Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

confuse drivers to cut crashes

with 7 comments

Irish Times

Dublin is going to try the system that Hans Monderman started in Drachten (Netherlands) and has also been used successfully, I am pleased to note, in Kensington High Street in London.

“Without any signs, traffic will automatically slow down and there will be fewer accidents because drivers will take more care,” he said confidently.

“The environment is what controls speed, not signs or rules. It’s psychological. Signs like ‘slow’, ‘stop’ and ‘yield’ are often not seen by drivers. If you take the signs and kerb lines away, and say ‘go figure it out yourselves’, you’re creating uncertainty – and that’s safer.”

Evidence from abroad, rather surprisingly, supports Mr Henry’s novel proposal. Five years ago, the Dutch town of Drachten removed signs and traffic lights as part of a “naked streets” experiment – and accident figures plummeted as drivers became more cautious.

The idea of “going Dutch” was taken up by Daniel Moylan, deputy leader of the Tory-controlled London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Mr Moylan said it was “about re-civilising the city, to the benefit of all people who use the roads. We want to stop this top-down system of signs and signals to keep drivers and other road users apart, and give everyone back a sense of shared ownership and responsibility.”

And that’s what was done in Kensington High Street three years ago.

Following the removal of pedestrian crossings and guard rails – those sheep-pen railings so favoured by traffic engineers to keep pedestrians corralled – accidents have been cut by 44 per cent, compared to 17 per cent for London as a whole.

Urban spring

I do not know if any of my colleagues from ITE read this blog – or indeed if any Canadian traffic engineers ever pay attention to what happens in Europe. I think it is about time we tried this out here. There are far too many signs and signals. Too much traffic, moving far too quickly, in most of the region. And noit nearly enough enforcement of the vast multiplicity of rules and regulations. So lets see somewhere that makes drivers think twice before they step on the gas.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2008 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Road safety

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7 Responses

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  1. There are several videos on YouTube showing some of the changes in Drachten. It quite amazing how well it all works….even a busy intersection with what would ordinarily have a traffic light or four way stop seems to work well with no rules at all. Of course you do see more roundabouts there which would make higher capacity intersections safer and aid in the flow of traffic.

    I have no doubt such a scheme could work very well here in some areas. The areas where this would work best are already ones that are pedestrian friendly. The real question is whether or not it would ever be allowed to work. Governments here are ever fixated with liability concerns and the public is deluged constantly by the media to fear every facet of daily life there is in the city. Heck, we can’t even get our minds around letting people order a beer or glass of wine in a restaurant without ordering any food. As a society, we like our neigbours to the south, are so fixated on rules and laws as a remedy for every evil out there that we are convinced that life would immediately spin out of control without them. Even those who champion “personal responsibility” over here all to often are concerned about holding others to account for their actions instead of a true “laissez faire” approach to personal conduct.


    June 9, 2008 at 4:13 pm

  2. One thing to consider, European drivers are far better trained than their BC counterparts.

    Malcolm J.

    June 9, 2008 at 10:42 pm

  3. I find this story “Amusing if not laughable” there would still be accidents and law suits aplenty,law suits that would be directed at cities and districts and highway managers,

    Also soon people would be familiar with these blank check road intersections,or other meetings places on the highways and bi-ways,its human nature to become over confident and complacent.

    High speeds are the main reason for accidents and with the likes of FALCON (minister of browning) the highways and bi-ways are going to get slower and slower,perpetual gridlock is good for ICBC , nothing but low speed bumper dents.

    grant g

    June 9, 2008 at 11:55 pm

  4. Gentlemen you disappoint me.

    I doubt that driver training is better in Europe – and it certainly has very little impact on driver behaviour. Once they have a license all they have been taught is ignored. Just as it is here. Scary driver behaviour is as prevalent in Britain, France and Spain as it is here.

    And the law is open to all. Just like the Ritz Hotel. Anyone can sue anyone else. But that does not mean they will succeed. And they are not “accidents” they are collisions caused by the choices made by the people involved. Most road signs are not obeyed – including STOP signs and speed limits. The plethora and over use of signs mean that drivers simply do not see them any more – or care about them. Watch at any “traffic circle” how many drivers make a left turn – the wrong way around the circle. A light that is at amber is taken to mean “speed up”. High speeds do not cause collisions, they just increase the severity of damage.

    Both of you are using a variation of the “not invented here” defence to innovation. People are the same the world over. The differences are between individuals not nationalities.

    Stephen Rees

    June 10, 2008 at 7:45 am

  5. Could it be that we have over complicated driving with a multitude of signs that the car driver just now ignores them? Stop signs area must, as they give a legal right-of-way, but the rest?

    Delta has a very strict sign by-law (and I have run afoul with) yet the Engineering department has erected so many road, bike, parking, caution, etc. signs that many streets have become a steel pole jungle.

    The return of the ’round about’ is a welcome change and Surrey has embraced it with great vigor. But the real problem is the quality of drivers and from my observations during my stays ‘across the pond’, the European driver is far better trained and has a far better knowledge of the rules of the road. Also there are fewer speed limits in Europe and one knows that in a city its 50 kph; or on a 2 lane road 80 kph or a highway 100 or more kph. A drive from Ladner to Tsawwassen sees many speed limits from 50 kph to 60 kph to 70 kph, then 60 kph and finally back to 50 kph.

    We can certainly simply things but abandoning signs altogether, I think not. I also strongly believe that we should adopt the British style of Zebra and Pelican style crosswalks as I found them safer than the plethora of crosswalk designs here.

    The key I think is to simplify signage and simplify pedestrian access over the roads.

    D. M. Johnston

    June 10, 2008 at 9:12 am

  6. Firstly, yes there are plenty of us Canadian traffic engineers who pay attention to what is going on elsewhere in the world, and Monderman’s concept has been reported in the field (note that he unfortunately passed away only a few months ago). Bringing “foreign concepts” here is of course a difficult battle however. A good example is the modern roundabout, which is only now being tested in a few locations, and there is still plenty of opposition. This for a treatment that fundamentally reduces conflicts and delay, and increases safety. A proposal to remove all “safety devices” would be pretty difficult to push.

    I think the general feeling is that the North American attitude to driving and the car is much more one of entitlement (cars are latecomers in Europe, while they are often much more intrinsic to our urban design), and all you need is a small percentage of people who treat these zones as a free-for-all and any benefit would be lost. The point on liability is also well taken – municipalities are increasingly acting out of fear rather than trying to do the best thing for the community, hence the proliferation of 4-way STOPS at the demand of residents, when they don’t really slow down traffic but rather increase delay, emissions, noise, and mid-block speeds as frustrated drivers accelerate harder to make up for lost time.

    It would be interesting and perhaps helpful to study the potential effects of such a plan in North America, maybe through studying collisions in parking lots, or some other low-speed relatively unregulated area – if one could be found!


    June 10, 2008 at 10:03 am

  7. Years ago, I remember hearing about a particularly harrowing intersection in Belmont, Massachusetts. It was a three-way intersection, with one leg passing under a rail overpass, thereby creating a blind spot. The town looked into installing signs or traffic signals, but in the end, they decided to leave the intersection alone. Any change would have decreased throughput dramatically without materially improving safety.,+MA,+USA&ie=UTF8&ll=42.395723,-71.175461&spn=0.00167,0.002189&t=h&z=19


    June 10, 2008 at 6:16 pm

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