Fascinating Article in NYT on Road Design. Yes, Road Design.

A Path to Road Safety With No Signposts. This profile of Dutch road safety engineer Hans Monderman is the most interesting article I've read in the New York Times in quite a while. At least in civilized countries like the Netherlands, roads in suburbs are safer without many signs and without sidewalks. It doesn't work for highways, and it may not work for the most built-up urban centers, but in mid-density areas,

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.”

Instead of a regulated, dirigiste system, Mr. Monderman promotes roads that permit a decentralized self-organizing traffic system.

“This is social space, so when Grandma is coming, you stop, because that's what normal, courteous human beings do,” he said.

Spain, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Britain are trying it out, and the EU is doing a Europe-wide study.

The idea of running traffic a bit like the Internet — a self-organized anarchy working within the guidelines of set basic standards — is intensely appealing. It's also safe, at least in Europe: “there has never been a fatal accident on any of [Monderman's] roads.”

Of course, whether this could work in lawless Miami, where as Dave Barry once said 'everyone drives according to the laws of his home country,' is a different question.

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4 Responses to Fascinating Article in NYT on Road Design. Yes, Road Design.

  1. Andrew says:

    “In residential communities, Mr. Monderman began narrowing the roads and putting in design features like trees and flowers, red brick paving stones and even fountains to discourage people from speeding, following the principle now known as psychological traffic calming, where behavior follows design.”

    Sounds like what Coral Gables has been doing the past few years. I don’t know what statistics might show, but I’ve had a strong gut reaction against most of the City’s “traffic calming” projects. The circles that you have to swerve around, the narrow bridge made narrower by palm trees planted in the center of the road, these things do more to aggravate drivers than calm them, I think.

    Not to mention the real safety issue for bicyclists on that narrow bridge, which I brought up at a public meeting to no apparent effect.

  2. AlanDownunder says:

    Monderman’s work is a little nugget.
    For the gold seam, try http://www.vtpi.org/

  3. dd says:

    I’m sure this system works where time is not of the essence and life is allowed to move at a more comfortable pace; but it is totally unsuitable in the US.

  4. a cyclist says:

    My time is really an essence of time, as a fanatic cyclist I pass the wonders of Mr. Monderman 6 times a day cycling to work as I live in Drachten, a busy dutch town transformed by him. Even my 11 year old son has no problem cycling along and over it. It is all about eye contact with the other users of the road. No one has a right to cross first, you look around, see and deal with the others, that’s possible because everybody slows down approaching these crossings. A green traffic light gives you a deceptive feeling of safety.

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