New technology and traffic congestion

New technology is not always the answer to our traffic woes, as at this humorous case from Japan shows! These are excerpts from a column by Amy Chavez, a columnist for the Japan Times.

Big news for our island: They’ve put in a traffic light! Now, I’ve always been under the impression that there must be oncoming traffic to justify a traffic light. But hey, this is Japan, maybe they drive differently here. In fact, on our island most people don’t drive at all. With a population of just 700 and only one road that goes around the perimeter of the island, just a few dozen people drive and those people are the ones with businesses who have goods to transport to the ferry port and back. Another reason people don’t have cars here is that most of the houses on the island aren’t accessible by car. The houses are linked by a network of footpaths that not even the smallest car could get through. Besides, who wants a car anyway? There’s no place to drive to, except the other side of the island, which is only a 15-minute walk. +++ But I was also relieved to see that it was just a construction traffic light with a temporary, two-month long installment. The purpose of the light is to prevent two cars, traveling in opposite directions, from trying to pass this construction area at the same time. Yet the likelihood of two people on the island driving at the same time is practically nil, especially when most people arrive at their destination within 30 seconds. Before they put this light in, that is. Now it is possible to be stopped at a red light for longer than your entire journey would take. Which is why no one stops at the traffic light. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure this traffic light has created more turmoil than safety. **** A few people wait patiently because they’ve got small children in the car and feel they need to teach them to always obey traffic signals. But still, no one understands why there is a traffic light. Here are some possible answers: 1. Road favoritism…..Despite the fact that much of the 5-km road on our island is only wide enough for one car anyway, and is adorned with two-way mirrors at bends, the construction crew is showing favoritism to this part of the road. ***** 2. It’s a good neighbor campaign. Figuring that if we passed each other on the road, we’d have to wave hello to each other, the traffic light could have been put in to foster good relations. ***** 3. The local policeman has to reach his quota on traffic violations and is trying to ticket those who run red lights. ***** 4. It’s an eye test to check for colorblindness. Highly possible. And if it’s true, they’ve proved one thing: Almost everyone on the island is colorblind.

See a photo of someone running the red light at the Japan Times Online. The Japan Times can be accessed here. The full article can be found at here.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.