Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist
June 10, 2008

Removing barriers is good for us

An article in today’s Irish Times caught my attention because it acknowledges that not all the architecture of control in the urban space is helpful or as protective as it seems to be.

Transport chief’s Dublin plan: confuse drivers to cut crashes
FRANK McDONALD, Environment Editor

TAKE A street in Dublin. Eliminate the footpaths. Get rid of all the “clutter” – traffic lights, direction signs, pedestrian crossings and guard rails, then see what happens.

That’s the experiment John Henry, director of the Dublin Transportation Office, wants to try out in the centre of the city.

“Without any signs, traffic will automatically slow down and there will be fewer accidents because drivers will take more care,” he said confidently.

“The environment is what controls speed, not signs or rules. It’s psychological. Signs like ‘slow’, ‘stop’ and ‘yield’ are often not seen by drivers. If you take the signs and kerb lines away, and say ‘go figure it out yourselves’, you’re creating uncertainty – and that’s safer.”

Evidence from abroad, rather surprisingly, supports Mr Henry’s novel proposal. Five years ago, the Dutch town of Drachten removed signs and traffic lights as part of a “naked streets” experiment – and accident figures plummeted as drivers became more cautious.

Drivers undirected by signs, kerbs or road markings are faced with confusion and ambiguity. Since they do not want to cause accidents at junctions, or damage their cars, they reduce their speed and establish eye contact with other users.”

The article refers to the planning of roads but the construction of fortresses whether luxury apartment blocks or corporate headquarters that seem to protect those who make it inside might be creating the conditions beyond their walls and cctv-monitored precincts that undermine that expensive safety.

Maybe the answer is to encourage confusion and ambiguity and to re-establish eye contact with one another.

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