Shared Space

Thinking more about shared roads and systems designed to make public highways easier and safer to use, and remembered an experiment where a village removed traffic lights and road markings.

The one I remember was Dutch town of Drachten where:

Almost all traffic lights and signs have been removed in the town’s centre in an effort to improve traffic safety, based on the theory that drivers pay more attention to their surroundings when they cannot rely on strict traffic rules. Previously the town’s centre had an average of 8 accidents per year. In the first two years after the system was introduced, yearly accidents were reduced to 1.

It seems like loads of European towns have joined in with the same Shared Space approach since, such as Bohmte in Germany, Makkinga in the Netherlands and various others, including Exhibition Road in London (pardon the hyperlink, but it was was actually the most informative source I could find) and a remarkably successful sounding result in Portishead, Somerset:

How please do those locals sound! What a remarkable experiment. And think what it means from a system and service design point of view. Those old systems that have evolved and been added to over the years have been less effective than just letting people deal with each other, and be forced into acting responsibly. How many more areas could this system work in I wonder? 

I really am a big fan of this sort of design, that takes our conscious actions more into consideration, and forces us to think, rather than provide false security that the system is thinking for us. That the rules mitigate our responsibility to think for ourselves or others. Case in point when I was hit by an Addison Lee driver in 2007. 

Traveling East, he jumped a red light on the St John Street and Myddelton Street crossroad while I was calmly crossing North on a green light. The last though I had before flying over his bonnet and roof was to the effect of “that car in my peripheral vision is going very fast for a red light…”. 

Now yes, he was very very much to blame. He jumped a red light (luckily in front of a Police car) and hit me hard, snapped my bike in a few places and leaving me with a persisting back injury, but I blame our combined complacent reliance on the traffic light system for creating the circumstance that led to the outcome. 

Again, he was still very much to blame! I’m just saying that in a world without traffic lights, I bet we would have both been paying more attention and looking before crossed on every single junction. Never crossing without looking left and right, just because a green light says your safe. What the hell does a green light know! 

I like the simple road safety rule that you must not hit people. That’s all. And then applying a punishment / deterrent hierarchy which places all blame, no matter on the exact details of each accident, on the larger party. HGV lorries look out for everyone and drive very very carefully. Cars look out for bikes and pedestrians. And cyclists look out for pedestrians. This could allow for cycling on pavements, where cyclists have to utterly avoid pedestrians and so move very slowly, like a courteous pedestrian with wheels. I’ve heard this is the sort of deal in Holland, though I’ve Googled enough for today so might look that up another time.