Living in New England, I’ve become a fan of the roundabout, rotary, or traffic circle. While it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to venture into one, the fact is that you can feel your attentiveness increase, your speed decrease, and your safety improve. Studies have shown that traffic circles are not only incredibly safe because they make drivers watchful and properly nervous — they also make life safer for pedestrians.

A recent experiment in turning off traffic lights in one UK town is worth watching.

Drive safely this Friday the 13th. And remember — sometimes, the solution is to undo a prior solution.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


8 Thoughts on "Want a Solution to Bad Traffic? Turn Off the Traffic Signals"

Bless. Nobody here in the UK ever, ever calls them ‘traffic circles’. I’ve been driving for years and I don’t think I’ve ever even heard that phrase.
Good post though!

Wow – the fascinating part of this is the comment about how removing the controls isn’t good enough because people still assume right of way according to the traffic rules that were previously enforced by the lights (and what they’ve done their whole life). They fundamentally need to shift how they think about driving. AMAZING!

As a resident of Portishead, I’m gald that it has finally made it’s way onto The Scholarly Kitchen.

Since switching off the lights the traffic has been flowing a lot better, I wouldn’t say “Congestion is a thing of the past” but it is certainly an improvement. It certainly never helped in the past that the phasing of the lights was awful and there was no filter lanes for turning left.

Traffic circles safer for pedestrians? I spent a couple of hours walking through the heart of New Delhi, and every time I had to work my way around a traffic circle, I saw my life pass before my eyes. Apparently Indian drivers believe that to navigate traffic circles, you accelerate to warp speed and close your eyes.

In Europe, where traffic circles/roundabouts are widespread, the rules of engagement differ from country to country. In the UK, you must give way to traffic already circling; in some other countries, entering traffic has priority. Get it wrong and you are likely to crash.

So one can do without signals so long as one obeys the rules. On that basis, I can confidently predict such an experiment would be disastrous here in New York…

I live in London but drive when I am in Trivandrum, India. I simply could not work out the rule at roundabouts. Then one day I worked it out. The bigger vehicle has right of way. After learning that, it is much easier to navigate the roads in Trivandrum!!

Exactly! It’s so intuitive, it’s highly usable! Might makes right (of way).

The concept of “naked streets” is an interesting one in interface design. Instead of our usual goals, which are to make things faster and more efficient for the user, the goal here is to slow the user down, and promote cautious behavior. It makes for a challenge as one has to adapt almost the opposite mindset from normal.

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