The Naked Road

What happens when you rip out all of the pedestrian "safety" features of a city street--the guardrails, the signposts, the white lines on ...
by | July 26, 2007

What happens when you rip out all of the pedestrian "safety" features of a city street--the guardrails, the signposts, the white lines on the street--and let cars and people mix it up? Bloodbath, right?

Wrong. Turns out, the street actually gets safer. That's what they concluded in London, where accidents on one "naked" street dropped by 44 percent. According to the Evening Standard, cities around Britain now want their own naked roads. (Thanks to Streetsblog for the tip).

This, of course, is not what traffic engineers like to hear. When it comes to safety, sometimes less actually is more. As London councilman and backer of the naked road concept Daniel Moylan puts it,  "It is about re-establishing eye contact between road users. They are now looking at each other instead of just signs."

This reminds me of a talk on traffic safety I heard last week by Mark Rosenberg of the Centers for Disease Control. Rosenberg studies traffic fatalities as a public health issue, mostly in developing nations--traffic accidents kill more people than malaria. He talked about how dangerous traffic signals actually are. Why? What do you do when you approach a yellow light? You speed up, increasing the potential lethality of any crash. Worse yet, some people simply ignore red lights altogether, putting themselves and everybody else at risk.

Rosenberg prefers roundabouts to traffic signals. In fact, he said traffic signals are so dangerous that cities would do well to simply cover them with hoods and place giant barrels in the middle of intersections. If nothing else, he said, a "poor man's roundabout" gets drivers to slow down.

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