Traffic control: the naked streets experiment

I tend to waffle between asking for dedicated and separated facilities for cyclists and for keeping cyclists on the roadway (with some white stripes painted here and there). A new movement is spreading from its birth in the north of The Netherlands (those crazy, soggy Frieslanders) with the radical idea of Naked Streets (or Shared Space). The Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman with the idea. The basic idea is that safe streets are made where all easy visual cues are removed: no more traffic lights, stop signs, speed limit signs, lane markings. They are all removed and intersections are remade so that there is very little difference between sidewalk and roadway.

Amazingly the naked streets concept has worked remarkably well. Collisions and accidents have dropped. All the road users have to use social cues to negotiate intersections (this is what Darren S anticipated in his comment on ship signals. People are more careful because there is a greater of perception of danger. They can no longer rely on traffic lights to tell them when it is "safe" to cross.

From the Wikipedia article:

Monderman: "We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior, ...The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles." and... "When you don't exactly know who has right of way, you tend to seek eye contact with other road users... You automatically reduce your speed, you have contact with other people and you take greater care."

Would this work in Toronto? I'd love it if the conservative engineers would at least pick some neighbourhood for a pilot project. London is the latest location for the concept, so soggy Netherlands isn't the only place where it can work.

The best way to understand it is to see it. The video is 4 of 10 short videos by Tequio focusing on Drachten in The Netherlands.


I bet Kensington would be a good testing ground, as it's halfway there already. :)

Naked streets are great... but I think they are so successful in the Nederlands bcs the common sense Law of the Sea is already applied and, well, just the way it is! ...larger vessels give way to smaller...
this was actually a recommendation in the oft-sited (and as-yet-to-be-applied) 1998 Coroner's report on cycling fatalities. Rec. #12 (Legislative Review) in part reads:
"Ontario's Highway Traffic act presently does little to clarify how bicycles interact with other traffic on our roads. The concept of motorized vehicles yielding to non-motorized vehicles, who in turn must yield to pedestrians seems to be a common sense rule which should be accepted by all road users. "...
It CAN work here but not without MASSIVE driver re-education campaign and the implementation of these changes to the HTA.
P.S. I sure hope we will be re-cycling some of these stories - I feel like a lot of them are worth repeating and updating. I'd like to know how this works out in London!

I agree, Tammy. I think drivers in Europe already have a better idea of how to drive around cyclists just because of the higher numbers and the fact that most drivers probably have experience cycling.

The other thing is that I'm pretty sure European drivers are taught to treat intersections without signs or lights sort of like an implied round-a-bout, so, after yielding to peds and cyclists, yield to the left (or right? I did a quick search on the internet and couldn't come up with a clear answer!). But we're supposed to do a 4-way stop, which would probably cause more problems at the intersection.



That is a great point. Most of the report is forgotten other than sideguards. While they gave up on sideguards the next day it is hard to wonder why they did not work on the other recommendations.

If you have an actual traffic circle or round-about the execution is simple, and understanding who has right of way is easy. Whoever is already in the traffic circle has right of way. Davis, California has been building them the last few years (pdf). They find that the circles deflect motorist speed and make it easier for cyclists to take the lane. The bike lanes disappear before approaching them. Davis is interesting because it has bicycle use approaching The Netherlands' levels but still in the heart of American car culture.

I wonder too if in Europe that a regular intersection is supposed to be an implied round-about. There are good reasons why we always yield to the right: there is a whole car length less for making errors if the car on the left tries to go first. It's hard to explain without a diagram.

The problem with the naked streets now is, is that they have only temporarely reduced accidents. As people had to get used to the new streets they drove/walked/cycled carefully, but now they're used to the streets and they're back to their previous style of driving/walking/cycling. This means that accidents have been reduced for a short while, but now are up on the same level as they were before.

The best way to reduce accidents is to make the streets 'unclear'. By this I mean making the street look smaller, or not easy to oversee, so people will have to slow down to be able to see what's going on. This has been used many times, for example by adding dotted lines at the sides of the street, thus making the street look thinner.

I'm not sure about the naked streets concept in Toronto ... when the power goes out and traffic lights stop working, drivers (and cyclists) seem incapable of safely navigating intersections.

The rule is that, under such conditions, the intersection automatically becomes a four-way stop. Watch people, though, and its pretty clear they have not idea what to do in the absence of a traffic light.

What you get is unpredictable behaviour. Far from people making eye contact and negotiating in a non-verbal way, what really happens is a car finds a space to go through the intersection and the next five or six cars follow until something or someone interupts the flow. Pedestrians and cyclists behave in a like manner.

I'd hate my whole commute to be like that every day!

The intersection of King's College Circle, King's College Road, and Galbraith Rd. is a bit of a 'naked street' in that the sidewalk for those heading S. ends at Convocation Hall and pedestrians cross through the open (street) space in whatever direction they're headed. I find the whole thing rather unpleasant, and that's in a very low traffic area. Also not a fan of traffic circles.