Saturday, March 22, 2008

Of Countdown Timers at Traffic Lights. Of Cluj and Taiwan.

Via the Freakonomics blog, some interesting results about the impact that countdown timers installed at traffic lights in intersections in Taiwan have upon the number of accidents and injuries :

"A research institute within Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation released a report showing that at 187 intersections which had the timers installed, those that counted down the remaining time on green lights saw a doubling in the number of reported accidents, with a 33 percent increase in the number of injuries, while those that counted down until a red light turned green saw a halving in both the number of reported accidents and injuries. Intersection that had both red and green light timers saw a 19 percent increase in reported accidents and a 23 percent increase in injuries."
My thoughts went instantly to the identical timers installed in intersections in my hometown of Cluj, Transylvania, a city with an unadapted infrastructure to the daily hellish car traffic. I always thought that these timers have a positive impact by reducing the drivers' frustration and in a sense regulating traffic discipline. The traffic still sucks but at least you know how much you have to wait at the traffic light. On the other hand some people might take it as a 100% guarantee that when the counter is down to zero the road is clear and they can push the accelerator pedal down to the floor. I don't know of similar studies in Cluj - I think they're badly needed - but the results from Taiwan should be looked into by my hometown's municipality. One thing is sure, regulating traffic in intersections is far from being a global solution to improving traffic conditions in overcrowded cities - taxing inner city access might also work provided the adequate infrastructure to avoid it exists - but it seems to have it's own benefits in certain conditions.