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Town gets rid of stoplights and sidewalks in order to increase traffic safety

Apr 25, 2013 By Abraham

In a move that flies in the face of traditional wisdom regarding traffic control, the little English town of Poynton has gotten rid of traffic lights and sidewalks and has reverted to a style of urban design known as shared space. The new strategy is to manage traffic similarly to how it was managed a hundred years ago, which is to say, very little…

The basic theory is that shared space reduces accidents because it changes how everyone behaves in settings where pedestrians and vehicles have to interact. You can read more about Poynton’s move to shared space and see a longer documentary about the experiment at The Atlantic.

(via Kottke)


  1. Brendt Wayne Waters says:

    I have a feeling that this will not work in the long-term. Contrary to what was stated, it’s not the traffic light that gives the license to drive recklessly; it’s the familiarity with the paradigm.

    After 18 years of driving, I had to go on a 6-month hiatus due to medical issues. When I first got back behind the wheel, I was overly cautious for a few weeks — it was remarked that I was acting like a brand new driver.

    Poynton has thrown a new paradigm at drivers, almost all of whom know nothing but the traffic-light paradigm, and so it’s slowed them down TEMPORARILY. Give it a few years, and people will be zipping through this shared space and flattening grandma in the process.

    1. Joe says:

      I know exactly what you mean but I disagree – because the whole concept is based on less traffic regulations and on the assumption that this will force drivers to STAY cautious, as it makes traffic a lot more unpredictable.

  2. Darren says:

    This is kind of what unintentionally happens in India and it actually seems to work pretty well. It forces people to be more aware of their surroundings and to drive defensively.

  3. Riley says:

    This actually makes sense! I lived in Africa for several years, and the difference between the very European city centers like Cape Town and the outlying townships was striking. In the highly developed and “modern” city, traffic was insane, people running red lights, very aggressive driving in general, while in the more rural area’s (ie. townships) with no sidewalks, no traffic lights, and a LOT of traffic, things were very laid back. Very few sped or drove aggressivley, and no one thought twice about stopping for a pedestrian or to let one turn across your lane of travel. Accidents happened, but not nearly as bad or as often as in the city.

  4. Kris says:

    I feel like this worked better when most traffic was horse-drawn because vehicles did not have the ability to drive 40, 50, 60+ mph. All it takes is one stupid idiot to kill a few pedestrians to rethink this idea. Also, here in America there is this inherent idea that we have to BE somewhere faster than the next guy- not to mention the entitled folk who already feel like traffic laws are made for other people. But maybe, just maybe this will work. Roundabouts certainly work better than people think.

  5. Nate says:

    This concept would only work in a society that is not nearly as egocentric as most cities in America. Where teenagers, young adults and soccer moms think there time and priorities are paramount to everyone else’s. This would be a disaster in most cities here.

    1. Clara says:

      Sadly, Nate, this is pretty much what I was thinking, too. The way that car culture has socialized Americans is unbelievably deep, all-encompassing, and probably unique in the world. Not that there aren’t aggressive, selfish drivers in other countries, but we are the originators of the paradigm and deeply formed by our devotion to cars. We have, in turn, completely formed our built environment around the car. Completely.

      Not that I’d condemn efforts to try models like Poynton’s. Maybe we should give it a try in smaller communities and see how it goes. Maybe it would help, and maybe we’d form American ways to adapt the idea.

      Heaven knows we need to do something drastically different.

      1. Clara says:

        Um, also, “teenagers, young adults, and soccer moms” doesn’t begin to catalog the profiles of selfish, egocentric drivers. It’s pretty ludicrous to leave middle-class, middle-aged men off that list. Actually, it’s foolish to try to pin the blame on any particular class of drivers. It’s all of us.

  6. Medick says:

    What about tickets?
    What would happen to the dickheads that give tickets for a living?
    Piggies gotta eat!

  7. Michelle says:

    I don’t think this is a good idea, or even a well-researched idea. People were injured and killed in traffic accidents long before there were cars on the road. The difference was that horses and buggies, while deadly, were not quite as deadly as cars. Wagon-on-wagon crashes were not as likely to produce fatalities as car-on-car. Pedestrians are screwed either way.

    Furthermore, contrary to what some others here have experienced and posted about, I have lived in a country where there were no traffic laws (or at least none enforced) and it was extremely dangerous! People would get hit by cars all the time. They did the opposite of what we practice in the US – if a pedestrian and a car were headed on a collision course, the car wasn’t gonna move or stop so the pedestrian better get out of the way or get hit. Traffic was always congested as it was every man for himself, never letting someone else go first, I have to be first or else. Terrible way to drive.

    I don’t think it’ll be quite that bad in England as they have a different culture (for instance, where I lived, if a driver hit someone, they’d literally put the car in reverse and run over them again 2 or 3 times to make sure they were good and dead, cuz the laws actually punished them more for just injuring a person than for killing them) but I still don’t think it’s gonna work.

  8. julia says:

    I’m an American living abroad in a less organized place, and I have to say this is what they do [without intention] and it’s kind of awful. Driving and walking is so much more stressful, and I see tons of near-accidents and real accidents on a daily basis. Daily I think “Why don’t they just try a stop sight or a light??”

    1. Josh S says:

      Yeah, it would result in more accidents in most places. There’s a reason all major cities are more organized in this regard than their village counterparts, and it’s not because we’re increasing the accidents due to organization. Remove the stop lights and lanes and sidewalks and you have a dramatic increase in accidents, not a reduction.

  9. Craig says:

    Amen Julia. I lived in the US for 30 years and have spent the last 10 in Indonesia where “shared space” and no sidewalks is the norm due to poor infrastructure and near-total lack of enforcement. Attention all First World people!!! You do NOT want to live with this kind of danger and chaos. And let’s not get started on the inefficiency of it all. Speeds on the roads are certainly less here than they are in developed countries, but that has as much to do with potholes and limits on engine size as anything else.

  10. Casey says:

    I’ve been to Poynton.
    I’ve driven through the double-roundabout shown in this video.
    It works.

    The town is just that, a town. Its not huge, but it does have a decent bit of through traffic, most of which come from folks who are travelling from the Peak District/Sheffield area to the Manchester area. These folks are not locals, but most seem to adjust to the system intuitively.

    The town is quaint and the roads are nice. The double-roundabout might catch a tried and true 4-way stop American off guard, but most Europeans handle it like a breeze.

  11. ChrisD says:

    Well, I’ve worked in Poynton for 7 years and had to endure the 2 years it took to get this new road layout set up. I use the village as a pedestrian and as a car driver, so I know both aspects. So, from an actual point of view… it does and is working.
    Everyone in the village has become accustomed to it, simply because the change didn’t happen overnight. You DO drive slower when you see pedestrians on the pavements, and even 20 mph can feel fast at times.
    What used to happen when there were traffic lights at the crossroads, was almost a mile of tailback traffic at key points of the day. The roads, for the volume of usage, were just incompatible. It’s a major ( since Roman times ) highway which wasn’t designed for today’s traffic.

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