“People have to use their own brains,” says Hans Monderman, a traffic engineer from the Netherlands in a recent New York Times article. He was talking about a revolutionary new design in traffic management that he is employing in the Netherlands and that some other countries are considering.
In his traffic design you won’t find sidewalks, traffic lights, crosswalk signs and lights, speed limits, or anything that puts controls on people. This is no right of way. “People here have to find their own way, negotiate for themselves, use their own brains,” he says.
And it’s working. Twenty thousand drivers a day and pedestrians go about their business without horns honking, fingers flipping, or road rage.
His philosophy is based on the concept of shared space, where pedestrian and driver are equal. He believes that traffic signs and instructions treat drivers like idiots, therefore they act like idiots.
Utopia? Maybe. But Monderman says there has never been a fatal accident on any of the roads he has designed.
For years I have remarked that when I go camping in the mountains drivers are always more considerate and friendly, many of them actually waving as they pass you by from the opposite direction. In my cynicism, I would say that these drivers are the same ones who are honking and cutting you off on the freeway on Monday morning. But this article put it in perspective, because in the mountains you have to be more aware and more considerate because there aren’t a lot of rules, traffic lights, etc.
The real test of this design would be in places like Russia. As I’ve reported previously, in Russia a pedestrian crosses the street at his or her own risk. Drivers in Russia not only own the road, they rule it, and they don’t stop for anything. It would be very interesting to try an experiment using Monderman’s design in a small Russian city.