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A Road With Fewer Rules

By Matthew Yglesias  

"A Road With Fewer Rules"

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Brighton, UK (wikimedia)

Brighton, UK (wikimedia)

Whenever people start complaining about urban cyclists not following traffic rules, the typical response is to say that cyclists need more dedicated space on the road rather than awkwardly being shoved into street traffic.

But when I think about this, I’m always reminded of the fact that arguably we need fewer traffic rules. The basic idea of traffic rules—separated uses, painted lane markers, giant signs, etc.—is to make it safe for the drivers of cars to drive their cars very quickly. That’s an okay design principle for a highway, but its nearly-universal adoption as a design principle for urban roadways is arguably very misguided. If it were up to me, more city streets would follow Hans Monderman’s shared space principles and just be undifferentiated stretch on which cars, bikes, mopeds, pedestrians, etc. are all free to travel. The over-arching “rule” would be “don’t collide with anyone.”

After all, if you think about a car-free space—a park or pedestrian plaza of some some, say—there’s not a need for elaborate “traffic rules.” The people aren’t herded into lanes or strictly told where to walk. The convention is to stroll on the right side of the sidewalk or whatever, but people are free to be flexible as the situation dictates. The point is that you’re not supposed to collide with anyone, and that everyone needs to undertake the personal responsibility to pay attention to what’s going on.

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