What would happen if we removed all the traffic lights, lines, laws, speed limits and sidewalks from our inner cities? Chaos? Quite the opposite: the number of serious collisions and traffic fatalities would plummet.
Consider the theory of Shared Space. It reasons that when there are fewer rules there are more variables – and consequently, we’re more careful.
People share space by being aware of their environment. Put a thousand rules in front of me and you remove that necessity. You’ve done the thinking for me. But if you remove the rules? As author Mark Steyn says in America Alone, “You have to figure it out for yourself, so you approach it cautiously and with an eye on what the other chaps in the vicinity are up to.”
Think about your last walk through a busy mall. You didn’t bump into anyone: Not the douchebag who stared at you, challenging; not the drunk who weaved in and out of your path; not the obese guy in the motorized chair; not even the blind guy shuffling along with a cane – because you were aware and stepped out of the way. And that odd time you do bump into someone? You apologize and rarely get hurt.
We figure it out because it’s public space and there’s an unspoken social code.
But would that work in traffic? It already has in many places. This quote is from Wired magazine, already six years ago. “In Denmark, the town of Christianfield stripped the traffic signs and signals from its major intersection and cut the number of serious or fatal accidents a year from three to zero. In England, towns in Suffolk and Wiltshire have removed lane lines from secondary roads in an effort to slow traffic… A study of center-line removal in Wiltshire … found that drivers with no center line to guide them drove more safely and had a 35 percent decrease in the number of accidents.” Other European and international jurisdictions have lightened traffic rules in their cities and consequently the number of serious accidents.
But would it work here? Absolutely. The only trouble is how much Canadian politicians love making rules, not eliminating them.
Image above, of the New Road in Brighton, England – a successful shared space – courtesy of DeFacto.