THE possibility that road signs, white line markings and even traffic lights could disappear from Britain's streets seems, quite literally, shocking. Yet experiments in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have apparently shown that road safety improves noticeably when the traditional traffic and pedestrian controlling arrangements are removed and a shared space is created. Shared, that is, between cars travelling at no greater speed than 20mph and pedestrians wandering at will but keeping their eyes skinned. The idea is that under such circumstances, with no traffic lights at junctions and no sidewalks from which pedestrians step off without warning, everyone takes much greater care and actually makes eye contact between driver and pedestrian the better to understand each other's intentions.
This revolutionary idea is to be tested in Exhibition Road in South Kensington, London, where the Victoria & Albert and Natural History Museums are located. It is a very wide road by London standards and should provide ample space for drivers to take evasive action when confronted by absent-minded jaywalkers. Another advantage of the scheme will be the disappearance of the excessive amount of ugly street signs about traffic regulations. But two objections suggest themselves: will the idea work as well at night as in daytime or will extra lighting be necessary to make the all-important eye-contact possible?; will street parking become as unregulated as driving and walking so that with shared space double and treble parking will be permitted?
Would the idea work in Palma? Probably. Those of us who regularly have to share pavement space with cyclists and even motor cyclists who follow no known traffic rules would probably be quite at home with it and, indeed, find it an improvement when everyone had the same rights of thoughtless and selfish behaviour.
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