UK Removing Center Lines from Roads to Slow Traffic

A free-for-all on busy streets makes drivers pay more attention. Who knew?

Road White Lines
Geography Photos/UIG via Getty Images

How are you meant to ride the white line highway when there are no white lines? That’s an answer more English drivers will need to resolve as city councils throughout that country experiment with removing the painted center lines. The mandarins in charge of safety want to slow traffic down on certain busy laneways, the widespread Gatso cameras and sleeping policemen aren’t cutting it. Getting rid of the white lines has been shown to get drivers off the gas in study after study, the rationale being that commuters pay more attention when there’s “a measure of uncertainty” about what lane they’re in.

Metropolitan authority Transport for London (TfL) rubbed out the markings on crowded streets in the suburbs of Haringey and Croydon. The result was a 13-percent reduction in average speeds, with some cases showing a slowdown of eight miles per hour. That’s a convincing margin when the speed limit in built-up areas is 30 mph, and TfL believes that traveling a single mile per hour slower lessens the chance of an accident by five percent.

The Brits have been experimenting with this tactic for more than a decade, and it has its detractors – some residents, politicians, and groups like the Automobile Association believe white lines save lives and that this is some sort of cost-cutting exercise. Conversely – and well off the deep end – you’ve got some who believe, “Traffic engineers, who maim and kill us with their regulations, lights and paint pots, merely go on dreaming up ever more of them.”

Back at the center of the debate, various methods of “psychological” traffic calming like “tree buildouts” and using red bricks to make the road look narrower have proved effective for years. Time after time, initiatives like “Naked Streets” and “Shared Space” in England and other European countries resulted in fewer accidents for drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and children.

So what should you do when white lines blow away? As always, take the advice of Grandmaster Flash: don’t let it blow your mind away, baby.