There's a certain glee in reports today that the accident-reducing 20mph zones in our towns and cities don't work. At least, it seems, not without speed cushions, chicanes, steel posts to reduce lane width and so on. I can't say I'm surprised.
Years ago I pointed out that the Pelican crossings being installed to replace existing Zebra crossings were actually more dangerous. Getting the FOI data from the Transport Department had been like pulling teeth. Yes, 20m of steel cattle pen barrier either side of the crossing on both sides of the road, loud beeping and flashing noises, peremptory commands to stand or walk, a vulgar and intrusive part of the Big State imposed on small communities, actually killed more people than the simple painted stripes on the road that they replaced. The problem, the DoT hypothesised, was twofold. First, people didn't obey the commands of the State and oh horror decided themselves when to cross the road - the younger ones even leapt over the barriers at times. Secondly (and I suspect the real reason) was that drivers seeing green lights didn't look for hazards in the same way that the glowing orange balls of Hore-Belisha's beacons induced.
Conservative councillor Daniel Moylan and his colleagues at K&C Council took personal liability for changing Kensington High Street when the council's officers refused to do so. They ripped out every cattle barrier, every obstacle, all the peremptory commands, scores of signs, posts and bollards and made the space one shared between vehicles and pedestrians for which space was negotiated between them - in the same way that a zebra crossing works. The accident rate dropped immediately and stayed low. KH St became an infinitely more pleasant place on which to wander, browse, graze and bar-crawl. It was a genuinely courageous move at a time when the State's agents, the council's professional officers, were advocating that only penning pedestrians behind ten-foot fences could further reduce the accident rates.
The ideas came from a Dutchie - Hans Monderman. He found that such road sharing not only reduced accidents but allowed traffic to move more efficiently. Yes, if people are allowed to make their own decisions, if the State is put back in its box, things are more efficient. This is proved time after time on the rare occasions that traffic lights fail; motorists allowed to negotiate junctions themselves actually do better than traffic lights, and queues, slow moving traffic and extended travel times are greatly reduced. We used to reckon in our part of London that a TfL traffic light failure meant 10 minutes off the drive home.
You don't have to be Ayn Rand to work out that generally the least intervention and the lightest touch in respect of traffic management, combined with 'nudge' rather than concrete and steel*, is not only much cheaper but more efficient and far more effective.
*Except of course from the risk posed by rogue members of the Religion of Peace. At either end of pedestrian roads.