It’s been a growing trend in Europe for some time, but now calls are being made for “naked streets” in the UK. The idea is to reduce or remove completely, the forest of road signs which have sprung up to deal with the reign of the motor car.
Well-meaning local authorities have erected more and more signs in recent years, in an attempt to keep cars, cyclists and pedestrians safe.
But campaigners say notices for cycle lanes, speed limits, bus priority and so on can all add to confusion and actually make the urban environment more dangerous.
Psychologists have also long pointed to the fact that, when faced with a myriad set of rules, some drivers will resentfully obey them, but fail to behave considerately unless it’s “in the rules”. For example, waiting at pedestrian crossings, but never waving walkers across the road while in stationary traffic.
In Britain, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) is now calling for fewer signs – pointing to actual interaction between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians as the route to safety.
Speaking about CABE’s Design Better Streets campaign, Sarah Gaventa, director of CABE Space, said: “The proliferation of signs, barriers and crossings could be making our streets more dangerous. We’re not suggesting that removing them all is the answer. But for too long we’ve been designing streets for traffic: they’ve become, noisy, congested and cluttered, with people herded behind traffic barriers, ostensibly for their own benefit.”
CABE is calling on local authorities, highways designers and developers to question long-held assumptions about safety which the group says aren’t based on solid evidence.
Reduced signage has been under trial in mainland Europe for some time now.
In Makkinga in the Netherlands, the centre of the small town is a traffic sign-free zone.
Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians have no choice but to navigate by interaction, waving each other across junctions and using more human means of communicating such as eye contact.
Of course, the concept does have a perceived draw-back. It requires everyone to slow down to a speed where eye contact is possible between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians -a maximum of about 25mph.
Whether British motorists in major cities, who are often veritable timebombs of ticking frustration thanks to congestion, would welcome the prospect of driving slower remains to be seen.
But with more “home zone” schemes – with reduced signage and cars, cyclists and pedestrians sharing space, cropping up all over the UK, it’s possible that a sea change in traffic management is in the offing.
In a booklet published for the launch of the Design Better Streets campaign CABE has singled out ten case studies which it feels are examples of making integrated traffic work.
They include Maid Marian Way in Nottingham, the approach to Temple Meads railway station in Bristol, and O’Connell Street in Dublin.
To find out more about the campaign and details of the case studies visit www.cabe.org.uk.