Could uncontrolled intersections reduce accidents?

IMG_3427In light of my recent traffic accident, I’ve been casually reading about intersections. One post I found particularly interesting — at least when thinking of it in the context of Salt Lake — is this one by Slate’s Matthew Yglesias, who argues that uncontrolled intersections might offer advantages over controlled ones.

Basically, Yglesias is pointing out that intersections with no traffic lights may work as well or better than those with lights. He uses an example from Cambodia, and concludes that traffic signals are really subsidies to the auto industry:

The key thing is that basically everyone drives slowly and steadily rather than in a stop-and-go manner. Stop-and-go turns out to be less a way of increasing safety than a way of maximizing the value of vehicles with high top speeds (i.e., automobiles) rather than slower vehicles (bicycles, scooters, motorcycles). So filling your city with signalized intersections turns out to be a kind of backdoor subsidy to automobile ownership. That’s fine if promoting the auto industry is your policy goal (as it certainly was for the United States in the second half of the 20th century) but as more and more western cities now claim to have the policy goal of reducing car ownership, they might find they have a lot to learn from poorer countries.


It’s difficult to imagine this idea in Salt Lake City, but that’s only because we have a custom of driving extremely fast compared to other downtowns and because we have so many vehicles on the streets. Both of those problems are due to wide streets, too many car subsidies, etc.

Those problems are not inevitable either; it would be entirely possible to reengineer Salt Lake streets for slow, constant traffic — with or without traffic signals — that is safer for all types of transportation. What we lack is not the ability or the know-how, it’s the will.


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