Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Anarchy comes to our Streets


Thanks to comrades at World In Common for providing this interesting link

"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.

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." . 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."

Germany has 648 valid traffic symbols. 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.

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.
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.
In Drachten in the Netherlands, which has 45,000 inhabitants , half of the signs have already been scrapped , only two out of original 18 traffic light crossings are left. The number of accidents has declined dramatically.

From own personal observations , i remember when i first began visiting London regularly and would be sitting in a cafe for breakfast , looking out upon a busy crossroads , unregulated by traffic lights , as it most likely would have been done in my home-city . I immediately noticed the informal rules of the road , cars easing and merging into traffic , cars giving way . Was it London drivers courtesy , or simply an acknowledgement that co-operation was the only solution to avoid being gripped in grid-lock ?
Either way , it ensured a smooth flow of traffic and i witnessed no road-rage .

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