Free to Choose

Free to Move

May 2009 Blog Posts (21)

The quality of attention

On a road with bus lanes, traffic lights, speed limits and cameras, the apparatus of control looms large. It demands disproportionate attention, which should be focused on the road. Isn't the task of negotiating traffic tricky enough without the added burden of fearing reprisal if you put a wheel wrong? On a road without controls, by contrast, you are free to concentrate on the job in hand: watching the road and other road-users, and getting from A-B safely and expeditiously.

Added by Martin Cassini on May 30, 2009 at 21:00 — 7 Comments

A lateral thought

The fumes from diesel buses are bad enough, but what about the noise pollution? Often it is due to harsh acceleration by drivers who have no incentive to drive gently. Vast quantities of fuel are wasted and emissions generated by careless driving. Here's a thought. Reward bus and truck drivers for extending the range of their tanks. At a stroke, emissions, fuel use and noise pollution would fall, and quality of life would improve.

Added by Martin Cassini on May 30, 2009 at 18:00 — 1 Comment

Why bother?

On the subject of the forthcoming traffic trial, an engineer asked, if there are no gains in efficiency and safety without controls, "why bother to remove them?" Is he oblivious to warnings of ecological meltdown? Has he missed the carbon impact of traffic control? It could be argued that even if FiT increased journey times (highly unlikely), the energy savings alone from switching off lights and eliminating the stop-start drive cycle would outweigh every other consideration.

Added by Martin Cassini on May 30, 2009 at 17:00 — No Comments

Time to sign off?

According to "research" last week by Direct Line and Brake, an "alarming" number of drivers don't know the meaning of road signs, which are "critical to ensuring road safety". The implication is that the only guide to safe action is obedience to instructions. No, the primary guide is context. Instructional signs take our eyes off the road. They contradict our senses and judgement. They demand our attention and reduce our ability to make intelligent decisions. They are bad news. We have a system… Continue

Added by Martin Cassini on May 30, 2009 at 10:30 — No Comments

Painting the town WHITE

Obama's climate change minister, Nobel-prize winning scientist, Steven Chu, is promoting an idea which is elegant in its simplicity (and akin to FiT philosophy). Paint roofs white! Buy white cars. Use pale colours for tarmac, car parks and pavements. Why? To reflect sunlight back into space. Dark materials retain heat and cause infrared radiation, adding to global warming. In winter, white roofs reflect escaping heat back into buildings. The dramatic energy savings are similar to those we'd get… Continue

Added by Martin Cassini on May 27, 2009 at 16:30 — 3 Comments

Hats off!

Jigme Thinley. That's the name of the PM of Bhutan. Once upon a time they had no traffic lights and regularly topped international happiness polls. Then a signal was installed at a major intersection. Gloom descended. So they got rid of it, and back they went to the top of the happiness league. Now, instead of working to increase the country's GNP, they are removing greed from the sociopolitical equation and pursuing GNH (gross national happiness) instead.

Added by Martin Cassini on May 26, 2009 at 23:30 — No Comments

All you need is love

Roger Cohen (NYT) contrasts the propensity for the Middle East to nurse historical hatreds for ever, with the ability of Vietnam and other Asian nations to move on. Communist China's Zhou Enlai did business with the West, showing that peaceful coexistence can flourish despite essential differences. Similarly, if roads were designed for integration rather than segregation, and equality replaced priority, all road-users would be able to mix merrily. We don't need separate cycle lanes or traffic… Continue

Added by Martin Cassini on May 25, 2009 at 10:30 — 5 Comments

Value of intuition

On BH, Stephen Bayley said something along the lines of, "Measurement is a modern obsession. They say if it can't be measured, it doesn't exist. Piffle! How do you measure culture?" My experience of efficient interaction between road-users when lights are out of action is dismissed as irrelevant by traffic engineers. If we lived by measurement alone, we wouldn't achieve the change that intuition can inspire. By all means apply science for evidence, but appreciate the punch of the hunch.

Added by Martin Cassini on May 24, 2009 at 11:00 — 5 Comments

Licensed to Kill

I make no excuses for banging on about this: the rules of the road encourage anti-social vandalism. How can the powers stand by a system which makes children responsible for their own safety when crossing the road? How can the law of the land sanction unequal rights-of-way and the idea that 'might is right'? Don't they realise they preside over a system which endorses a culture of aggression and neglect? Presumably not: they have built a parasitic edifice of control and enforcement to support… Continue

Added by Martin Cassini on May 23, 2009 at 10:00 — No Comments


Manchester's proposed con charge was shelved after a massive No vote, but government is still making public transport investment dependent on con charge schemes. Manchester was told that if they voted No, there was "no plan B". Yet within months, £1.4bn was found for the tram extension. Cambridge still pursues a charge even though road layout tweaks would ease its self-inflicted congestion problems. Birmingham's Mike Whitby says con charging on essential car journeys is 'morally corrupt'. Time… Continue

Added by Martin Cassini on May 20, 2009 at 18:00 — 8 Comments

Keeping up the pressure

While MPs survey the damage and seek regulation for themselves and the banks, the tide is turning against regulation on the roads. It's a slow-turning tide, but inexorable. Here is another sword-thrust to the system. The system will survive, but sense and sensibility will win in the end.

Added by Martin Cassini on May 19, 2009 at 22:28 — No Comments

Inner lights

Traffic lights are thought to guarantee safety. Far from it. At least as many "accidents" occur at lights, and these tend to be at high speeds. Traffic lights promote a full steam ahead, get-out-of-my-way approach. No priority/no lights might not guarantee safety either, but at least people approach carefully and make common cause. I prefer to rely on human nature - our inner lights - than a system of control that brutalises us.

Added by Martin Cassini on May 19, 2009 at 7:30 — No Comments

Roads policy - forever wrong

World health agencies are criticised for focussing on diseases such as malaria and AIDS instead of dealing with the biggest cause of child death: poor sanitation. In the same way, are the traffic authorities focussing on enforcement and control, and failing in their duty to make roads safe in the first place? No question.

Added by Martin Cassini on May 12, 2009 at 2:00 — No Comments

The language of coercion

From a motoring press release: "A trial of Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA) is to be launched. It enables drivers to select an option where acceleration is stopped at the speed limit." The only language our revenue-chasing authorities understand is coercion through expensive technology. The authentic solution is to make roads FiT by dealing with the root problem of priority, and to give drivers responsibility for their own actions.

Added by Martin Cassini on May 11, 2009 at 22:35 — No Comments

Ealing again

OK, some authorities are wising up, but what about the years of needless delay suffered by road-users and the avalanche of avoidable CO2 still being generated? The lights at St Pancras were left on for seven years even though Midland Road was closed for work on the Tunnel link. I emailed Camden environment chief, John Thane, three times and still he refused to act. When the TCD (traffic control dictatorship) has finally been discredited, will anyone be brought to book?… Continue

Added by Martin Cassini on May 9, 2009 at 16:00 — No Comments

Bandwagon gathering speed

Everyone's hitching a ride. Should I see red when other journos use my material without a credit? At least Harry Phibbs in this piece for Guardian Comment quotes me later on. As mentioned elsewhere, these ideas are gaining currency, though as revealed in a number of comments, some people are still stuck in the Dark Ages. Article here (back tab to return).

Added by Martin Cassini on May 8, 2009 at 19:30 — No Comments

UK's position on pedestrian safety

According to a report from the National Audit Office, the UK is 11th in the league table of developed countries for pedestrian road safety. What do they propose? More education. Really. They propose no reform of a system which puts the onus on children - children! - to beware vehicles, when it could and should be the other way round. By accepting the status quo, the NAO - along with most policymakers - collude in a system which is anathema to a safe and civilised public realm.

Added by Martin Cassini on May 8, 2009 at 9:00 — 1 Comment


Holocaust survivor, psychologist and 'resilience' theorist, Boris Cyrulnik, sees empathy as instinctive, the cornerstone of humanity. This goes to the heart of my views about road-user interaction. When free to think for ourselves, we can, and usually do, act with empathy. But when straitjacketed by a set of rules that defy civilised values, we suffer from fallout in the form of "accidents", "road rage", and congestion. And we get unjustly blamed.

Added by Martin Cassini on May 7, 2009 at 9:30 — No Comments

Hoist by his own petard?

The CEO of Serco, a major logistics company which among other things installs speed cameras, was caught by one of his own cameras doing 102mph on the A11. Tom Riall, 49, was on his way to a business meeting. He said he was on a clear road and didn't realise how fast he was going. Safe Speed is concerned at his lack of awareness. My guess is that he was driving according to the conditions. Is it better to keep half an eye on the speedometer, or both eyes on the road?

Added by Martin Cassini on May 3, 2009 at 17:30 — No Comments

The power of celebrity

The only surprise is that it's taken people so long to cotton on to the bleedin obvious. It's ten years since I've been pitching these ideas to the media, politicians and traffic managers. In the same way that policymakers have been failing in their duty of care to our time, welfare and the planet, have commissioning editors been failing in their duty to air radical ideas? Well, the ideas are nearly mainstream now, so no doubt there will be a raft of programmes on the subject soon, presented as… Continue

Added by Martin Cassini on May 2, 2009 at 14:00 — No Comments

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