We don’t need no .. traffic lights

We don’t need no .. traffic lights

Have you heard about the concept of the car-free city? It's a utopia, an unlikely concept, as cars will be irreplaceable for individual transport of disabled persons, emergency vehicles and some forms of freight transport in the short run. But how about a city based on self-responsibility, human scale and slow speeds: a city without traffic lights? Imagine the advantages for walkers and cyclists.

Ulrich Leth, Vienna, Austria

Thousands of years humans have lived in cities without traffic lights. Only the emergence of cars and velocities beyond human perception entailed the spatial and temporal separation of incompatible traffic flows.
Today traffic lights are applied to guarantee the quality and safety of mainly car traffic, thus knowingly discriminating and sometimes even endangering active transport modes such as walking and cycling. Self-responsibility and consideration are replaced by blind obedience - a fatal concept in a free and self-determined society.
In the envisaged project we aim to develop the vision of a city without traffic lights, which allows for an equal participation in traffic by all transport modes - as intended in the 1st paragraph of the Road Traffic Regulations (§ 1. (1) StVO). The goal of the project is to illustrate a framework in which a city without traffic lights is possible. Currently, traffic lights have to be implemented when certain thresholds (traffic volumes, waiting times) are exceeded. Our project follows a different approach: how can the basic conditions of traffic be changed in order not to need traffic lights anymore? And what would be the social, ecologic and economic effects of such a measure?
Travel speeds would have to be much lower than today - 20mph would be the speed limit on major roads in the city, on access and feeder roads even less. Intersections would be unsignaled and non-prioritized (right-before-left). Car volumes would need to be (and would be) much lower - only necessary traffic would remain: individual transport of disabled persons, emergency vehicles and some freight transport. Most commuters would switch to the then much more attractive modes walking, cycling and public transport. Undoubtedly local businesses would profit from the increased non-motorized volumes in the streets. Public space could be reallocated to sustainable transport modes, thus even more improving the conditions for those modes.
There is an enormous potential for cities without traffic lights. In Vienna alone, around 1.300 intersections are controlled by traffic lights. In the remaining capital cities of Austria there are more than 900. Pedestrians and cyclists - but also car drivers - would profit from the slower but smoother traffic flow, and the environment as well.
The city without traffic lights improves the conditions for walking as a form of urban transport. Instead of finding yet another technological solution for Walking 2.0 we propose a social innovation: Walking 3.0 – the return to the human-scaled, sustainable transport.

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Submitter

Ulrich Leth, Vienna, Austria

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