Traffic rules

[From Mike Acree (2006.11.21.1030 PST)],1518,448747,00.html


European Cities Do Away with Traffic Signs

By Matthias Schulz
November 16, 2006

Are streets without traffic signs conceivable? Seven cities and regions
in Europe are giving it a try -- with good results.

"We reject every form of legislation," the Russian aristocrat and
"father of anarchism" Mikhail Bakunin once thundered. The czar banished
him to Siberia. But now it seems his ideas are being rediscovered.

European traffic planners are dreaming of streets free of rules and
directives. They want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and
humane way, as brethren -- by means of friendly gestures, nods of the
head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions,
restrictions and warning signs.

A project implemented by the European Union is currently seeing seven
cities and regions clear-cutting their forest of traffic signs. Ejby, in
Denmark, is participating in the experiment, as are Ipswich in England
and the Belgian town of Ostende.

The utopia has already become a reality in Makkinga, in the Dutch
province of Western Frisia. A sign by the entrance to the small town
(population 1,000) reads "Verkeersbordvrij" -- "free of traffic signs."
Cars bumble unhurriedly over precision-trimmed granite cobblestones.
Stop signs and direction signs are nowhere to be seen. There are neither
parking meters nor stopping restrictions. There aren't even any lines
painted on the streets.

"The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be
considerate. We're losing our capacity for socially responsible
behavior," says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project's
co-founders. "The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's
sense of personal responsibility dwindles."

Monderman could be on to something. Germany has 648 valid traffic
symbols. The inner cities are crowded with a colorful thicket of metal
signs. Don't park over here, watch out for passing deer over there, make
sure you don't skid. The forest of signs is growing ever denser. Some 20
million traffic signs have already been set up all over the country.

Psychologists have long revealed the senselessness of such exaggerated
regulation. About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers.
What's more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the
driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He may stop in front
of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing
pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every
traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing
while the light is still yellow.

"Unsafe is safe"

The result is that drivers find themselves enclosed by a corset of
prescriptions, so that they develop a kind of tunnel vision: They're
constantly in search of their own advantage, and their good manners go
out the window.

The new traffic model's advocates believe the only way out of this
vicious circle is to give drivers more liberty and encourage them to
take responsibility for themselves. They demand streets like those
during the Middle Ages, when horse-drawn chariots, handcarts and people
scurried about in a completely unregulated fashion. The new model's
proponents envision today's drivers and pedestrians blending into a
colorful and peaceful traffic stream.

It may sound like chaos, but it's only the lesson drawn from one of the
insights of traffic psychology: Drivers will force the accelerator down
ruthlessly only in situations where everything has been fully regulated.
Where the situation is unclear, they're forced to drive more carefully
and cautiously.

Indeed, "Unsafe is safe" was the motto of a conference where proponents
of the new roadside philosophy met in Frankfurt in mid-October.

True, many of them aren't convinced of the new approach. "German drivers
are used to rules," says Michael Schreckenberg of Duisburg University.
If clear directives are abandoned, domestic rush-hour traffic will turn
into an Oriental-style bazaar, he warns. He believes the new vision of
drivers and pedestrians interacting in a cozy, relaxed way will work, at
best, only for small towns.

But one German borough is already daring to take the step into
lawlessness. The town of Bohmte in Lower Saxony has 13,500 inhabitants.
It's traversed by a country road and a main road. Cars approach
speedily, delivery trucks stop to unload their cargo and pedestrians
scurry by on elevated sidewalks.

The road will be re-furbished in early 2007, using EU funds. "The
sidewalks are going to go, and the asphalt too. Everything will be
covered in cobblestones," Klaus Goedejohann, the mayor, explains. "We're
getting rid of the division between cars and pedestrians."

The plans derive inspiration and motivation from a large-scale
experiment in the town of Drachten in the Netherlands, which has 45,000
inhabitants. There, cars have already been driving over red natural
stone for years. Cyclists dutifully raise their arm when they want to
make a turn, and drivers communicate by hand signs, nods and waving.

"More than half of our signs have already been scrapped," says traffic
planner Koop Kerkstra. "Only two out of our original 18 traffic light
crossings are left, and we've converted them to roundabouts." Now
traffic is regulated by only two rules in Drachten: "Yield to the right"
and "Get in someone's way and you'll be towed."

Strange as it may seem, the number of accidents has declined
dramatically. Experts from Argentina and the United States have visited
Drachten. Even London has expressed an interest in this new example of
automobile anarchy. And the model is being tested in the British
capital's Kensington neighborhood.

[From Kenny Kitzke (2006.11.21.1909EST)]

<Mike Acree (2006.11.21.1030 PST)>


European Cities Do Away with Traffic Signs>

Nice to hear from you Mike. What a novel idea in today’s chaotic world! I love it. Dare we assume that people can “behave” responsibly without Big Brother being their schoolmaster? Actually, it isn’t traffic rules per se that are removed, it is just the plethora of traffic signs.

Is there any possibility of this happening in America with a Democratic controlled Congress? Of course, a bunch of Hummer drivers might love the increased freedom it would provide them. Could this possibly work in California?

Another book I like would probably agree with the Europeans, “law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient.”