Thursday, 17 September 2009

Unintended consequences

An amusing little post at the ASI:

I was interested – but not at all surprised – to read in The Times last week that cycle lanes actually make cyclists less safe. According to a study by the universities of Leeds and Bolton, cars drive far closer to cyclists where there are cycle lanes, putting them at a much greater risk of being hit. It's a classic example of the law of unintended consequences at work: when motorists sense that cyclists have their own designated lane, they don't go to such trouble to give them space.

This is just the latest indication that government-inspired "road clutter" designed to make us safer on the roads often ends up having the opposite effect. The Dutch are probably the pioneers of this: the town of Drachten famously removed all traffic signals, and found that traffic flowed more smoothly and that accidents were reduced, not least at Laveiplein, a 22,000-vehicle-per-day junction next to a bus terminal.

But the technique has also been applied in London. As the Telegraph reported back in 2006: "Kensington High Street has been decluttered by removing barriers and simplifying road markings. Pedestrian accidents in the affected area have been reduced by more than 40 per cent." More recently, Ealing has followed suit, announcing that traffic lights would be removed from up to seven junctions leaving drivers to fend for themselves.

What this illustrates, ultimately, is the way in which spontaneous orders based on voluntary co-operation tend to be more efficient and effective than coercive ones based on government planning. Or to put it another way – letting people take responsibility for themselves usually works out better than having government take responsibility for them.

It also suggests that even in policy areas that seem so naturally the preserve of government planners, like traffic management, approaches based on individual freedom are well worth considering.

And this, to me, is just another example of why having some ivory-tower fucker make a decision about how we should all live our lives doesn't work out. It doesn't matter how fucking noble or apparently sensible your ideal is, you never, ever know exactly what all the consequences of your decision will be. Hectoring, bullying and nannying never have the answers.


Quiet_Man said...

I know you're right, you know you're right, but you'll never convince the jobsworths that petty interference in peoples lives is not the best way to do things, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

George said...

To an extent this happened in the Army, during the cold war the commies army even though very large was thought to be ineffective because the foot soldiers were unable to think for themselves, they were to follow orders and nothing else. The British army is often thought as one of the best in the world because even the most humble private could take charge of a platoon and act on his own initiative, infact it was encouraged.

Captain Ranty said...

Sometimes, just sometimes, the best thing to do is fuck all.

The trouble with the fuckrods in parliament is that they are addicted to interfering.

Leave us alone already.

Ἕκτωρ said...

I've always wondered if traffic would flow better with no traffic lights. I have my doubts about London in rush hour though - a lot of pissed off people trying to get where they're going in a hurry. Think Italian Job....

microdave said...

"I've always wondered if traffic would flow better with no traffic lights."

So why not use part time lights? These can just be switched on at peak times when there may be a pressing need to control heavy flows from one direction, but leave them off the rest of the time. Why the hell do you need to sit at a red light when there is nothing coming the other way?

I'm amazed that the all powerful Green movement haven't cottoned on to this. But, then again, they would rather ALL traffic was banned.