The traffic light seems to have developed over a number of years, but the invention is perhaps best credited to policeman Lester Wire in Salt Lake City in 1912. He was the first person tocreate a “traffic light”, which controlled flows using a red and green signla device, as opposed to by semaphore.
But what if there was a world without traffic lights, or perhaps a town without them? This isn’t about implementing the faddish shared space ideology, but this is about looking at a simple practical way in which road networks could be built without space conflict between different user types.
As it happens, this town does indeed already exist. The “no traffic light town” was indeed invented in the early 1980s, and since then it has been extended to encompass a populuation of around 50,000 people. The town is Houten in the Netherlands, just to the south of Utrecht.
So how does a traffic light free town work – does it mean no cars at all? Far from it! houten is a two car family type of town, built to act as an overflow suburb, and built with an extensive ring road that provides fast access throughout the region. But the clever bit is that drivers can only access each zone from the edge of the figure of 8 ring road. Pedestrians and cyclists can go between any zone, and they can also cross the ring road by going over or under it, but they never have to go along it, nor do they have to cross it on the surface – hence no traffic lights!
So in areas where there is mixing between all the different road user types, it’s always low volumes of small vehicles driven at low speeds.
Where the cycle paths meet in the park, there are of course, no lights! They were never removed, they just weren’t installed in the first place! This isn’t a fad, the town has continued to grow, yet no such lights have been installed. Why would there be?
Scale this up further to any large city, and there are still no traffic lights on any pedestrian or cycle path anywhere in the world, if you take the motor traffic out of the equation. So there you go – there really is no such thing as a traffic light – only a motor light!