Traffic lights are an integral part of how pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles interact and how traffic flows in a somewhat orderly fashion. According to organizations like Shared Space, along with prevailing street design philosophy, they’re also to blame for man’s isolation and alienation from one another. Interpersonal interactions and relations are replaced by red, yellow, and green.
From Shared Space:
The traffic sector has to realise that public space is not its exclusive domain. And experts from different disciplines – landscape experts, sociologists and historians – must understand that they provide a substantial contribution to the development of a public domain that enables people to be human.
Intro to Shared Space Video, after the jump:
The goal is a more harmonious relationship between all road users. Although it sounds far-fetched to imagine motorists becoming courteous and respecting other vehicles, cyclists, and peds, early experiments have shown otherwise. Pedestrians are no longer “slow interruptions” as they are in American traffic plans – they’re people with a face to whom cars are more likely to yield.
As BBC News reports, machines ruling our lives is not just the stuff of science fiction – just look at the amount of public space devoted to cars, as well as the traffic lights that govern our commutes.
From BBC News:
Traffic lights make us stop when it’s safe to go, defying common sense, extending journey times, and producing congestion that damages the economy. They take our eyes off of the road, flouting basic safety principles, maximize emissions from the stop/start cycle, deface streetscapes, and cost the earth to install and run. The system is a violation of our freedom of movement.
London motorists claim the traffic flows more naturally when the lights are out of order. When the traffic cop who could interpret how to keep things moving was replaced by automation, the system largely went to hell.
We don’t have traffic lights in skating rinks or skateboard parks – Shared Space thinks that downtown traffic should work in much the same way. Use human nature and our ability to interact efficiently rather than regulating with an inefficient, dehumanizing system.
Bohtme, Germany is one of seven European communities transforming parts of their downtown into Shared Space. As local delivery van driver Uwe Muther told NPR, pedestrians wanting to cross the busy road would often have to wait for five or ten minutes under the traditional traffic model. Now, the town has taken a busy main street and removed traffic lights, road signs, and even curbs and sidewalks to truly integrate all forms of transportation. The streetscape is painted red, alerting motorists that now they, rather than the lights and signs, are responsible for safely accessing the situation.
"We don’t want the cars alone to have precedence, we want to try and make the area pleasant for everybody," says Bohmte’s mayor.
Though it sounds like pedestrians are being thrown to the automobile-lions, anecdotal evidence indicates otherwise.
Brigitte Asshorn, who owns a hotel and restaurant on a road that is being turned into more Shared Space, says that since this part was finished, she’s had drivers actually stop, smile at her and signal for her to cross the street, without a marked pedestrian crossing or a light. She thinks it has caused a change in people’s awareness.
But the evidence is not limited to anecdotes and hearsay. In Norrköping, Sweden, one particularly accident-riddled intersection has seen its accident rate plummet to ZERO since removing traffic lights in September, 2000! There are no crosswalks, and largely no rules for pedestrians. The streets belong to them, and they’re free to use them as they see fit.