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Traffic lights giving way to roundabouts
Photo: DPA

Traffic lights giving way to roundabouts

Published: 11 Mar 2011 08:24 GMT+01:00
Updated: 11 Mar 2011 08:24 GMT+01:00

The long wait at the many unnecessary traffic lights in Germany may soon be over. Communities nationwide are exploring the use of alternative traffic control systems, such as roundabouts and zebra stripes, to resolve the traffic light's growing issues of expense and safety.

Cities such as Cologne and Munich are at the head of a growing movement to eliminate superfluous traffic stops across Germany.

Traffic analysts have taken note of the increasing emergence of alternative forms of traffic control, such as traffic circles, zebra stripes and the tried-and-true “right before left” rule, in place of the traditional traffic light model.

Germany has depended on traffic lights for too long, said Duisburg professor and traffic researcher Michael Schreckenberg, who contends that the tricolor system is too expensive, inconvenient and potentially dangerous to keep around.

“Between 30 and 50 percent of the traffic lights could be replaced,” he said.

Schreckenberg added that in many cases the placement of traffic lights is not properly considered, and that many lights function in isolation so the “green wave” is often more myth than reality.

This point of view is gaining traction in the leadership of many communities.

Cologne, for example, has replaced 200 traffic lights with roundabouts and zebra stripes in the past several years, a move which could save the city almost €4 million in energy and maintenance costs, according to the city’s own estimates. A further 90 traffic light eliminations are still expected.

In several large Ruhr region cities, among them Duisburg and Gelsenkirchen, voices similar to Schreckenberg’s are cropping up. Munich, meanwhile, has terminated 10 unnecessary lights since the start of 2010.

Other communities have ascribed to the “shared-space” model, a radical process by which all traffic lights and signs are eliminated from certain areas. The German Association of Traffic Participants (VCD), an organization with environmental leanings, has recommended such projects for an additional 50 communities.

For decades, Germany has strictly adhered to the traffic light system.

Since the first operational traffic light appeared in Germany in 1924, city planners “have apparently come up with nothing better,” said Schreckenberg.

Today, an estimated 100,000 intersections in Germany are controlled by traffic lights. But the trend toward roundabouts is undeniable.

“People are beginning to realize it’s a great way to save money,” Schreckenberg said.

Among groups in favour of a large-scale switch, the German Cyclists’ Federation (ADFC) has a prominent voice.

“We absolutely support the trend,” said ADFC traffic expert Wilhelm Hörmann.

Hörmann added that traffic lights provide a false illusion of safety, pointing to the dangers of impatient drivers and children who cross the street despite there being a red light.

Consultant Jürgen Berlitz of the ADAC German automobile club, argued that roundabouts are not only safer, but more efficient than traffic lights.

Researchers contend that the use of roundabouts reduces the number of accidents caused by drunk drivers. A majority of drivers appear to prefer roundabouts, too.

Schreckenberg, in spite of his advocacy, admitted he does not view roundabouts as a panacea.

“Roundabouts are not a viable alternative for every intersection,” he said, citing space issues as a key factor for many communities.

Nevertheless, German drivers can expect visible changes in their traffic control systems in the coming months and years.

dapd/The Local/adn

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

09:41 March 11, 2011 by karenandklaus
This method should have been implemented long ago in every country. It works especially well in the villages around Deutschland. We both lived in New Zealand for a couple of years and they have roundabouts on the streets in the suburbs. And it works like magic. Everyone on the right has the right of way. Energy and power is SAVED. Less dependance on them. All it just needs is just pure commonsense. Hurray for Deutschland!
10:02 March 11, 2011 by catjones
I remember being driven to an early morning flight out of Cologne. We were literally in the middle of nowhere and our light turned red. No traffic anywhere. Given the German penchant for obedience, we just sat there and waited and waited and waited. Even a right-on-red would have helped...another consideration.
13:05 March 11, 2011 by michael4096
@catjones - the right on red rules here in germany are *exactly* the same as in the US - you can turn on red where it is safe and not where it is not safe. The only difference is signage: in the US missing signs indicate that it is safe and unsafe lights are explicitely signed. Here, it is the other way around. Systems' engineers will appreciate that the fail-safe nature of the german system.

Of course, as there are more pedestrians in germany and the system caters better for them, more junctions are considered unsafe for right turn on red. However, the rules are the same.
15:22 March 11, 2011 by theloudbloke
Great idea, but...

Could the Germans please come up with a consistent policy for roundabout use. The current regulation is laughable e.g. Traffic on the roundabout has right of way unless there is a particular constellation of signs before the roundabout. Vehicle indication for negotiating the roundabout is also just as confusing, with typically little advanced warning of direction to be taken by oncoming traffic.

The following is a link to the UK Highway Code on this matter, as the UK has lots more roundabouts than Germany perhaps this could be adopted by the German authorities as a best practice example.

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/DG_070338

Obviously adjust signaling procedure for driving on the incorrect side of the road.
00:02 March 12, 2011 by gcbakop
Re: #4 above (theloudbloke): Great idea! Come up with rules about roundabouts and PUBLISH them! With all the silly PSA's (Public Service Announcements) on TV, you'd think they'll come up with a simple cartoon showing the correct and the wrong way to navigate around rounabouts (can we call them circles, plz??). Here in Michigan we have them for 5-6 yrs now - one half a mile from my house, that I have to deal with every day - and everyone handles it in their own way or interpretation of imaginary rules. It is a miracle we don't have any more accidents, especially during rush hour. maybe the germans will be able to put some discipline in this "fre-for-all"!
03:29 March 12, 2011 by osas1212
Well not every country can do it. They have tried in U.S. but the americans are just too stupid and cannot seem to figure it out. Does not take much to confuse them, they consider it a European thing.
09:50 March 12, 2011 by catjones
@michael4096...I wish that were true. We were at an intersection in the middle of farmer's fields....In the US we rely on judgment unless the intersection is dangerous, then the signs are posted. There's not enough metal in the world to post signs at the 'safe' intersections, so we do it the other way around.

@osas1212...it's not confusion, it's ambivalence.
01:43 March 13, 2011 by 045099256
The flows of traffic on each leg of the roundabout are important. With traffic lights everyone gets their turn. At a roundabout it is a 'free for all' and can lead to 'road rage'. furthermore, traffic on some legs may find difficulty in joining the roundabout due to very heavy flows from other legs. Where I live in the UK they have had to introduce traffic lights on some roundabouts to keep traffic moving.
22:00 March 13, 2011 by stux
I like roundabouts, but as others mentioned it is frustrating to be behind someone that is overly cautious or incapable of negotiating an entrance.
12:08 March 14, 2011 by moistvelvet
Hoorar for the round about, Great Britain has led the way for decades... but they went a bit too far when first they put traffic lights on to round abouts and now they have roundabouts going round a round abouts - so you can approach it and go left or right and change direction, somebody didn't put in the effort when they came up with that one, rather like the person who chose the photograph to go with this article, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT LOCAL!!
21:37 November 14, 2012 by green idea factory
"In the Netherlands cyclists have priority over motorized traffic on most roundabouts in built up (urban) areas even when they are on the ring shaped separate cycle path around the roundabout." - http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/05/priority-for-cyclists-on-roundabouts-in.html
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