The Institute of Economic Affairs is calling for four-fifths of traffic lights to be removed, saying it will boost the economy and improve road safety.
In a paper published today (25th January), the think tank says the high proportion of traffic regulation is not only detrimental to road safety, the economy and the environment, it also imposes huge costs on road-users, taxpayers and communities.
It claims that traffic regulation is introduced without analysing the full cost to road-users. All too often, the report claims, policymakers neglect negative effects and approve schemes even when costs outweigh benefits.
From 2000 to 2014, when there was little growth in traffic volumes, the number of traffic lights on Britain’s roads increased by 25 per cent. The number of junctions controlled by signals has risen to about 15,000 with a further 18,000 pedestrian crossings. The number of instructional traffic signs in England reached 4.57 million in 2013 – an increase of 112 per cent since 1993.
The report also looks at other areas of driver control including speed cameras saying that, after Britain’s first speed was installed in 1992, within 20 years there were more than 3,000 at 2,300 fixed sites and that monitoring now extends to large sections of the motorway network, a step change in the surveillance of motorists.
The IEA report discusses the proliferation in 20 mph zones, saying that in 2013 Islington became the first borough to bring in a blanket 20 mph speed limit, and by summer 2015 around 14 million people lived in local authorities that had adopted or were in the process of adopting a 20 mph standard. It also looks at the effect of bus lanes on traffic.
“The importance of the road network means the cumulative effect of these measures imposes an enormous burden on the UK economy” says the report’s summary. “Just a two-minute delay to every car trip equates to a loss of approximately £16 billion a year.”
It says there is a strong economic case for replacing standard traffic regulation with strategies that harness voluntary cooperation among road-users. ‘Shared space’ schemes – such as the one in Poynton in Cheshire – show the transformational benefits of this unregulated, design approach, it says. It wants most traffic lights to be replaced by filter-in-turn or all-way give-ways. Many bus lanes, cycle lanes, speed cameras and parking restrictions should also go. “Culling such traffic management infrastructure would deliver substantial economic and social benefits,” it says.