IEA in a Total Intellectual Economics Pickle over Traffic Lights

Today the IEA repeated its usual ideological blast every few years that we should rip out as many traffic lights as possible.

The report is a total intellectual mess however citing congestion – and extended travel time – as an economic loss and then stating the alternative to traffic lights is errrr …’low speed environments’.   What do they want to be able to drive anywhere you want as fast as possible or for traffic to be calmed to humane speeds?  You cant always have both.

The report is infused with the dogma that economies are most efficient when drivers can choose where to drive.  But we know that, in economic terms, this isn’t true for road networks – a Nash equilibrium on a road network is not pareto opimal.  You have awkward truths such as the Breass Paradox and the Downs Thompson Paradox that get in the way.  You would think that an economic think tank would at least explore economic theory and debates – but no the IEA is not a think tank they are an ideological Austrian dumb tank.

These ideas do also get in the way of conventional highway engineer thinking – for example if you consider two single roads and a crossroads and traffic lights the traffic light junction in theory has twice the capacity.  But what is true for a single junction is not necessarily true for a network/system as a whole, where so many people may take an ímproved’ route that at certain demand levels, it grinds to a near halt.  Hence paradoxically removing roads, and slowing junctions down, which the IEA doesn’t want – may improve the performance of the system as a whole – as will improving public transport and improving walking and cycling – which the IEA has similarly ranted about.

 

 

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