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Simply no idea

Last week the Government announced that it wanted to ‘de-clutter’ the UK’s roads of pointless signage.

This, I think, is a fine idea. There’s too much crap to look at when you are driving. It also distracts you when you are trying to check Facebook, texting or writing emails on your iPhone at speed.

Each day I drive past a sign that says ‘Sign not in use’ – an utterly pointless addition – and that tells me that somewhere along the line we, as a country, didn’t have enough things for people to do so we put things up so that later in the line we’d have to take them down again.

The de-cluttering idea is nothing new, however. The Dutch got ahead of the game after it became abundantly clear that if you take away the motoring equivalent of safety blankets the world would be a safer place.

Hans Monderman, Head of Road Safety for the Northern provinces of the Netherlands in the 1980s, studied incident reports and conventional traffic engineering and he found that a different approach is needed. As a result of his research he set up three ‘naked’ road schemes.

In Drachten, a 17th century Dutch village, a busy intersection handling more than 20,000 vehicles a day featured a gamut of road markings and signs until it was replaced with a roundabout with no lane markings or kerbs separating the street and pavement. By encouraging drivers to communicate with eye contact rather than conventional signals and signs, casualties reduced.

Then, in a busy street used by cyclists, pedestrians and cars in the village of Makkinga, Monderman removed all traffic signs and markings. As a result traffic speeds were reduced to less than 20mph and injuries fell by 10 per cent in the three years following the redesign.

In Oosterwolde, Monderman got to work at a busy intersection, again removing all traffic control features. Speeds and casualties were also reduced.

The same results were achieved at a reworked intersection in Christiansfeld, Denmark, and now people in cars, on foot and on bicycles rely on eye contact as the key safety measure. In the two-and-a-half years since the completion of the scheme, the intersection has experienced no serious incidents.

Last to the party, predictably, is the UK. This country finally caught on and subsequently introduced a shared space scheme in a town called Poynton after a monumentally long study that featured leading questions like 1) ‘Do you like road signs an’ that?’ and 2) ‘Do you keep your mouth closed when you are eating?’

After collating the results from both residents in the area Poynton District Council decided that yes, the town would be a safer place if they removed signs saying: ‘You are what you eat’ and ‘You’ll take someone’s eye out with that’.

Now, Poynton residents drive around people not through them, which sounds great, but Poynton is a duller place for it. I might move in to see if I can run people over without being sued.

Thing is, there’s enough right-wing idiots complaining about nanny states and I don’t wish to add to that complement of dimwits but these examples do underscore their point.

I don’t want to sound like a well-known motoring journalist with stupid hair and bad jeans, but we don’t need road signs. Never have, never will.