Do Roads Without Rules Lead To Greater Chaos, Or Greater Care?

This was a key question facing the town of Poynton, England. Though it is a small town, it sits at the junction of two important motorways. Traffic was choking the town center to the extent that residents had an easier time going to nearby towns to shop or work than to their own town center. The town was slowly dying.

The normal solutions to such a problem include widening the roads to cope with the traffic, and adding more traffic lights and signs, and more lines on the road. All of these solutions, however, appeared to have the opposite effect–the gridlock in the town center became so great that neither pedestrians nor cars could get through the area easily.

Before World War II, large cities such as New York and London were already full of traffic, yet they did not have many of the devices we now associate with safe roads. They did not have nearly as many traffic lights or signs. More often than not, they did not even have lines down the middle of their roads. We assume that roads back then were less safe, and that the traffic gridlock large cities now face is merely the result of having more cars. However, are either of these assumptions true? Or, is it possible that many of the very things we think will make the roads safer and the traffic flow better have actually had the opposite effect?

The town of Poynton decided to find out. They reduced the number of lanes on the motorways leading into the town center from three to one, and got rid of all the traffic lights and signs, and all the lines on the roads. What they discovered was that the traffic–both pedestrian and road traffic–flowed more quickly and easily, and that the roads actually became safer. As an added benefit, the town center was revitalized, as it became a place that people could easily reach and use, and as it became a pleasanter environment to be in.

This video explains what happened and why.

People need to be governed, this is true. And being governed means having rules. However, we too often assume that without rules, chaos will always result. But is it possible that the proliferation of  rules are only making life more chaotic? That instead of making the world safer, easier, and more convenient, they are making life more dangerous, more difficult, and more inconvenient for everyone? That if we remove many of these rules, instead of chaos resulting, people would be reminded to be more careful and show more concern for others?

This certainly appears to be what the people of Poynton have experienced.

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One Response to Do Roads Without Rules Lead To Greater Chaos, Or Greater Care?

  1. paulbrodie says:

    The alternative to external regulation is internal responsibility. I think people do have the capability, they just aren’t given enough reason or opportunity to exercise it. This traffic example is very interesting. Perhaps when the responsibility is put back on the individual then the individual steps up to it.

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