In 2007, the small town of Bohmte (pop. 12,000) in western Germany eliminated all traffic controls, including traffic lights, signs and pedestrian crossings. The result can be seen in this video.

Poynton before – Look familiar?

Sure it works in Germany but us Anglophones are special and it wont work here, right? Well it is working in some parts of England, including the small town of Poynton (pop. 14,000) which has 26,000 vehicles passing through every day. We can see shared spaces in Fort Street in Auckland and they have been a huge success. But are we being too timid? Could the whole CBD be treated in this way and would this improve traffic and create better conditions for pedestrians and cyclists. It may not necessarily mean separated cycle paths are not needed but it would create an environment where they are much easier to have implemented. Was there any need to turn the centre of our city into a thoroughfare? Especially when we already have SH1 routed straight through the city centre

Poynton after – A much more welcoming atmosphere.

(despite that not being the original plan for Auckland).Amazingly it turns out that telling road users where to travel at all times doesn’t lead to better traffic outcomes, certainly not for people who choose to travel other than inside a steel box. Obviously we are not talking about motorways but surface streets in urban areas. Traffic engineers have been keen to compartmentalise road users into neat groups but I dont really think humans work like that. The succes of these alternative traffic treatments seem to bear that out.

At the very least, could this be the new design of Ponsonby Road, Parnell Road, Broadway or other areas that are a kind of “urban village”? Broadway carries around 40,000 vehicles a day, Ponsonby Road handles around 28,000 vehicles a day while Parnell Road caters for substantially less, perhaps around 15,000.

After 60 years of constantly widening roads and allocating more and more space to cars (with no appreciable effect on congestion while destroying these streets as places), surely things couldn’t get any worse on these streets? Currently they only serve to severe one side of the shopping area from the other and discourage walking and cycling. Worth trying? I think so.

Overseas examples
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7 responses to “The benefits of “Traffic Anarchy”

  1. A few years back there was a power cut during rush hour in Liverpool. All the traffic lights failed, and to everyone’s amazement the traffic flowed better and people got to their destinations sooner. Liverpool has a population in the same order of magnitude as Auckland. The effect isn’t limited to small towns.

    1. Same thing was anecdotally reported in Auckland during CBD power cuts in the last decade. It was mainly because people get a lot more courteous and careful when they are uncertain about whether they can go and just drive – but who’s to say we shouldn’t harness that.

      “Safety through uncertainty” is how my boss called it in my early days of my traffic engineering career.

  2. Every now and then, when another burst of enthusiasm pops up about “this amazing European concept of just removing all traffic signs, signals and markings” I feel compelled to point out that it’s not as simple as just that. As you’ll see in all the examples shown, the street environment is also typically changed, in terms of road surfacing, raised platforms, roundabouts, etc. Essentially you need to get the speed environment down, and then it is likely to work successfully. So this is no cheap solution if you currently have a conventional street.

    1. Not disputing that Glen, but if you look at what was done in these two towns, it wasnt traffic calming on a massive scale. Nowhere does the post suggest that all we need to do is “just removing all traffic signs, signals and markings”. Of course there is a lot more to it than that.

      But lets also not get sucked into the trap of saying there is something special about Auckland/NZ. There is nothing special about us except the awful transport choices we have made and continue to make. What we have done for the last 60 years isnt working so why not try something (anything) else?

  3. And do it on the motorways too so we can ride or walk over the harbour bridge. Easy to test some aspects by making sure the ramp lights are turned off.

  4. I wanted to bump this thread by pointing people to this great video from January 2013 explaining the Poynton scheme in more detail:

    One phrase that stuck out for me was that Poynton before the chnages was a “traffic controlled wasteland” – that is a very apt description of many roads in Auckland (and not just Auckland).

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