If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 11 October 2010

Shared Space

I'm a big fan of the idea of 'shared space' in urban areas - roads shared by car drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians, where priority is negotiated instead of imposed. In a world of pedestrian barriers, traffic lights and 'thou shalt not' road markings, it seems counterintuitive, but wherever schemes have removed all the traditional traffic 'controls', speeds are lower, congestion is massively reduced, pollution is cut, accidents are almost non-existent, and everyone seems to get along fine.

It's not a new idea, of course. These shared spaces have been implemented in the Netherlands for many years. If you have driven in Jersey, you will have encountered the 'merge in turn' instruction at junctions, and that seems to work well. Last year, Portishead (Bristol) decided to run a trial, and it has been both very successful and extremely popular.

The libertarian in me thinks that people are basically co-operative, and left to our own devices we will work out a way of living together that is mutually beneficial. Externally-imposed controls tend to distort our behaviour and make us distrust and challenge each other. How many accidents happen when one person insists that it is their 'right' to proceed ahead of someone else? How often do we see a green traffic light as permission to speed up and stop observing and analysing?

Have a look at these clips and see what you think.

Thanks to Dick Puddlecote for the links.


  1. Well, I've often maintained that the way to get people to act responsibly is to make them genuinely responsible for their own actions. It certainly looks like the case here, excess conceptual buzzwords notwithstanding.

    The real beauty of the system lies in the personal involvement. It isn't being dictated to by machinery, it's all about negotiating with your fellow road users for mutual - and apparently measurable - benefit. I can see why it should and would work: it'd be nice to have a few more trials in place to verify that.

    Traffic controls didn't help my brother, fetched off his motorcycle today (fortunately without too much damage) by a woman who was convinced they'd given her right of way onto a roundabout. She was admittedly wrong, but her blind obedience to what she believed the sign said meant she never even looked.

  2. And if you want to increase congestion and frustration put a group of special constables out on traffic duty in Cheshire on a Sunday afternoon to cause 5 mile tailbacks around Tatton Park!

  3. Yes, 'blind obedience' sums it up well. Glad your bro wasn't badly hurt, and that he's back on the road before too long.

    Nikos, I'm reminded of the saying 'to err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer', but in this case the untrained were even worse than a man-made system.

  4. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (209617) oppose it and have devoted an unspecified amount of money to lobbying against the proposals.

    See page 10 ' policy development, advocacy and campaigns' of the scanned report and accounts for 2009.


  5. I noticed the reference to the blind in the Part 2 film. That's a serious issue, but I can't imagine there isn't a way round it.


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