Self-organized traffic safety

The UK County Surveyor’s Society Transport Futures group has just published a report Travel is Good that considers how to deal with problems likely to be encountered in transport over the next 20 years. They recommend increasing uncertainty and allowing the self-organization of multiple forms of traffic to increase safety, along with congestion pricing cars, and preparing for climate change.

This report is part of a trend of European traffic planners moving away from signs and regulations to increase traffic safety. Rather than legislating space for cars they are requiring drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists to think about what they are doing rather than obeying signs. This approach appears to fit many resilience principles by encouraging many small disturbances makes the overall system more resilient (see: Traffic Safety: Regulation vs. Self-Organization).

The UK’s Times Online describes the report in their article How stripping the streets of traffic lights and signs may be a life saver:

Redesigning roads to leave drivers and pedestrians uncertain about who has priority will save lives, according to a report by Britain’s most senior transport officials. The move would automatically cut traffic speed without the need for cameras, they say.

Barriers and signs such as railings, kerbs, traffic lights and white lines cause crashes because people assume they will keep them safe and therefore fail to focus on what other road users are doing. Giving drivers less information by removing signs will encourage them to slow down to negotiate a safer course along high streets and across junctions.

The report by the County Surveyors’ Society, which represents local authority directors responsible for most roads in England and Wales, recommends a revolution in road design. It calls for widespread adoption of the concept of “shared space”, pioneered in the Netherlands and better known in Britain as “naked streets”.

It says: “Paradoxically, creating barriers and divisions may worsen safety because drivers and riders feel more confident and speed up, despite the limitations on the speed at which the human mind can take in the amount of information now displayed on our roads. The human response to increased in-car and on-road safety may be to increase risky behaviour.

…Ben Hamilton Baillie, a transport consultant who contributed to the report, said it marked acceptance at the highest levels of shared space principles that five years ago were considered outlandish. Roads in Bath, Ashford in Kent, and Ancoats in Manchester are being converted to shared space. Work will begin next year on removing kerbs and giving pedestrians greater priority on Exhibition Road in West London

2 thoughts on “Self-organized traffic safety”

  1. Ben,

    It sounds like Egypt is a real anarchy without anyone controlling it. That’s cool.

    What we’re talking about here is a bit different. The road anarchy would still have rules and if you create an accident you probably won’t drive the next day… At least from what I understand in that BBC article, the Egyptians can drive without license without being afraid of being arrested and sent to jail.

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