by Mike Masnick

Who Needs Streets Signs Or Lanes -- Part II

from the making-things-better-by-making-them-worse dept

Earlier this year, we talked about an article in Salon.com about how a new theory on traffic engineering was gaining more adherents, suggesting that by removing almost all street signs and lane markings, it would actually make traffic flow much better and safer. The concept is, as you might imagine, controversial. The basic idea is that by making things worse, you make them better by making people much more careful. If there are no street signs or lane markers, and the road is shared with pedestrians and bicyclists, drivers have to be much more careful. They drive slower, they make eye contact, and they pay more attention. The end result, though, is that typical causes of congestion are removed and people actually reach their destinations faster -- and the roads are more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists. It appears that Wired Magazine has basically written a nearly identical article on this concept of psychological traffic calming, with a few more examples of places where it appears to be working. As mentioned last time, the whole concept reminds me of driving in Manhattan, where street signs really don't matter and lanes don't exist (even if there are some painted on the pavement). However, driving in Manhattan, while it requires more attention, always feels somewhat safer than driving elsewhere. Of course, you could take this to the opposite extreme. If making it seem more dangerous makes people drive better, why not remove seatbelts and airbags and replace the big steering column with a pointed stick facing the driver? That, certainly, would be more incentive to drive carefully, right? The trick is creating the right balance between efficiency and safety, where drivers are encouraged to drive safely -- but that the throughput of the overall system is maximized.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Toby, Dec 7th, 2004 @ 10:41am

    Yes, this already works

    This is exactly how I observed traffic working in Greece. There are no parking restrictions and the flow of cars, motorbikes, and pedestrians is ad hoc except for traffic lights on major roads. Compared to highly regulated cities I have lived in (such as Australia), the Greek system is probably safer: it is very tolerant of the unexpected, and errors. In Australia, if you make an error while driving (red light, unexpected move) you are likely dead or injured. In Greece, nothing is unexpected: people are ready for sudden pedestrian crossings, bikes weaving in traffic, etc. It works.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2004 @ 1:23pm

    Re: Yes, this already works

    When I was driving in Greece a few months back I witnessed countless 'near misses' and a few accidents. Their way of driving is NOT as tolerant as you claim, every single-lane road is turned into a two-lane highway where slower cars drive on the shoulder nearly hitting any pedestrian/cyclist, while trucks whiz by trying to fit two trucks + 2 cars on a 2 lane road with narrow shoulders. The unexpectedly narrower roads are riddled with accidents.

    I can attest first hand from all the countries places Iíve driven in, that the absence of street signs and lane markings may change the driving experience but in no way will make it safer.

    It is true that drivers get lazy when most people follow the rules; in which case if you accidentally run a red light the other car will not be expecting it at all and an accidents much more likely. The way Iíve seen it is in the absence of markings/rules there are more accidents at lower speeds, while in places where the vast majority follow marking/rules(and are expected to), then there are fewer but at higher velocities.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Slappy, Dec 7th, 2004 @ 2:20pm

    No Subject Given

    While I agree that driving a car gives alot of drivers that false sense of security, I don't think this is the answer.

    How about the cops actually give a ticket for failure to signal a lane change? Novel concept. Where I live, pretty much anything goes unless you're speeding.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Mark, Dec 7th, 2004 @ 2:30pm

    No signs = safer?

    I wonder how we'd handle accident liability under such a system? Say an SUV blows through an intersection and flattens a Toyota -- who's to say who had the right of way?

    In general, this whole idea strikes me as similar in a way to anarchy: as a political philosophy it might look pretty good on paper, but it's likely to have some hellacious consequences if it's ever put into wide practice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2004 @ 8:46am

    I was in Egypt a few years ago ...

    and though I did not drive, I was on the roads a bit, and whenever we were in a city, we went nowhere, slowly. If everyone is happy traveling no faster than 10, maybe 15 mph, then I would imagine this idea could work. Want to travel faster? Not a chance unless you are the only vehicle on the road.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    d, Dec 8th, 2004 @ 10:08am


    not so sure i agree about things feeling safer in manhattan. of course, i write this a day after my gf was hit by a cab at 71st and 2nd.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    eponymous geek, Dec 8th, 2004 @ 2:11pm

    Re: No signs = safer?

    there wouldn't be intersections any more, they'd all be converted to roundabouts. any crossings that can't be converted would be treated like a 4-way stop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2004 @ 2:25pm

    Re: No signs = safer?

    Roundabouts only work in low traffic areas, once you have a lot of cars on the road they slow things down horribly, same with 4-way stops.

    accidents are caused by "people" regardless of the environment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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