Home > Marginal Revolution, Traffic, Urban Affairs > The Invisible Hand of… The Driver

The Invisible Hand of… The Driver

Spontaneous order was generated after the traffic lights were turned off. Imagine that, people don’t just ram into each other if a light isn’t telling them not to. Think of this video next time you’re waiting at a light when you could clearly and safely go.



(h/t Marginal Revolution)

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  1. August 11, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    you ever been to a city without traffic lights and with very few stop signs? there is a certain ordered chaos to it, but it is WAY more dangerous. lots of cyclists, pedestrians, and people on scooters getting mauled on a regular basis. while i think the easy read on this topic is that we don't need traffic lights and can be responible people, we can regulate ourselves, blah blah blah, another way to look at it is that these people have been conditioned to drive by a very orderly system.

  2. August 11, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Not sure if that is accurate Zach. Here's some reporting from another place where traffic lights were removed. "A year after the change, the results of this “extreme makeover” were striking: Not only had congestion decreased in the intersection—buses spent less time waiting to get through, for example—but there were half as many accidents, even though total car traffic was up by a third." Half as many accidents I'm not arguing for no rules, but we need to rethink the notion that we have to impose top-down order on our roads in all cases.

  3. August 15, 2010 at 11:40 am

    The important element in your statement is "in all cases". This leads me to believe you aren't advocating sweeping deregulation, but may favor case by case deregulation. Am I correct in my assumption?The concept of the non-imposition of "top-down order" is problematic. The same government that decides to put traffic lights in would be the same one taking them out, no? How do they determine which cases would benefit and which cases would be made more dangerous? Who makes the call to open up an intersection to deregulation? My first reaction post speaks towards a certain micro vs macro view of the situation. While I think specific intersections may benefit from a certain deregulation within a regulated system that encourages and conditions for orderliness, a more generalized deregulation may not carry the same benefits because the entire context of that same intersection has been altered. Having seen driving conditions in West Africa and heard stories from India and South America, I would think twice before going head on into widespread deregulation. I'm not sure if my point here is clear.

  4. August 15, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I favor it on a case-by-case basis. Of course, the problem is that the status quo just assumes traffic lights make things safer and less congested. That's clearly false. I don't see any reason to add lights unless the specific situation calls for it. Planning is still necessary; deregulation doesn't conflict with that. It's only top-down order if the government (or another regulating entity) is imposing order with regulations (i.e. traffic lights) taking them out isn't imposing order top down but allowing order to generate spontaneously. It might be top-down allowing of order. But not top-down generation of order, as the order itself is being generated by individual drivers. To say that the government removing lights is generating order from the top-down would be to render the phrase completely meaningless. In that case any actual bottom-up order would be top-down order if the "top" destroyed that order and then subsequently allowed it. Ultimately it's a semantic game that undermines the (i hope) obvious intent of my meaning.

  5. August 15, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    I agree with much of what you say except for your claim about this being a semantic game. Knowing you, I assumed it was reasonable to engage in a discussion about what constitutes "top-down order" and ultimately the responsibility of regulatory agencies that adopt a policy of active deregulation when heavy regulation is the norm.I personally am a fan of the roundabout. A quick glance at the wiki page suggests safety and efficiency benefits over traditional intersections but I'm not going to do real research right now. The "turbo roundabout" on the wiki page is pretty cool and seems to address the problem of high-traffic roads meeting low-traffic roads at roundabouts.

  6. August 16, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I didn't mean it was a semantic game in a purely pejorative sense. I just meant that if you define top-down in the way you seemed to then it was semantics and we couldn't get a grasp on what either of us meant if we ever used the phrase. It certainly is reasonable to engage me on what constitutes top-down order. It's unclear to me what you mean by "a policy of active deregulation" as opposed to just better planning. I wasn't arguing for 0 regulation of roads – just a policy that took into consideration the actual effect of particulars such as traffic lights at intersections. To be clear, I have no ideological marriage to less regulation – i think whatever reduces congestion and improves safety (for 2 major considerations anyway) is advisable. For example, I think we should mandate congestion pricing on busy roads to improve efficiency. I suppose that would be a top-down regulation that improves "order."

  7. August 16, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Congestion pricing sounds pretty interesting so far. If we can just combine that with roundabouts I'll sign on.

  8. August 16, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Send me some stuff on roundabouts and maybe I'll cosign a plan with you.

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