Naked Streets

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.


4 thoughts on “Naked Streets”

  1. would it even work on highways or roads with higher speed limits ? and with the ” it’s all about me ” society we live in now , i dont see people really being more cautious but more intimidating !

  2. Anyone who quotes Mark Steyn as an arbiter of anything other than douch-baggery loses all credibility in an argument, sorry.

    That quote from Wired you cherry-pick to make your ridiculous point shows a remarkable lack of understanding of statistics. Sometimes being contrarian just means you’re an idiot.

  3. Faulty-Assumption #1:
    Bodily space = One’s car’s personal space. NO. Our sense of physical space and “no go” zones are not the same for our bodies and our cars.

    FA #2:
    “Public space” and “unspoken social code” are understood differently in small-town European cities than in the GTA or other major Cdn cities, which are the target markets of
    “three fatal accidents to zero”?!?!? Yeah, and one of those involved a high-speed collision with a dairy cow!
    In small towns, people KNOW each other or at least factor in while driving that they might know the person (or their family, or friends) in another car that they could hit. Cities with their massive populations have an anonymity that comes with that population, which precludes this very real relational constraint in small towns.

    Stick with your car reviews, Steve – your sociological comparisons are atrocious, and your rational connections non-existent.

  4. FA #3
    European cars on the road are generally smaller and cluster more closely around the same average size, while Cdn cars on the road exhibit greater polymorphism; Cdn cars have a broader variance in sizes.
    eg: I don’t see someone in an SUV worrying too much about whether they’ll be hurt in a collision with a Smartcar or MiniCooper. (While driving a small SUV myself, I have had countless times when a larger SUV has cross over the centre line and forced me to almost hit the sidewalk to avoid them….)

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