This idea is not unknown but it is still highly unusual: an English town recently removed all of its traffic signs and lights.
The village of Poynton in the U.K. has undertaken one of the most ambitious experiments to date in this type of street design, whose most prominent advocate was the Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman. Variations on the shared-space model have been implemented in other European cities since the early 1990s, but never before at such a busy junction. Poynton’s city leaders sought the change because the historic hub of their quaint little town had become a grim and unwelcoming place…
The project didn’t come cheap, costing about $6 million. Engineers completely reconfigured the intersection at the center of town, replacing a traffic light with two “roundels” that cars must negotiate without the guidance of traffic signs. Pavements of varying colors and textures are the only signal as to which type of road user belongs where.
It was a controversial move for the community of some 14,000 people, which lies about 11 miles from Manchester in the northwestern part of England. Now, a year after construction wrapped up, a video called “Poynton Regenerated” makes the case that the shared space scheme maintains a smooth flow of traffic while simultaneously making the village center a more attractive and safer place for pedestrians, leading to increased economic activity downtown…
In the “Regenerating Poynton” video, several people who admit to having been skeptical of the plan say that after it was put in place, they came to see it as a dramatic improvement. A local city councilor says that the main street no longer seems like a dying place, as it had for years before the change. Some 88 percent of businesses in the area are reporting an increase in foot traffic, and real estate agents say they’re seeing new interest in buying property in the area.
The social interactions that result from shared space — eye contact, waves of thanks, and the like — are one of the main selling points for advocates.
What is most interesting about this presentation is that it is less about safety, and traffic crashes do tend to go down when measures like this are taken, and more about how it can improve street life. When motorized vehicles are no longer privileged on the streets in the ways that they are in most communities, street life can be more open and lively. So, perhaps we will see more people in the coming years selling this plan more as a viable redevelopment option rather than a safety concern.
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