Last week Business Tech reported on Cape Town spending R481m to fix traffic within the city. There is an unfortunate history in South Africa of problem solving by overspending and underthinking. A tactic of shock and awe characterised by throwing unfathomable sums of money to resolve engineering problems through brute force solutions. Cases in points - the R4.9bn spent on frigates to solve "drug smuggling, human trafficking and poaching"; the 1064 locomotive engines to solve our railway problems (R50bn); the current N7 upgrade (R4.3bn); the mystery of the award-winning two-lane Koeberg Interchange upgrade (R471M) in which the elevated freeway traverses 1km of elevated double lane only to be reduced to a single lane in the last 300m; or... the R481M in infrastructure spending announced last week on battling congestion in the city. Does this have a familiar ring to it by now?
It's time to look for solutions to our traffic at a fundamental level. These fundamentals are based on the premise that stopping traffic unnecessarily burns fuel, costs time and money, and causes pollution. Most of these seventeen solutions should cost next to nothing to implement, but do require an upgrade in policy and thinking.
1) Remove the delay on traffic lights when there is an arrow to follow. Why does the green arrow start flashing only AFTER the light turns red?
2) Implement an red+amber light before green like it has been implemented in the UK since 1958.
3) Stop all automatic pedestrian lights. These should only ever be activated upon pressing and after a considered delay - oh, and traffic should be allowed to move through a pedestrian crossing as soon as there are no pedestrians. It costs nothing for pedestrians to wait but burns fuel and increases congestion when cars are forced to stop.
4) Allow left turns at traffic lights whenever it is safe to do so.
5) At non-peak hours at quiet intersections, convert all traffic lights where visibility is good to the most busy direction being permanently green and the quiet direction to flashing red (yield).
6) Invest in feeder lanes not traffic lights on highways. We need less not more traffic-lights (I'm looking at you M5 and the N2 at Somerset West)!
7) Convert all four-way stop streets to two way stop streets (with stops in the LEAST busy direction) and all three-way stops to a stop in the least busy direction.
8) More learners to walk and cycle to school/university and share rides - this will limit the school traffic rush.
9) Use ride sharing apps more
10) Develop an app to allow citizens to vote on poorly-timed traffic intersections and have these prioritized by the traffic department.
11) Allow sensible parking on pavements in suburban areas if it does not unduly obstruct pedestrian pedestrian traffic and eases traffic.
12) Simply Unnecessary Vehicles (SUVs) should require special difficult-to-obtain licenses with justification other than "I have lots of kids" or "I want to feel safe". SUVs consume more fuel and thus pollute more than a sedan and endanger traffic behind them by blocking the view of the road ahead. Additionally, while there are marginal safety gains to be had in the case of an accident when within an SUV, fatalities in oncoming vehicles are considerably higher and almost 200% higher when hit side-on by a SUV. SUVs have a higher chance of causing an accident compared with ordinary sedans because of longer stopping distances, increased chance of rolling and recklessness caused by perceptions of driver safety. Combined with an 81% increase in pedestrian fatalaties - perhaps a licence isn't enough, SUVs ought to be banned!
13) Intersections should be made truly intelligent by utilizing a neural net solution to inform timing of traffic lights. Simulations have shown these to reduce mean delay time by 78% and mean stoppage time by 85%.
14) Modern roundabouts (not traffic circles) should replace traffic lights where possible and be based on rules of merging (like cogs) rather than a yield system. They are 20% more efficient than traffic lights and have been found to cut accidents by 78% and fatal injuries by 80%! Costs of a roundabout are comparable in the long-term to traffic lights which require ongoing maintenance.
15) Facilitate and incentivize the use of bicycles, electric bikes and electric cars.
The status quo is not acceptable and we can no longer afford to take for granted assumptions about outdated traffic laws or implementations nor assume that more is better. An example is Poynton in the UK in which at one busy intersection, removing all traffic lights and nearly all signs improved traffic flow for both cars and pedestrians and accidents were cut by over 400%. Last month Transport Minister Blade Nzimande announced a number of "new traffic policies" including increasing the number of traffic cops on our national roads and implementing the demerit point system. What an officious sounding combination! A team in Washington state found that in just 6 jurisdictions there were over 2300 accident cases in which cops at fault.
So Mr Blade if you're serious about public safety and really want to cut accidents - remove all traffic cameras except overall speed cameras from the roads. These cause fatal accidents when cars suddenly slow down. Especially culpable are red-light traffic cameras where an overview by the National Motorist Association in the District of Columbia shows that rear-end collisions are increased by 107% once traffic cameras are installed. In the case of Oceanside, California by as much as 800%. So please, let's have some people in the traffic department and city planning that are big on thinking, not rhetoric and spending.