.

The authors argue that evidence demonstrates that when regulations are removed, including the ‘unfair rules’ that give some vehicles priority over others, drivers behave with more consideration to other road users, improving safety and allowing traffic to flow more smoothly.

There are plans to introduce shared spaces in some UK towns, including Bodmin where almost two thirds of people who attended an exhibition on the scheme supported the proposed plans.

The authors point to a number of case studies, including Ashford, where they claim there was a 41% fall in injury accidents in the first three years after a shared space scheme was introduced.

However, there is strong opposition to the shared space concept. A report prepared by Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE claimed they cause ‘confusion, chaos and catastrophe’.

The IEA report, published on 25 January, reveals that the number of traffic lights in England has increased by 25% since 2000. By comparison, vehicle traffic rose by 5%, and the length of the road network by just 1.3% in the same period.

Dr Richard Wellings, head of transport at the IEA, 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 for 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.”

Photo: Stu Smith (via Flickr)



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    A traffic light near my house has been turned off for a few days now, and I wonder if it’s part of some trial? As far as I could tell, very few drivers were stopping to let pedestrians cross. I did stop for a pedestrian, but my thinking was influenced by the idea that the light was broken. Normally, I would have to stop, so it seemed fair to do so. If there was no such requirement at all, I’m not sure I would have let these people cross. If it’s the norm that drivers don’t have to stop, then how do we know they will?

    My own experience tells me that when trying to cross a busy road that has no lights, no one will allow you to cross. They very rarely even slow down.

    And what about blind pedestrians, who rely on the crossings? Drivers are too selfish to be trusted with this kind of responsibility.

    Alister, Portsmouth
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    This report is sheer fantasy. It claims that widespread use of 20mph started in 2013 with Islington when in fact it was Portsmouth in 2007 that set a 20mph limit for most roads. It was followed by Oxford and then Islington in 2011. Subsequent to that TfL set their main roads in Islington to 20mph.

    The report makes much of the replacement of Traffic Lights in Poynton with a “lightless” shared space. However this cost £3,5m. Hence projecting this for 80% of the estimated 15,000 junctions with traffic lights comes to £42,000,000,000. I look forward to IEA asking George Osborne to dedicate such funds to this.

    Comparison with Netherlands is also rather missing the point. Over there all the shared space implementations have low 30km/h(20mph) speed limits across communities. The very intervention that IEA are also campaigning against.

    Rod King, 20’s Plenty for Us
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    For an alternative view on shared space, please take a look at this webpage:

    David, Suffolk
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    This report cannot be taken seriously. It asserts that traffic lights, cycle lanes and traffic signs are responsible for increased congestion over the past two decades. What the report ignores is the increased number of vehicles on the roads over the same time span, the increased number of miles driven and the increased size of individual vehicles and the link between these and increasing congestion. The joint author of the report, Richard Welling, asked on twitter what would do more to reduce congestion, fewer bicycles or fewer motors, said, “Definitely fewer motors”,thus negating his own report. Wellings added “but what about the economics?” Safety for pedestrians crossing junctions without signals or cyclists who need cycle lanes, it appears, is not a concern, only a particular form of economic theorising which sees economic value only in motors, not in all people whatever their mode of travel.

    Paul Gannon, UK
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    Hugh – you are correct to pick us up on this. We have amended the para in question to reflect that it was 2/3rds of the 433 people who attended an exhibition who supported the Bodmin shared space scheme. Thanks for pointing this out.

    Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News
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    The 6th paragrah implies that two thirds of the population of Bodmin support such a proposed scheme, whereas the source says it was actually two-thirds of those who attended an exhibition supported it – and of those who did attend, apparently a third still didn’t support it.

    Makes you wonder how much of the rest of the report is honest and accurate. Expressions like ‘should be ripped out’ instead of simply ‘remove’ (less emotive) tells me a lot about the mindset of the authors as well.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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