Our very own Keith Firth was recently asked to provide expert opinion on the issue of traffic signal control for BBC Radio 5 live Drive show, hosted by Tony Livesey. In a lively and entertaining discussion, Keith spoke about the merits of conventional versus unconventional approaches to traffic management, in response to a recently published document ‘Seeing Red (Traffic controls and the economy)’ by the Institute of Economic Affairs (January 2016), which can be found at www.iea.org.uk/publications/research/seeing-red-traffic-controls-and-the-economy.
The report describes how the continual growth in conventional and formal traffic management infrastructure and strategies across the UK are not necessarily good for the economy, the movement of traffic, road safety, public health and well-being, and suggests that there is a strong economic case for removing a lot of the traffic regulation we see around us and have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. In recent years, there have been a number of successful traffic signal removal schemes, such as those in Coventry, Poynton and Bexleyheath to name but a few, but these and other schemes can hit the headlines following the frustration of some road user groups, especially the blind and visually impaired pedestrians, who feel that they are unsafe and difficult to use.
Keith has, for many years, been a leading expert on the issues around traffic control reform and the complexities of designing, modelling and delivering simplified streetscape schemes that seem to go against the traditional norms of road and junction design. His team has developed techniques for assessing the potential benefits of removing normal traffic signal and give-way controls in favour of unconventional designs that seek to enhance the public realm and civilise our streets. He argues that this form of scheme design can be valuable under the right conditions, but that there will always be a case for formal traffic controls where the conflicts between vehicle traffic, buses, cyclists and pedestrians are too great and difficult to manage without them. The traffic light is here to stay for some time to come.