Photo Credit: “Coliseo” by G. Michael Smith
There is a quiet revolution taking place in the dark art of traffic management. Since Kensington Borough Council removed most of the “safety” features, signs and traffic control systems on Kensington High Street, the number of pedestrian KSI’s (killed or serious injuries) has dropped by over 60%. Traffic moves more smoothly and the appearance of the street has been improved.
Yet this seems to fly in the face of all conventional wisdom. Cars, after all, are immensely powerful potential killing machines. They, and as a consequence, their drivers have to be controlled. And it’s not just the power under citizens’ right feet; it’s also their exclusion from normal human intercourse. Pedestrians or, indeed, men on horses make eye contact; they are forced to acknowledge their mutual humanity. But at anything over 20mph you can’t make eye contact, and contemporary car design is unhealthily obsessed with convincing drivers and passengers that they are in another, better world than everybody else. People in their cars, watched only by researchers’ cameras, sing, nosepick and cry, the latter behaviour having its own special name – “grieving while driving”. In addition, of course, otherwise mild-mannered people drive like complete bastards.
For the last 50 years the driving principle of traffic management has been to try and control human nature and psychology – to do as much as possible to remove unreliable, unpredictable and occasionally psychotic people from the equation. It has been a kind of institutional shouting. Or bureaucracy.
A Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman, finally challenged this wisdom. His idea was simple. The modern car and all the traffic management paraphernalia have had the effect of putting both physical and emotional distance between road users. It undermined and diminished peoples’ sense of personal responsibility. It made people stupid and selfish.
His notion was that if all the controls and systems were removed, people would have to make decisions. They would actually have to “connect” with other road users. They would have to become more personally responsible for their decisions and actions and this would make them better and safer drivers.Download Article 500 Club