Anarchy comes with a price. Lawyers, economists and political scientists believe this. This is what drives the congresses and senates and cabinets and presidents to make laws.
Traffic engineers also believe anarchy comes with a price. They love to make streets one way, to close off cul-de-sacs, and install speed bumps, all in the interest of stopping people from doing what they otherwise would. This keeps the punters on the main roads, and – in theory – keeps traffic speeds up. For a longer dissertation on the price of anarchy, click here.
The price of anarchy, you might imagine, will be highest at an intersection. If I drive straight through, the effect on everyone else will be devastating.
To control this risk we are blessed with junctions guarded by the demeaning, bossy, stubborn traffic light.
I hate traffic lights. They treat me like a child. I hate, hate, hate, sitting there at the lights when there’s nobody coming, just because the system says so. If it can’t tell that it’s safe for me to go, then it’s not as smart as me. It has no respect for my time. Why should I respect it!?
Last summer, a major blackout took out the traffic lights right through the inner city, during peak hour, on one of summer’s hottest days. We were driving to the beach, and found that traffic flowed better than ever.
When pedestrian traffic crosses at an intersection, it intermingles and finds a way to get through. We don’t stop one flow of people to allow another group through. Is this an example of the price of anarchy? Or is it actually more efficient? I suspect the latter.
The best kind of intersections, then, are ones that allow people to go through whenever there’s a gap. That’s right. I’m a roundabout enthusiast. The roundabout cleverly slows people down and spins them out wider, creating gaps in the traffic flow an alert driver can easily get into. You never find yourself sitting at a roundabout waiting for the nanny state to tell you to go. It’s as efficient as it can possibly be.
But, some people hate roundabouts. In the USA, the first roundabout was built in only 1990. The locals hated it, and the trend has spread very slowly. There’s infinite blather railing against roundabouts in the vast inane tundra of the interwebs. But why? Are they so hard to use? I find it much easier to only give way to drivers on your right than to have to look in all directions when approaching a crossroads. It’s like anarchy, but cut-price. Total freedom, but total predictability and relative safety.
So people, why do you hate them so?? If you are a roundabout hater, please share your reasons below!