Traffic lights are for cars

Traffic lights are for cars

Have you ever waited in front of a red traffic light … in vain? No cars in sight but the lights told you to stop. You felt stupid for not being allowed to assess the situation yourself, or you had a bad conscience for crossing against the red light?
It shouldn't be like that! Traffic lights were built for motorized traffic. They alone should be obliged to abide by the rules. Legalize jaywalking!

Ulrich Leth, Vienna, Austria

Jaywalking (in the meaning of crossing red lights) is a wide-spread phenomenon around the world - with different levels of frequency and acceptance depending on the respective culture. But why is it so common?

"The purpose of all the traffic lights, signs, and lines - is to prevent cars from running into everything else" [1].
Road Traffic Regulations were not designed for pedestrians (and cyclists) in the first place. They were introduced by powerful lobbies to ensure the ease and flow of motorized traffic, often at the expense of the ease, flow and even safety of non-motorized traffic.
Furthermore, traffic lights are commonly oriented on the traffic volumes of motorized traffic, distributing green times according to the number of cars. Pedestrians are often left with remaining time gaps and long waiting times. In the same time vehicle drivers are to blame in more than half of the pedestrian accidents at signaled intersections - meaning that even when pedestrians obey red lights they cannot rely on not being harmed. The traffic light drill exerts a sense of "pseudo-safety".

So pedestrians are discriminated by traffic lights that insufficiently protect them. The obedience of red lights is further diminished when traffic volumes are low and pedestrians would easily find a time gap to cross the street. And jaywalkers almost never receive negative feedback; they nearly never get caught and penalized. On the contrary, walking against red lights saves time and may even be safer than inattentively crossing a road on green.
That's why we propose a new set of Road Traffic Regulations. A core principle of these new rules should be the promotion of self-responsibility and consideration (protection of others). We propose to legalize crossing against red lights for pedestrians (and cyclists) when not obstructing or endangering themselves or others.

So why only pedestrians and cyclists should be allowed to run red lights?
Pedestrians (and cyclists) have an unobstructed perception of the environment; they see, hear and even smell their surroundings directly. By having little mass and inertia they are very maneuverable. They can quickly accelerate and decelerate. Their line of sight is elevated in contrast to a seated car driver's.
Car drivers on the other hand only have an obstructed view. Through their drivers' perspective they have a low seating position, a limited field of vision and blind spots. Their acoustic perception is obstructed through closed windows or even loud music. Enormous mass and inertia make them rather inert (in terms of reaction) and inflexible road users.
And finally pedestrians are vulnerable. As unprotected, "weak" road users they are at the mercy of motorists, even when they have the right of way. And if they decide to disobey a red traffic light, they mostly exert special care and attention, as they will most probably be the only casualties in an eventual accident.

What seems to be an outrageous claim already works in some countries: depending on the exact wording in the road traffic regulations, walking against red lights is at least not forbidden in Great Britain and Norway, it in only not advised.
Legalizing jaywalking would not only make the oldest and most sustainable transport mode more attractive, but also give back a bit of personal responsibility to a society which is used to regulate anything.

For a more detailed explanation why legalizing jaywalking would work, see the link below: Leth, U. et al. (2014) Innovative approaches of promoting non-motorized transport in cities. In: "Road and Rail Infrastructure III, Proceedings of the Conference CETRA 2014", S. Lakusic (Ed.); Department of Transportation, University of Zagreb, Zagreb/HR (2014), ISSN: 1848-9842; S. 875 - 881.

[1] http://washcycle.typepad.com/home/2008/07/the-myth-of-the.html

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