Having spent €200,000 on traffic signs that were critised by all and sundry (apart from us, we were uncharacteristically nice about them) and then more money replacing them, the Dublin Transportation Office (DTO) now wants to remove them.
We wouldn’t dare suggest that the people running the DTO are after top jobs in the new authority, but some of the things coming from them of late are a tad avent-garde, to say the very least.
It’s not just the street signs that, current DTO chief, John Henry is proposing to remove, but also the footpaths and all road markings. There’s no mention in the interview if this includes bus stops or even bus lanes, of which there are not enough as it stands.
Another idea being floated yet again and presented as new is to allow trams priority at traffic lights. That sounds very nice for tram users, but what about the buses? Dublin Bus carry far more passengers than the Luas system ever will, why not give our buses priority at the lights? In fact, what not let our buses share road space with the trams?
TAKE A street in Dublin. Eliminate the footpaths. Get rid of all the “clutter” – traffic lights, direction signs, pedestrian crossings and guard rails, then see what happens.
That’s the experiment John Henry, director of the Dublin Transportation Office, wants to try out in the centre of the city.
“Without any signs, traffic will automatically slow down and there will be fewer accidents because drivers will take more care,” he said confidently.
“The environment is what controls speed, not signs or rules. It’s psychological. Signs like ‘slow’, ‘stop’ and ‘yield’ are often not seen by drivers. If you take the signs and kerb lines away, and say ‘go figure it out yourselves’, you’re creating uncertainty – and that’s safer.”
Evidence from abroad, rather surprisingly, supports Mr Henry’s novel proposal. Five years ago, the Dutch town of Drachten removed signs and traffic lights as part of a “naked streets” experiment – and accident figures plummeted as drivers became more cautious.
The idea of “going Dutch” was taken up by Daniel Moylan, deputy leader of the Tory-controlled London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Mr Moylan said it was “about re-civilising the city, to the benefit of all people who use the roads. We want to stop this top-down system of signs and signals to keep drivers and other road users apart, and give everyone back a sense of shared ownership and responsibility.”
And that’s what was done in Kensington High Street three years ago.
Following the removal of pedestrian crossings and guard rails – those sheep-pen railings so favoured by traffic engineers to keep pedestrians corralled – accidents have been cut by 44 per cent, compared to 17 per cent for London as a whole.
Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins noted how: “Drivers undirected by signs, kerbs or road markings are faced with confusion and ambiguity. Since they do not want to cause accidents at junctions, or damage their cars, they reduce their speed and establish eye contact with other users.”
Meanwhile, Mr Henry says several minutes could be shaved off Luas journey times if traffic lights were tweaked to give trams priority.
In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Henry said there was no reason why the computer-controlled traffic lights could not be altered to detect the approach of a tram.
“If a Sandyford tram carrying a full capacity load of 200 passengers is held up by 90 seconds at, say, Hatch Street and Cuffe Street, that equates to a delay of five person hours. So what’s needed is a ‘hurry call’ on the traffic lights at these junctions.”
Mr Henry said the DTO favoured “optimising the movement of people, rather than vehicles” and believed that the same rule should apply at pedestrian crossings, where people often have to wait for four minutes or more to cross a street legally.