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‘Scrap traffic lights to ease congestion and boost economy’


The majority of traffic lights and road-control measures should be ripped up in a bid to cut journey times and help the economy, according to a think-tank.

Red traffic light

Four out of every five sets of traffic lights in the UK should be scrapped in order to eliminate congestion and boost economic growth.

That is the rather surprising conclusion reached by think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), which has been researching the growth and effect of traffic-management systems in Britain.

‘Damaging to economy and environment’

The IEA’s report, Seeing Red: Traffic Controls and the Economy, found that the number of traffic lights in England has increased by 25%  in the past 16 years.

Over the same period, the volume of traffic has gone up by just 5% while the length of the road network has increased by only 1.3%.

The report claims that most traffic regulation is not just unnecessary, it also damages economic growth and has a “detrimental effect” on road safety and the environment.

Its authors found that a two-minute delay to every car journey would cost around £16 billion a year – the equivalent of 1% of UK GDP.

Higher emissions

So why are traffic controls, and lights in particular, so counter-productive?

According to the IEA, traffic lights increase fuel consumption because they force drivers to brake and accelerate more frequently.

This in turn increases emissions and associated negative health effects.

And the longer journey times that inevitably result from traffic control and calming measures, the IEA adds, have serious economic consequences.

Fewer job opportunities

man in car with road rage

This is because they limit individuals’ “reasonable travelling distance”, thus reducing the area in which people can work and leading to fewer job opportunities.

The report also states: “Faster journeys would also lower the costs of trade, facilitating competition and enhancing innovation and productivity.”

Dr Richard Wellings, head of transport at the IEA, says: “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.

Sharing is the answer

The IEA is recommending a move towards “shared-space” models of traffic management.

These involve the removal of traditional control measures such as lights, road markings and bollards.

Areas which have introduced such schemes, such as the Cheshire town of Poynton, have seen improved traffic flow and a sharp reduction in accidents, the IEA says.

“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,” the report says.

Fines for unmanned roadworks

Meanwhile, in an effort to reduce congestion, the government is planning to fine councils and utility firms which leave roadworks unattended.

The Department for Transport has proposed issuing fines of up to £5,000 a day on unmanned works on A-roads in England.

It is hoped that this would encourage local authorities and other companies to complete works more quickly.

Former Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin says: “Roadworks can be essential, but that doesn’t mean they should be in place any longer than is absolutely necessary.”

David Bizley at the RAC adds: “The sight of roadworks left unattended while sitting in a traffic jam or when driving at the weekend is a real bugbear of motorists, so these proposals to encourage works to be completed more quickly is likely to be well received.”


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