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Scott Barbour/Getty Images (London To Brighton Veteran Car Rally)
Scott Barbour/Getty Images (London To Brighton Veteran Car Rally)

Ridiculous U.K. Traffic Laws of Yore

Scott Barbour/Getty Images (London To Brighton Veteran Car Rally)
Scott Barbour/Getty Images (London To Brighton Veteran Car Rally)

In the 19th-century United Kingdom, driving a horseless carriage was a huge pain. The "Locomotive Acts" passed in 1865 by the British Parliament set out a series of legal restrictions for drivers, mostly aimed at keeping the road safe for horses, horse-driven carriages, and pedestrians—and restricting horseless carriages severely. For instance, one provision set the speed limit at 2 miles per hour within towns; another required a person to walk in front of the vehicle waving a red flag...at all times. The latter requirement earned the restrictions the nickname "red flag laws."

While these laws arguably made some sense in 1865—to prevent steam-powered vehicles from going wild on dirt roads and paths primarily trafficked by horses—they weren't relaxed until 1896. This forced early drivers (in the 1890s) to jump through bizarre hoops, or simply give up and use a horse. Below is selected text from the law, broken into parts, with emphasis added. You'll notice that this is written to deal with steam engines, but also applied to any conveyance that wasn't powered by animals—this pointed squarely at internal combustion engines.

Summary of the Awfulness

You could drive a steam-powered carriage or motorcar, provided you brought two friends with you, one of whom was walking in front waving a red flag. You could only go 4 miles an hour, unless you were in town, in which case you'd reduce to 2 mph (slower than walking). You had to stop if anyone with a horse coming the other way held up a hand. You had to post your name and address on the vehicle.

Firstly, "Waggon" Math

"Every Locomotive propelled by Steam or any other than Animal Power on any Turnpike Road or public Highway shall be worked according to the following Rules and Regulations; viz."

"Firstly, at least Three Persons shall be employed to drive or conduct such Locomotive, and if more than Two Waggons or Carriages be attached thereto, an additional Person shall be employed, who shall take charge of such Waggons or Carriages."

Secondly, the Red Flag Silliness

"Secondly, one of such Persons, while any Locomotive is in Motion, shall precede such Locomotive on Foot by not less than Sixty Yards, and shall carry a Red Flag constantly displayed, and shall warn the Riders and Drivers of Horses of the Approach of such Locomotives, and shall signal the Driver thereof when it shall be necessary to stop, and shall assist Horses, and Carriages drawn by Horses, passing the same."

Fourthly (Because the Thirdly Part was Boring)

"Fourthly, the Whistle of such Locomotive shall not be sounded for any Purpose whatever; nor shall the Cylinder Taps be opened within Sight of any Person riding, driving, leading, or in charge of a Horse upon the Road; nor shall the Steam be allowed to attain a Pressure such as to exceed the Limit fixed by the Safety Valve, so that no Steam shall blow off when the Locomotive is upon the Road."

Fifthly, Stop Constantly

"Fifthly, every such Locomotive shall be instantly stopped, on the Person preceding the same, or any other Person with a Horse, or a Carriage drawn by a Horse, putting up his Hand as a Signal to require such Locomotive to be stopped."

Sixthly, Headlights

"Sixthly, any Person in charge of any such Locomotive shall provide Two efficient Lights to be affixed conspicuously, One at each Side on the Front of the same, between the Hours of One Hour after Sunset and One Hour before Sunrise."

The Speed Limit: 4 Miles Per Hour on the Highway; 2 in Town

Later in the law, this gem pops up:

"...It shall not be lawful to drive any such Locomotive along any Turnpike Road or public Highway at a greater Speed than Four Miles an Hour, or through any City, Town, or Village at a greater Speed than Two Miles an Hour...."

This is consistent given that there'd be a guy walking in front of the vehicle on the road; 4 mph is a brisk walk.

Your Address is Your License Plate

And then there's this:

"The Name and Residence of the Owner of every Locomotive shall be affixed thereto in a conspicuous Manner."

Let the Emancipation Run Begin!

Because these laws stifled innovation in motorcars, many internal combustion enthusiasts despised them. When the laws were effectively repealed in 1896 (for instance, raising the speed limit to 14 mph and eliminating the red flag requirement), an "Emancipation Run" marked the occasion. On November 14, 1896, dozens of motorcar fans tore a red flag in half and set off in their cars from London on the road to Brighton. This later became an annual tradition. (The 2005 London To Brighton Veteran Car Rally is pictured above, top of the article, courtesy of Getty Images.)

Read the Rest

The legal text above is from The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 28 pages 101-102, in case you enjoy reading such things.

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Germany Wants to Fight Air Pollution With Free Public Transit
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images

Getting people out of their cars is an essential part of combating climate change. By one estimate, getting people to ditch their two-car household for just one car and a public transit commute could save up to 30 percent in carbon dioxide emissions [PDF]. But how do you convince commuters to take the train or the bus? In Germany, the answer may be making all public transit free, according to The Local.

According to a letter from three of Germany's government ministers to the European Union Environment Commissioner, in 2018, Germany will test free public transit in five western German cities, including Bonn. Germany has failed to meet EU air pollution limits for several years, and has been warned that it could face heavy fines if the country doesn't clean up its air. In a report from 2017, the European Environment Agency estimated that 80,767 premature deaths in Germany in 2014 were due to air pollution.

City officials in the regions where free transport will be tested say there may be some difficulty getting ahold of enough electric buses to support the increase in ridership, though, and their systems will likely need more trains and bus lines to make the plan work.

Germany isn't the first to test out free public transportation, though it may be the first to do it on a nation-wide level. The Estonian capital of Tallinn tried in 2013, with less-than-stellar results. Ridership didn't surge as high as expected—one study found that the elimination of fares only resulted in a 1.2 percent increase in demand for service. And that doesn't necessarily mean that those new riders were jumping out of their cars, since those who would otherwise bike or walk might take the opportunity to hop on the bus more often if they don't have to load a transit card.

Transportation isn't prohibitively expensive in Germany, and Germans already ride public transit at much higher rates than people do in the U.S. In Berlin, it costs about $4 a ride—more expensive than a ride in Paris or Madrid but about what you'd pay in Geneva, and cheaper than the lowest fare in London. And there are already discounts for kids, students, and the elderly. While that doesn't necessarily mean making public transit free isn't worth it, it does mean that eliminating fares might not make the huge dent in car emissions that the government hopes it will.

What could bring in more riders? Improving existing service. According to research on transportation ridership, doing things like improving waits and transfer times bring in far more new riders than reducing fares. As one study puts it, "This seldom happens, however, since transport managers often cannot resist the idea of reducing passenger fares even though the practice is known to have less impact on ridership."

The same study notes that increasing the prices of other modes of transit (say, making road tolls and parking fees higher to make driving the more expensive choice) is a more effective way of forcing people out of their cars and onto trains and buses. But that tends to be more unpopular than just giving people free bus passes.

[h/t The Local]

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Here's How Much Traffic Congestion Costs the World's Biggest Cities
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Traffic congestion isn't just a nuisance for the people who get trapped in gridlock on their way to work, it’s also a problem for a city's economy, City Lab reports. According to a study from the transportation consulting firm INRIX, all that time stuck in traffic can cost the world’s major cities tens of billions of dollars each year.

The study, the largest to examine vehicle traffic on a global scale, measured congestion in 1360 cities across 38 countries. Los Angeles ranked number one internationally with drivers spending an average of 102 hours in traffic jams during peak times in a year. Moscow and New York City were close behind, both with 91 lost hours, followed by Sao Paulo in Brazil with 86 and San Francisco with 79.

INRIX also calculated the total cost to the cities based on their congestion numbers. While Los Angeles loses a whopping $19.2 billion a year to time wasted on the road, New York City takes the biggest hit. Traffic accounts for $33.7 billion lost by the city annually, or an average of $2982 per driver. The cost is $10.6 billion a year for San Francisco and $7.1 billion for Atlanta. Those figures are based on factors like the loss of productivity from workers stuck in their cars, higher road transportation costs, and the fuel burned by vehicles going nowhere.

Congestion on the highway can be caused by something as dramatic as a car crash or as minor as a nervous driver tapping their brakes too often. Driverless cars could eventually fix this problem, but until then, the fastest solution may be to discourage people from getting behind the wheel in the first place.

[h/t City Lab]

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