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Naked Streets, Shared Spaces

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on August 14th, 2009

Sources: GoingSolar, Enchanted Isle, Times Online and Sydney Morning Herald

Naked Street woon_Haren1
Image via streetsblog

Hans Monderman (1945 – 2008) pioneered the concept of the “naked street” by removing all the things that were supposed to make it safe for the pedestrian – traffic lights, railings, kerbs and road markings. He thereby created a completely open and even surface on which motorists and pedestrians “negotiated” with each other by eye contact.

Monderman worked tirelessly to prove that such roads are safer and, more than 25 years after his first experiment in the Netherlands, streets all over the world are being redesigned to the Monderman “shared space” model. He passionately believed that segregating cars and pedestrians was wrong and an imposition from the state. Instead, he claimed a natural interaction between the driver and the pedestrian would create a more civilised environment.

His maxim was: “If you treat drivers like idiots, they act as idiots. Never treat anyone in the public realm as an idiot, always assume they have intelligence.”

Source: TimesOnline


One of his big ideas was ensuring that the road ‘tells the right story’ by being in harmony with its purpose, and its built and natural environment.

For example older, tree-lined minor roads might lose all their signage and markings because the road – just as it is – fits in with both the landscape and its purpose (light rural traffic). The old rural road becomes a thing of beauty in itself. Your eyes are so used to seeing roads with their standard authoritarian lines and signs that it takes a little while to really see and appreciate the road without it. But shorn of its diminishing clutter the country road regains some of its magic again – winding its way into the promise of the distance.

Over time the schemes became more ambitious. In the Village of Nijega, on a through road, a short stretch of bypass had been used to cut out a curve at the eastern end of the village where the old road passed a former toll booth, a church and a bar. This short stretch of fast route gave drivers the wrong message: that it was acceptable to drive through the village. Following extensive consultation and discussion with the villagers the bypass was taken out and the old route reinstated, ast the church, toll booth and bar. This gave drivers the right visual signals about the nature of the road they are travelling on.

This brings his second big idea into play – that of socialising and humanising traffic management through the counter-intuitive method of removing signs, lines and traffic signals. Road users respond to the lack of formal management of junctions by slowing down as who is going to charge at speed through a junction which has no formal controls? And then having slowed, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians negotiate their way through the junction with waves, nods, eye contact and common sense. And it works! His biggest and bravest scheme was a crossroads in Drachten which has a throughput of 17,000 vehicles a day and 2 to 3,000 cyclists.

Friesland also has some radical ideas about public transport. As is common elsewhere in the Netherlands, Friesland has interlocking networks of rail, express bus, semi-fast and regular services. Common ticketing (including the ‘Strippenkaart’) allows users access to a network where a guarenteed level of facilities are available at different levels of interchanges. In contrast to some ‘get people out of their cars’ initiatives in the UK, vehicle interiors and interchanges can be relatively utiliatrian and the promotion of the network is limited.

It’s hard to imagine in the Uk the relatively substantial interchanges that Friesland has in remote rural locations where buses arrive simultaneously to connect before fanning out again across the rural hinterland.

The additional innovation in parts of Friesland was to combine existing budgets for public transport, heathcare transport and social services transport to fund a door-to-door demand responsive service open to everyone. This operates on the same zonal fare system as conventional public transport – but at a higher fare.

Imagine being the Traffic Engineer who promoted a scheme to take out traffic lights that had never been tried before and who would get the blame if it went wrong and people were injured or killed?

Source: Enchanted Isle

In Australia:

In May 09, the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article on a Naked Street proposal for Sydney…

“STEPPING off the footpath in the centre of Sydney can be a perilous exercise. Even in a city usually choked with traffic, cars still manage to tear past. The alternative – waiting at a major intersection up to three minutes for traffic lights to change – is ignored by 70 per cent of pedestrians.

Now, the City of Sydney wants to take control of several main arteries through the central business district, rip out the traffic lights, strip the streets of safety signs, impose a speed limit of 10 kmh and give pedestrians the right of way.”  Andrew West

Creative Communities, based in Australia,  design similar relationships between road-users in to calm traffic flow.  The Mental Speed Bumps book is their major publication on the topic.

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