Out of Control Policy Blog

Cover Your Eyes...The Streets are Naked!

As a follow up to this post from last week, this Toronto Star article lends support to the idea of scrapping traditional traffic rules and controls to create "naked streets":

    "The implementation in a number of European communities of what some have dubbed 'naked streets' has been hugely successful.

    Urban planners in Holland, Germany and Denmark have experimented with this free-for-all approach to traffic management and have found it is safer than the traditional model, lowers trip times for drivers and is a boost for the businesses lining the roadway.

    The idea is that by removing traffic lights, signage and sidewalks, drivers and pedestrians are forced to interact, make eye contact and adapt to the traffic instead of relying blindly on whether that little dot on the horizon is red or green.

    Planners have found that without the conventional rules and regulations of the road in place, drivers tend to slow down, open their eyes to their environment and develop a "feel" for their surroundings.

    In effect, every person using the street, be it an SUV owner or a kid with a wagon, becomes equal."

(Via Planetizen.com)

UPDATE: Saturday's New York Times ran a profile of Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, a pioneer of the "naked streets" concept:

    "Like a naturalist conducting a tour of the jungle, he led the way to a busy intersection in the center of town, where several odd things immediately became clear. Not only was it virtually naked, stripped of all lights, signs and road markings, but there was no division between road and sidewalk. It was, basically, a bare brick square.

    But in spite of the apparently anarchical layout, the traffic, a steady stream of trucks, cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians, moved along fluidly and easily, as if directed by an invisible conductor. When Mr. Monderman, a traffic engineer and the intersection's proud designer, deliberately failed to check for oncoming traffic before crossing the street, the drivers slowed for him. No one honked or shouted rude words out of the window.

    'Who has the right of way?' he asked rhetorically. 'I don't care. People here have to find their own way, negotiate for themselves, use their own brains.'

    . . . .

    To make communities safer and more appealing, Mr. Monderman argues, you should first remove the traditional paraphernalia of their roads - the traffic lights and speed signs; the signs exhorting drivers to stop, slow down and merge; the center lines separating lanes from one another; even the speed bumps, speed-limit signs, bicycle lanes and pedestrian crossings. In his view, it is only when the road is made more dangerous, when drivers stop looking at signs and start looking at other people, that driving becomes safer.

    "All those signs are saying to cars, 'This is your space, and we have organized your behavior so that as long as you behave this way, nothing can happen to you,' " Mr. Monderman said. "That is the wrong story."

    . . . .

    "It's a moving away from regulated, legislated traffic toward space which, by the way it's designed and configured, makes it clear what sort of behavior is anticipated," said Ben Hamilton-Baillie, a British specialist in urban design and movement and a proponent of many of the same concepts.
    "

This is an idea whose time has come.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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