The idea of "shared space" - "a radical plan to abandon nearly all traffic regulations and force people to rely on common sense and courtesy instead" - was mentioned before here. It seems the idea is catching on. So much so that the EU is subsidizing programs in seven cities.
Towns in the Netherlands, Denmark, Britain and Belgium have tossed out their traffic lights and stop signs in a bid to reclaim their streets for everyone. Interest is spreading worldwide, with cities in countries from Australia to Canada sending emissaries to Europe to see whether the experiment works.
Peter Hilbricht, a Bohmte police officer in charge of traffic planning, said the main intersection in town generated about 50 accidents a year before the changes. He expects the number to plummet, citing the experience of other cities that have embraced the shared space approach.
In Haren, the Netherlands, for example, the number of accidents at one intersection dropped by 95 percent, from 200 a year to about 10, Hilbricht said. "You can't deny the numbers," he added. "Half the world is eager to see what's going to happen with this program."
But don't expect to see it city wide here or even in downtown.
The program is designed only for public spaces where pedestrians and cyclists share routes with cars. Traffic engineers say it could lead to gridlock if introduced in high-traffic areas, such as large cities.
Practically speaking, the shared space concept works only at intersections that attract fewer than 15,000 vehicles a day, said Juergen Gerlach, a professor at the Center of Traffic and Transport at the University of Wuppertal. The approach can backfire if it covers more than a half-mile of road at a time, he said. Otherwise, drivers would get too frustrated with the slow pace and bypass the area.