• New report demonstrates ‘negative social and economic effects’ of traffic lights
  • Number of traffic lights in England has increased by 25% since 2000
  • Report claims 80% of traffic lights could be ripped out

Rip out 80% of traffic lights to boost the economy and road safety – that’s the message of a new report carried out by the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The report, ‘Seeing Red’, 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.

The report argues that not only is a majority of traffic regulation damaging to the economy, it also has a detrimental effect on road safety and the environment, whilst imposing huge costs on road-users and taxpayers across the UK.

In the report, authors Martin Cassini and Richard Wellings demonstrate the negative social and economic effects of the government’s traffic management strategy, and argue for policies that harness voluntary cooperation among road-users. Using case-studies from around Britain, in conjunction with evidence from successful schemes in both Holland and Germany, they estimate that approximately 80% of traffic lights could be ripped out in the UK.

Economic consequences
The report claims traffic lights result in longer journey times which reduce job opportunities within reasonable travelling distance. This effect on labour mobility reduces economic output by increasing unemployment and reducing the area in which people can reasonably work.

Environmental consequences
Despite environmentalism being a driving justification behind the growth of traffic management, the report highlights environmental costs. Traffic lights add to fuel consumption as drivers brake and accelerate, increasing emissions, noise pollution and harmful health effects.

The alternative
The report argues that an alternative approach can deliver many of the desired objectives – such as road safety – without the colossal costs. “Shared space” removes conventional traffic infrastructure, such as traffic lights, road markings and bollards. Evidence demonstrates that when regulations are removed, including the 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.

Case studies:
In Ashford, there was a 41% fall in injury accidents in the first three years after such a scheme was introduced. Congestion has fallen, and there have been reductions in noise and air pollution as vehicles proceed more smoothly.

In Portishead, when traffic lights failed in June 2009, traffic jams disappeared. A formal trial then began, resulting in a dramatic fall in congestion and journey times.

In Poynton, the scrapping of traffic lights, railings, signage and bollards, combined with a reduction in multi-lane approached to single lanes brought all-round benefits. Outside rush-hours, journey times and delays have fallen, whilst overall collision rates have dropped by 70%, and there have been no serious injuries. A more attractive streetscape has also brought regeneration; instead of empty premises there is now a waiting list of applicants.

Commenting on the report, Dr Richard Wellings, Head of Transport at the Institute of Economic Affairs, 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”