January 22, 2005

Europe’s Radical Road Design For Car/Pedestrian Sharing

The New York Times today profiles Europe's radical traffic engineer Hans Monderman, and his theory that removing things like traffic signs, sidewalks and even lane markers will help vehicles and walkers better share community space. As I noted last month, there was an interesting Wired feature on Monderman's work.

According to today's NYTimes article, "His philosophy is simple, if counterintuitive.

"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. "

He does note that this philosophy isn't for everywhere, but only neighborhoods that meet certain criteria. You don't rip out lane markings, lights and sidewalks on a major roadway like Rte. 9 (although you also do have to redesign roads like Rte. 9 so there is any kind of space that a pedestrian wants to use), or in city centers.

"Highways, where the car is naturally king, are part of the 'traffic world' and another matter altogether. In Mr. Monderman's view, shared-space schemes thrive only in conjunction with well-organized, well-regulated highway systems." Which is why a number of European nations are investigating this, but few if any American municipalities.

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