British town does away with traffic lights, with good results:

Via Tyler Cowen. (H/T: SeattleBrad)

40 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Turning Out the Lights”

  1. This happens periodically in Seattle, when the power in parts of the city goes out, and all the traffic signals stop functioning. I have never heard anyone say that having all traffic lights go out in certain parts of Seattle improved traffic. So, this has been tested many times in Seattle, with different results than in this video.

    Why don’t they try it on MLK JR Way for a couple of weeks, and see how it works?

    1. Did anyone say this was a good idea for Seattle? I think we can universally agree that taking all the traffic lights out of Seattle would be a bad idea.

    2. I don’t think a power outage is a fair comparison – this was one intersection, was planned and warned about for some time, and although I wish the video had expanded on this it even explicitly says that just switching off the signals alone doesn’t work because drivers continue to assume priority over pedestrians.

    3. It will work in some place, not in others. Personally, I think roundabouts and stop signs would do a better job of this.

    4. England’s well-planned round-a-bout system compared to the poorly planned American-supersized streets is no comparison at all. I’m sure if you taught Americans how to drive around “light-less” round-a-bouts, there could be a similar result.

      If you turn off a traffic light in America, you get a four-way stop. If you were however to build round-a-bouts at each intersection, well, that’s a different story.

  2. This is very interesting, but I wish they’d explained what else they did, along with switching off the traffic lights.

    1. Looks to me like they already many traffic calming features in place; curb extensions, median islands, etc. Kind of surpised they didn’t just use mini-circles (small roundabouts), though I think they have used more traffic lights in the UK over the last couple of decades. Bristol even has a large roundabout with traffic lightsroundabout with traffic lights, kind of the worst of both worlds.

      Here in WA, Port Townsend & WSDOT just finished building 2 roundabouts, along with some calming features, on 20 going into town instead of 2 more intersections with traffic lights. This is the route that traffic from the ferry takes.

  3. There are a lot of unmarked intersections in Seattle. They work fine, where there is little traffic. I drive and walk through unmarked intersections all the time, without any problems.

    I don’t see how they would work at high-traffic intersections, but, if they are supposed to make traffic flow better, why not give them a try in a few high-traffic spots in Seattle, and see what happens?

    The video seems to be from a small town with only one intersection in the entire town.

    1. If you were to try it in Seattle, you must construct a well-planned system for it. Simply “turning out the lights” at a high-traffic spot would create a four-way stop and traffic jams.

      The intersections must be round-a-bouts to work, and I recall the miniture traffic circles around the neighborhoods on Capitol Hill are the only ones in Seattle.

    2. The video says it handles about 20,000 vehicles per day. There are good candidates in Seattle, but it’s not as simple as turning off signals if you don’t already have the shared space design like the English roundabout.

      By the way, drivers for the most part love the shared space intersections because they don’t have to wait at a light, just slow down to a safe speed.

      Hans Monderman was one of the best know implementers:

    3. Anecdotally, it seems that very, very few Seattle drivers even realize that every intersection is a crosswalk, marked or not. It drives me crazy when I’m trying to cross the street near my house in Ravenna.

      1. It doesn’t help that drivers here are not legally required to stop for you unless you’re in the crosswalk, i.e. drivers are not required to stop for pedestrians who are standing on the curb waiting to cross the street; only when a pedestrian steps into the street is a car required to stop. Which, of course, creates a catch-22 for pedestrians: you’d be crazy to step off the sidewalk without waiting for the cars to stop first, but the cars don’t have to stop until you step off the sidewalk. Which is why most pedestrians in this city spend a lot of time waiting for breaks in traffic.

      2. This is kind of funny. Seattle drivers are the most timid drivers. There’s a reason Pemco made the “No, you go” commercial. On multiple occassions while waiting to cross 15th on Cap Hill I’ve hard cars stop for me….when they had the green light! That annoys the heck out of me actually.

        And it’s not just Seattle drivers that don’t know…


        “Although pedestrians have the right-of-way at these unmarked crossings, most pedestrians—and drivers—don’t know that. Even worse, Mitman and her group of researchers found that 35 percent of drivers surveyed did not believe pedestrians have the right-of-way at marked crosswalks.”

      3. Drivers stop because they don’t want to get tickets as the pedestrian laws have become stricter and stricter. It’s hard to distinguish “being in intersection” vs “stepping into the intersection” vs “wanting to step into the intersection” when the transition between the three states is practically instantaneous. Any disputes will usually be resolved in the pedestrian’s favor.

        As for the jaywalking issue, I make a “large street” vs “small street” distinction, and I wish the law and other peds would do the same. It’s silly to wait at a two-lane low-traffic street. But on the other hand, I can’t believe the (presumably) east coasters who just walk right through forcing cars to stop for them. That’s really disrespectful to the drivers, even if you’re anti-car like I am.

        My favorite moment was when somebody crossed six-lane Aurora around 90th (as they often do), got clipped by a car hood, went upside down in the air in a complete circle and landed on his feet. Quite a cirque du soleil.

  4. Dravus & 15th, a similarly complex intersection to the one in the video, used to switch to a flashing red at rush hour:

    The intersection … used to run in a typical signal operation at all times, including rush hours, said Spillar of Seattle’s Department of Transportation. However, engineers found that was causing rush-hour backups.

    The Seattle transportation department staffers met with community members, Spillar said, and agreed to try flashing red lights at the intersection during the busiest periods… Spillar said traffic is flowing more smoothly than before. “This change has been in place and working well for several years.”

    Of course, that was in 2004, and by 2007 SDOT decided that the flashing-red arrangement wasn’t working and went back to regular cycling at all times. Among the reasons for the switch back? “The department also thinks the regular cycle is better for pedestrians who are crossing the street.”

    In essence, what’s done in the video is just signal retiming. Little or nothing was done to improve the intersection for non-vehicular users, and indeed for some like the blind it may have gotten worse. But it’s improved vehicular throughput, so it’s a success? The real lesson from the video (and from Dravus) is that changing light cycles doesn’t cost anything, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t experiment with different cycles at different types of intersections periodically to see what works “best” (depending on our goals). But changing light cycles will only do so much for peds and vulnerable users. The things that generally make an intersection better for those users (curb bulbs, pedestrian islands, traffic calming devices, etc) usually cost a lot more than retiming a signal.

    1. So if we remove all vehicle traffic signals from all roads crossing the Link tracks, there will be less accidents, not more. That’s what I hear MHD saying. Doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of common sense in that line of thinking.

  5. The RapidRide
    A schedule
    schedule is published, and it’s not that bad. Starting
    , service between Tukwila International Blvd station and Federal
    Way is every 15 minutes from 4:45am – 10pm, 10 minutes during weekday
    peak (7-9am and 2-6pm). After 10pm it runs every 30 minutes until
    1:50am, then 3am, 4:15, 4:30 (weekdays only), and 4:45. (Schedule
    subject to change, and the night times are approximate.) The main
    increases over the 174
    are peak hour, evenings until 10pm, 12-2am, and early mornings after
    4:45am. Given that 15 minutes is the general minimum for frequent
    service (the level at which people don’t need a schedule and are
    willing to make spontaneous trips on transit), the A will meet that
    standard between 4:45am and 10pm every day.

    There was some concern that RapidRide wouldn’t be any more frequent
    than the existing routes, but that’s not true for the A at least. Some
    of us (including me) wish RapidRide were configured like Swift,
    with wider stop spacing every mile or so, and a shadow bus for the
    in-between stops. But it’s a step in the right direction, and a
    starting point for a future of high-frequency transit corridors.

    My main wish for all RapidRide routes is to increase the frequency to
    match Link: at least
    every 10 minutes 8am-10pm, and every 15 minutes 10pm-1am. We can’t do
    it now because of Metro’s budget hole. But as money becomes available
    you can add a few trips here and there and eventually fill out the
    schedule. The visibility of RapidRide means that, if Metro is serious
    about promoting frequent-transit corridors, it will funnel any extra
    service hours toward RapidRide routes, and reconfigure other routes to
    meet them.

    One little thing disturbs me. The RapidRide
    says, “If you pay with cash or fare tickets, you’ll still
    have to board through the front door and pay. At bus stops without
    ORCA readers, you’ll have to board through the front door to use an
    ORCA card as well. At RapidRide stations, customers can pre-pay using
    ORCA fare cards and then board through any door. But during the day (6
    a.m. to 7 p.m.), you can hop on the bus through any door if you have a
    valid transfer from another bus or have already paid with an ORCA card
    at a RapidRide station card reader.” So it sounds like it’ll be
    front-door-only after 7pm. Psst, Metro, Swift has all-door boarding in
    the evenings. I hope it doesn’t mean that the off-board ORCA readers
    will shut down at 7pm, but that would be silly, wouldn’t it? I’ve put
    a question in the comments to clarify.

    1. I’m sure the schedules will change (hopefully) but as it is now, those late night RRA runs don’t meet up with a 124 or Link to continue on past Tukwila. Is it assumed that most people using this route so early in the morning are headed to the airport only and not all the way downtown?

      1. I hope that Sundays after 11pm and Mon-Sat after midnight the RRA times are aligned with onward connections on the 124 so that it’s possible to get to Seattle by transit.

      1. I hope they publish a full schedule, and not just the blanket statement “every 15 minutes”. If you work or live nearby, you should know when the bus will come, so that you can time it to get there at the right time. If it is every 3-5 minutes or maybe every 5-7 minutes, then no schedule is needed, but with 10-15 minute headways, there should be a schedule.

    2. Sorry about the formatting; I pasted the text in and didn’t check for duplicate line breaks.

      The 174 night owl is through-routed with the 124, so I hear. So maybe they’ll extend the nighttime A runs to downtown? At least half the ridership must be coming from Seattle.

      Regarding the evening payment situation, it may be just an unclear explanation rather than draconian rules. The last two sentences are confusing.

      1. Looking at the weekday schedule, the A line will not be extended to/from Downtown Seattle. Most trips arriving at Tukwila LR Station after 10:30pm have a corresponding Rt 124 trip leaving for Downtown Seattle.

        10:43p -> 10:48p Rt 124
        11:13p -> 11:18p Rt 124
        11:43p -> 11:48p Rt 128
        12:13x -> no Rt 124
        12:38x -> 12:41x Rt 124
        1:08x -> no Rt 124
        1:33x -> 1:35x Rt 124
        2:33x -> 2:39x Rt 124
        3:43x -> no Rt 124
        4:58x -> 5:05a Rt 124 (next service day)

    3. Does anyone know if they’ve published the ST542 schedule? The pdf on the ST site says it will start in Sept but I’ve seen folks here say it will start in Oct.

    4. Here’s the official reply about RapidRide payment with ORCA:

      The station ORCA readers will not be turned off at night, but they will have signs indicating that they are for use between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. At other times, all passengers will have to board through the front door of the bus and pay there. If you’re using an ORCA card, you’ll need to tap your card there. If you’ve already tapped your card at the station reader, it will show up as a valid transfer when you board the bus, as long as you board within two hours of having paid.

      The fare collection system on the A Line will serve as a pilot test, and Metro expects to make adjustments as we get experience. While we aren’t providing all-door boarding at all locations and times of day, we are focusing the all-door boarding at the locations and times with the most riders and the most potential benefit.

      There’s also a picture of the explanatory sign on the ORCA readers, [at the RapidRide blog link above].

  6. A traffic jam stretching more than 60 miles in China has entered its ninth day with no end in sight, state media reported.

    Cars and trucks have been slowed to a crawl since August 14 on the National Expressway 110, which is also known as the G110, the major route from Beijing to Zhangjiakou, Xinhua News reported.

      1. Arg… Add me to the list of folks requesting an edit feature…

        Sounds like they’re on their way to recreating the Dr. Who episode Gridlock

  7. Saturday I attended an event in north Kirkland. It was at a community center but on a residential street. There are three buses north of the Kirkland TC (Market St, 124th, and 132nd), and they all run once an hour. (The 255 on Market St is half-hourly daytime but hourly evenings.) Even the bus to Bellevue (230) — joining two urban villages — is hourly. That’s a really large swath of area for hourly buses. There should at least be RapidRide from Kirkland to Bellevue, to Bothell, and to Redmond, even if they have to eliminate parallel buses to implement it.

    Although I do remember that when I was growing up in Bellevue, all Eastside buses were hourly. I was stunned the first time I rode to Seattle and saw the buses went every 30 minutes. Bellevue achieved 30-minutes only by interscheduling two routes: Bellevue-Seattle (226/235, now), and NE 8th ST (226/253, now 230/253). And I think the 340 (on 405) was half-hourly in the daytime, but you had to walk to a freeway stop to get it. Then, as now, few people rode the bus, partly because they liked their cars but a lot because there were no frequent-bus corridors.

  8. Was at SeaTac station the other day and contra a recent post – don’t know if this has been reported yet – they’re back to using boards instead of the variable message signs to indicate the next train.


    BOSTON, Aug. 23 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve made a discovery that could bring the era of energy self-sufficient homes and small businesses one step closer.

    Scientists at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society have reported the discovery of a powerful catalyst that would be a key element in inexpensive solar energy systems that could free homes and businesses from dependence on the electric company, a society release said Monday.

    “Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” study leader Daniel Nocera said. “We’re working toward development of ‘personalized’ energy units that can be manufactured, distributed and installed inexpensively.

  10. Did anyone notice the complete lack of “mass transit”.

    And the pervasive number of cars in a country with a well developed rail network?

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