It was a blustery September afternoon back in 2010. The roots of a towering tree on the corner of George and Dorchester Street could no longer grip the wet spongy earth, its massive lumbering trunk succumbing to the wind and water, snapping a light pole on its way down.
More than 700 of us were without power that day, returning from work and school and making contingency plans on how to get dinner on the table without the use of blenders, microwaves and George Foreman Grills. By 6pm, a collective sigh of relief could be heard as kitchen lights, printers and refrigerator hums simultaneously fired up like an orchestral warm-up.
The George-Dorchester intersection’s tri-coloured sentinel would not be restored so quickly, and for the time being, became a four-way stop. Wasn’t that great?
It was my experience with the disabled intersection that you might wait seconds at most, before being able to get going. Once the lights were restored, I often found myself pining for the days of the four-way stop; often as I sat in the only vehicle at the red light.
So, now, what if we were to return to the old fashion stop sign? For starters, we would be moving in a direction that many North American and European cities are headed. Kansas City just removed 37 traffic lights in one fell swoop and replaced them with stop signs. A proposal has also been put forth to get rid of 90% of the traffic lights in the U.K., and replace them with stop signs and roundabouts.
In Britain, the thinking is that when placed unnecessarily, not only do lights stop and start the traffic needlessly, making journey times slower and pollution worse, but they regularly make the intersection more dangerous. If traffic lights are removed, drivers are forced to pay more attention to their surroundings, themselves, and other drivers on the road, in order to keep themselves safe. This means that they drive with more caution, and nobody
steps on the gas to make it through a stale yellow.
Sound crazy? Britain is not alone. The City of Drachten in Northern Holland, with a population of 50,000, has slowly removed all 15 sets of traffic lights. Both residents and city planners are very happy with the result.
Here is my proposal: let’s remove the traffic lights at the corner and of George and Dorchester. Agree or disagree? Send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.