Jump to content

Who needs street signs or lanes?


Recommended Posts

This is a pretty interesting article I found:

" Earlier this year, we talked about an article in Salon.com about how a new theory on traffic engineering was gaining more adherents, suggesting that by removing almost all street signs and lane markings, it would actually make traffic flow much better and safer. The concept is, as you might imagine, controversial. The basic idea is that by making things worse, you make them better by making people much more careful. If there are no street signs or lane markers, and the road is shared with pedestrians and bicyclists, drivers have to be much more careful. They drive slower, they make eye contact, and they pay more attention. The end result, though, is that typical causes of congestion are removed and people actually reach their destinations faster -- and the roads are more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists. It appears that Wired Magazine has basically written a nearly identical article on this concept of psychological traffic calming, with a few more examples of places where it appears to be working. As mentioned last time, the whole concept reminds me of driving in Manhattan, where street signs really don't matter and lanes don't exist (even if there are some painted on the pavement). However, driving in Manhattan, while it requires more attention, always feels somewhat safer than driving elsewhere. Of course, you could take this to the opposite extreme. If making it seem more dangerous makes people drive better, why not remove seatbelts and airbags and replace the big steering column with a pointed stick facing the driver? That, certainly, would be more incentive to drive carefully, right? The trick is creating the right balance between efficiency and safety, where drivers are encouraged to drive safely -- but that the throughput of the overall system is maximized.

Original article can be sourced here:


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 6
  • Created
  • Last Reply

We don't really have much in the way of lines or signs here in Providence (I've actually heard many visitors comment on this). It's not some sort of experient in driver awareness however, it is simply the result of a nearly bankrupt city government. I don't really find anyone drives anymore carefully, they just use the lack of enforcement devices as a way to circumvent regular traffic rules.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Seems extreme to me, but there is a hint of plausible logic to it...

I think after you witness the driving habits in a few Caribbean islands, you will gain a greater appreciation for the rules than before.

I learned this the hard way while visiting family in the Dominican Republic. On my way from the airport we drove on a four-lane highway to my cousin's house in the capital city, Santo Domingo. As we were speeding down the highway, a car passed BETWEEN us and the car next to us...

Then the next day I was riding with my cousin when we reached a stop sign at an intersection. We were crossing a busy divided highway with non-stop cars and we needed to turn left... Of course, I thought we were going to be there a while until the traffic calmed or a light turned red somewhere... but instead he just slowly eased out and then just pulled right out into the intersection! :cry: I don't think I have ever felt my heart sink as deep as it did that day. I sooo thought we were going to get broadsided... but, as if it was nothing, the traffic slowed down and stopped and away we went. The trick is to ease forward slightly so that the crossing traffic can see you and have a enough time to stop.

I remember that at the time I was in the city, the power grid was always overloaded, so we experienced frequent power outages daily. So that meant that there were no traffic lights for a good portion of the day. In those cases it was every man for himself.

I asked my cousin how he handled it and he shrugged it off as normal. And the entire time I was there I saw only one accident, and that was probably somebody who was drunk after a party. The rules "exist", but they are not enforced, and it becomes a "survival of the fittest" mentality in order to get around.

And to think... I had gone to my local AAA office and brought an international driving permit ! HA... didn't use it once. I can remember when I returned back to Miami and how "calm" everything seemed, including the traffic. And though I was only gone for a week, getting reacquainted with the road was weird; I almost felt like I forgot how to drive. :D

So the moral of this story: a lack of rules and order gives you an appreciation for them and helps you realize that they are taken for granted. Rules (or the lack thereof) set up a mutual expectation, for better or for worse, between you and the other motorists. I would argue that the anecdote I described above is a "road custom" or an unwritten road rule that everyone locally understands. Every locality has them, and there are road tactics in Miami that I wouldn't dare try anywhere else in Florida. Another "survival of the fittest" situation.


On a second note, a more sentimental note: signs are cool. You have to know how to read them quickly. I think another controversy is the placement of signs... For motorists the signs need to be placed in an area where they remain in the driver's direct view so that he/she isn't forced to look away for too long. And they need to be succinct and large. I can navigate an unfamiliar city pretty well once I study a map for a few hours, memorizing a few street names and numbers, and following the signs.

Sounds good in theory, but it would basically end up turning us all into vigilantes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've heard of this theory before. I'll need to find the source, but another study proved that paint marking are absolutely necessary on rural roads. People tended to occupy the entire road and drive faster when no lanes were present. When lanes were present, drivers felt constricted, and drove slower. The only time motorists reduced speed on an unpainted road was when another car was coming in the other direction. However, despite slowing down, it was difficult for drivers to determine where the center of the road was, with some reporting near accidents.

With cities with congested streets, I think it's a good idea where traffic doesn't move as fast. But with busy city streets that are wide and have faster speed limits, I feel the large open unmarked surface would actually encourage speeding despite the need to be "more cautious" I could still go faster and feel I was being cautious. The only way this can be proved is through thorough experiementation, and cities may vary depending on the situation.

I've heard other attempts to calm traffic down by adjusting paint line thickness and length on lane markings. Does anyone know anything about this?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We don't really have much in the way of lines or signs here in Providence (I've actually heard many visitors comment on this). It's not some sort of experient in driver awareness however, it is simply the result of a nearly bankrupt city government. I don't really find anyone drives anymore carefully, they just use the lack of enforcement devices as a way to circumvent regular traffic rules.


I've made this exact comment. My experience between Providence with no lanes/signs and Memphis with ocd lanes/signs is that there is not much of a difference in the overall quality of driving. I'm more than a little skeptical of this theory.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.