Monday, 9 March 2009

Shared Space

I wrote the following piece just over a year ago, but I think it is just as relevant today and will continue to be as long as our roads are so badly congested.

One of the main reasons I wrote it as because I like the idea, but also I was trying to spread a little libertarian thought to a wider audience, on an issue that most people recognise needs seriously addressing. As a result it was reproduced in a national newspaper and I first came across Martin Cassini's Fit Roads campaign. When asked what libertarianism is, I find using this as an example very effective, people immediately identify with it.

ROAD RAGE features all too frequently in the media because, sadly, somebody is badly injured or sometimes even murdered on a seemingly regular basis. There is no doubt that there are severe problems with traffic in the UK and elsewhere throughout Europe. At the moment the green/environmentalist lobby is at the forefront of the campaign to ease traffic related problems, but their proposed solutions are a sham, based on quack science at best, pure anti-capitalist venom at worst. The more they tinker and restrict, with bus lanes, chicanes, speed humps and traffic lights, the worse the problems become.

We need to put forward the case for liberating our roads, and our motorists, as a start on the journey to personal freedom and liberty removed by successive governments and the EU.

There are three examples of attempts to ease traffic problems by using common sense, rather than pure, misguided political or ideological dogma or authoritarian paternalism.

The oldest and most studied is in Drachten, Holland. The second is in Bohmte, Germany, only introduced in September 2007 so still being closely monitored, but the results so far are extremely encouraging. The third, and least comprehensive, is Kensington High Street in London. The schemes are called “Shared Space”.

In Drachten the experiment involved the removal of traffic lights in the town, as well as removing painted lines on the roads and other traffic signs. The aim was actually to create danger, which may sound strange, but that sense of danger then encourages personal responsibility, awareness and concentration to protect oneself and to avoid injuring others, a very libertarian approach – and it works.

The main square, and biggest junction in the town, is the Laveiplein, which sees well over 20,000 cars pass through each day, as well as having the town’s bus depot on one side. The traffic lights have gone, replaced by a roundabout. Where there used to be huge traffic jams there is now rarely a tailback, and waiting time for a bus has dropped from 49 to 9 seconds. Indeed traffic lights have been removed throughout the town, not just the Laveiplein.

There used to be one road death every three years in Drachten; there have been no road deaths the since “Shared Space” was introduced nearly nine years ago. That is a singular lesson for those convinced that street signs and oppressive measures against motorists are a solution to the problem.

The scheme in Kensington High Street falls short of the full version of “Shared Space” implemented in Drachten, the scheme envisioned by a forward-thinking councillor being blunted by the vested interests of local bureaucrats, perhaps a reminder that it is not always the politicians who get things wrong, but they invariably get the blame. Regardless, the scheme has won awards but the results reflect its limited nature with accidents dropping by “only” some 40%. Get rid of those traffic lights and who knows?

There has recently been a great debate in the local papers in my area about cyclists using the pavements and I was instinctively on the side of the cyclists, partly because, in my neck of the woods, the choice is for cyclists to use sparsely populated pavements or to share the busy A6 trunk road with 40 tonne juggernauts. And in our very minor way we already have “Shared Space” on our nearby canal towpath, where cyclists and pedestrians happily share the space without cyclists causing mayhem and injury to pedestrians.

I think Drachten, Kensington and Bohmte prove the case for the “Shared Space” lobby.

And finally, I can’t help wondering about the benefits to be gained by taking the philosophy behind “Shared Space” further into our lives. Giving decision-making and responsibility back to the people, be they motorists, cyclists or pedestrians, has proved spectacularly successful in these examples. Just think how many other areas of our lives could be similarly liberated using this philosophy.

Perhaps the roads can be the start of the real drive to freedom.

1 comment:

Paul Lockett said...

I posted on my blog a while ago about some elements of the shared space approach being used in parts of the centre of Manchester. Even though it is far from a pure shared space scheme, the contrast with other roads in the area in terms of calmness is noticeable.