3Get Rid of Left Turns
It turns out Derek Zoolander isn't the only one who can only turn right. Left turns account for most of the 2.4 million accidents that happen each year at intersections. That's not entirely surprising for anyone who's ever sat through an entire cycle of green lights waiting for the best time to lunge left. But unless you're a traffic engineer, you probably don't realize just how much left turns screw with our daily commute and general safety.
"We've lived our whole lives in here. Dad says our next holiday will be in the trunk."
They're such a statistical problem that UPS programmed their trucks' routes and navigation software to never make them. Not only did it make the routes safer, it actually saved the company enough time to deliver an additional 325,000 packages the first year they put the policy in place. Yes, going out of their way to avoid left turns actually saved them time.
OK, but what about those of us who aren't couriered about by a fleet of delivery trucks? Sometimes the place we're going is on the other side of the stream of cars speeding past our left shoulder, and there's no way around it.
"I'M A TANK, I'M A TANK, GET OUT MY WAY, I'M A TANK."
That's why traffic engineers have been taking the unorthodox step of trying to eliminate the left turn by redesigning the way roads intersect with one another. They've tried loop-based designs like the Michigan Left and New Jersey Jughandle, which failed to catch on as anything other than names for regional sexual maneuvers. They even tried something that looks like it would require a team of air traffic controllers. But when it comes to all-right-turn intersections, nobody's been able to beat the European free-for-all known as the roundabout.
Of course, such laissez-faire intersections might work in Europe, where conflict avoidance is the only thing they take more seriously than soccer. Here in America, we have things called rules, and something called technology, and the Ghostbusters, who taught us that if something is deadly, you throw electricity at it until it begs for mercy.
Nice try, oncoming traffic.
Actually, American intersections that got rid of left turns by converting traffic lights and four-way stops into roundabouts became almost twice as safe and efficient. A 2005 study found that roundabouts reduced rush hour delays over left-turn-reliant intersections by up to 93 percent, and congestion by up to 83 percent. A 2000 study that focused on safety saw a 38 percent reduction in total crash rates and a massive 90 percent reduction in crashes that resulted in either life-threatening or fatal injuries. The reason for this drop is quite simple: By using a roundabout, there are fewer directions from which you can get hit by a fellow driver, because all the cars are going the same way. It may feel more stressful, but your stress is focused on the one thing that matters (hint, it's not the text you're writing to a friend while waiting for the light to turn). There's also the fact that roundabouts require you to slow down, as opposed to yellow lights, which require you to speed up to get through them before your license plate gets photographed.
Unfortunately, roundabouts are more stressful than being told what to do by blinking lights. This makes them extremely unpopular with Americans who aren't politicians looking for something to scream about. Drivers usually come around once they're in place, and saving everyone time and money (by reducing your reliance on the brakes, they can also reduce annual fuel consumption at the intersection by more than 20,000 gallons).
And you can use the money you'll save to drink away the stress of driving!
American drivers can expect to see more of them just as soon as traffic engineers are able to wrestle budget control from the cold dead hands of the people who need to get reelected.
2Obliterate Road Signs
It was a typical Dutch small town in the North Friesland region, so dull it barely had a name. That is, until one day someone removed all the road signs.
We're not just talking about a few spare stop signs, either. They utterly destroyed every single aspect of traffic control on every single road. No lane markings, no lines and no signs. Only directional signs, 15 traffic lights (as opposed to the previous 5,000) and complete anarchy.
Look out! She's got sophisticated societal ideals! And a bike pump!
Except that, surprisingly, things didn't go Mad Max in a heartbeat. Instead of holding impromptu street racing competitions in spiky dune buggies, people actually slowed down and paid extra attention to their surroundings. As a result, serious accidents took a dramatic nosedive. Pedestrian fatalities at some particularly risky junctions dropped to zero.
Yes, things got better.
The mysterious someone who had removed the signs had, of course, been the government. The whole thing was an experiment by town planners of the Friesland area who felt like seeing how pedestrians, drivers and cyclists would fare if left to their own devices. While the plan had all the makings of the biggest, most dickish practical joke in recorded history, the results were extremely positive. All stripped roads quickly became so safe that pedestrians could cross with their eyes closed.
Not that anything was particularly stopping them before.
The idea behind the experiment was the theory that relying on signs means you aren't paying as much attention to other people on the road. Remove the signs, and road users actually have to rely on their eyes and acknowledge each other. Also contributing to the safety is the fact that without signs to tell how fast to drive, town area traffic has instinctively slowed to an average 18 mph. The near-absence of traffic lights has helped traffic flow more smoothly, so the overall journey time doesn't slow down too much, either.
"Hey wait, is that car being operated by a human? Move on, good sir!"
The idea of sign-free traffic is spreading through Europe like wildfire. Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Austria and Belgium have all taken their first baby steps in removing theirs. Others still are considering giving it a go.
Mind you, the whole no-signs schtick only works on urban areas. We're no experts, but we're guessing the removal of, say, speed limits on a motorway would quickly result in Blues Brothers levels of wrecked vehicles.
"We got a full tank of gas, it's dark, we're wearing sunglasses and my leg is broken in about seven places."
Oh, wait, the autobahn replaced the speed limit with a request that drivers use common sense, and it has a better safety record than U.S. highways. And lest you think that wouldn't work in America, Montana has tried highways both with and without speed limits. The very presence of speed limits doubled the number of fatal car accidents. Again, traffic engineers have been fighting for higher or nonexistent speed limits on highways for years based on evidence that driving without speed limits makes us more cautious when it comes to lane changes and buckling up.
"Your limitations actually seem more like a challenge, Smiley Face Guy."