Popular road in Britain reworked to be clutter free

Today’s edition of Britain’s Daily Mail includes an article, photo gallery, and impressive infographic describing London’s newest clutter-free street, which officially opened earlier today. The piece “No kerbs, pavements or nanny-state signs: Britain’s longest clutter-free street is unveiled to make things SAFER” explains the initiative to improve safety on this stretch of road by removing visual distractions:

Britain’s longest ‘clutter-free’ street was opened today with the aim of making cars and people co-exist harmoniously — without the need for hectoring signs and protective steel barriers.

Indeed, the newly revamped Exhibition Road in the heart of London’s museum quarter in Kensington, visited by millions of people from around Britain and the world, doesn’t even have kerbs or pavements.

The idea underlining the project is that when nannying rules and orders — in the form of countless signs, traffic signals and barriers — are removed, motorists take more personal responsibility for their own actions and drive more attentively, making more eye contact with pedestrians.

In addition to taking on projects in London, two years ago national officials in Britain formally began encouraging city council leaders to decrease road signage to improve road safety. This specific decision to rework Exhibition Road came in 2003 and is based on popular urban design and engineering concepts from Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman. Monderman’s engineering ideas are implemented in many areas of Europe and Asia and are referred to as “shared space” planning design.

More about the clutter-free road from the Daily Mail article:

Councillor Daniel Moylan, deputy chairman of Transport for London (TfL), said: “… The psychology of this scheme is fascinating. Experience seems to show that when you dedicate space to traffic and control it with signs and green traffic lights, motorists develop a claim on it. It becomes ‘my space.’ Drivers become annoyed if people move into it.

They get angry if a mother pushing a buggy moves across the crossing just as the lights are about to change.

This new scheme is more like the behaviour in a supermarket car park. Drivers know there are people around pushing shopping trolleys and so drive more cautiously. They are looking out.

They don’t feel that pedestrians are invading their space. They don’t therefore get annoyed.”

Image from Britain’s Daily Mail. Thanks to reader Samantha for bringing this post idea to our attention.

20 Comments for “Popular road in Britain reworked to be clutter free”

  1. posted by shebolt on

    Interesting concept, but it doesn’t look uncluttered to me. Of course, they dropped the speed limit to something like 20mph and expect the amount of vehicular traffic to drop as well.

  2. posted by Elizabeth on

    If any of your readers come over to visit London you’ll see this because it’s right by 3 of the main museums in the capital.

    Several comments about it: Firstly the pictures deceive because the actual level of traffic is about 4 times as much normally. The road is a cut through between two of the busiest roads in London. A 20mph zone is probably feasible because traffic is unlikely to get much above that normally. But traffic levels won’t drop.

    There are safety issues to highlight. If you’re coming over to visit you’d better remember to look the ‘wrong’ way first (to us it’s the right way!) when crossing the road because otherwise you could get squashed. Traffic lights and pedestrian crossings might have prevented some of this by forcing the traffic to stop and allowing pedestrians to pass.

    The Daily Mail pics highlight that there are raised rubber strips along the edge of the pedestrian areas so that blind and partially-sighted people know where to stay. This was the result of solid lobbying by charities and pressure groups representing people with disabilities – it had not occurred to the council. But again, it is not clear how you are supposed to cross the road safely if you cannot SEE traffic and there are no crossings to allow you safe passage.

    Also, quite how it will work with any elderly pedestrians or other people with walking difficulties who take longer than usual to cross the road remains to be seen – I doubt that car drivers will be any more patient.

  3. posted by Elizabeth on

    And as for the comparison with supermarket car parks I would simply point out to Councillor Moylan that drivers in car parks are simply looking for a parking space and are only driving slowly so that they don’t miss a hidden one.

    Many times in IKEA (okay not technically a supermarket) I have seen even highly visible people (eg couples with fully loaded trolleys walk across the path of a car going slowly and nearly get run over because the driver is not looking for them – he is looking for the elusive space.

  4. posted by chacha1 on

    I have mixed feelings about this. Aesthetically it is a huge improvement. Removing “kerbs” is beneficial, almost without question. But in terms of being easy to “read” – for drivers or pedestrians – I think it is bound to become a free-for-all with no one knowing for sure when it is safe, or “their turn,” to proceed.

    There is a street in Santa Monica, CA that was turned into an outdoor pedestrian mall. Several motor streets cross it. The city, very wisely in my opinion, left traffic signals in place AND put up barriers to prevent drivers from turning onto the pedestrian part of the road. It’s extremely safe and no less attractive.

    I don’t think you necessarily need a lot of signs and signals, but in their absence I do think very clear demarcations of space are required. The London project is lacking in those.

  5. posted by jess on

    Having driven down there one evening after christmas, i was actually confused as to whether it was still a road or not! It is very pretty though but I’m not sure how practical it would be to roll it out on a large scale.

  6. posted by infmom on

    They think that ghastly pavement pattern isn’t visual clutter? Ye gods.

    I spent a lot of time in that area when I was living in London (being a big fan of museums of all sorts) and don’t remember it as being any more “cluttered” than any other area of the city, but that was quite a while ago.

  7. posted by SoozieQ on

    Personally, I find driving through big parking lots extremely stressful because I’m trying to look 360 degrees — looking for a parking spot, watching for for pedestrians, children darting away from their parents, shopping carts, electric wheelchairs, groups of teenagers goofing around, dogs.

    Driving on hyper-alert like that ALL the time could not be good for anyone, their patience or their health. Having clearly defined boundaries for cars & for pedestrians might lead to a sense of “this space is mine, stay out”, but it also (I should think) allows us to feel slightly more comfortable and at ease while we’re within those boundaries.

    I’d feel better about this experiment if the persons involved in its design had not proved themselves so obviously out of touch with the real world. “Forgetting” that the elderly, the very young and the physically and mentally challenged may require special consideration (from planners as well as drivers!) doesn’t inspire confidence. Anyone remember when city planners thought putting up huge housing developments for “the poor” was a good idea? Yesterday’s Grand Design, today’s ghettos where people feel marginalized, warehoused and at risk.

    But I’ll be interested in seeing how this idea turns out.

  8. posted by Erin Doland on

    @SoozieQ — I don’t think the designer forgot, I think there were accommodations being made for the disabled in the initial designs, just not all disabled. Curbs were purposefully not installed so people in wheelchairs wouldn’t have difficulties crossing wherever they wanted. So, the accommodation for people in wheelchairs made it more difficult for the blind. Eventually, designers chose to use rubber edging so wheelchairs could roll over this material, but there would be a delineation for street/sidewalk for the blind. As someone who is technically handicapped, the accommodations I require are quite different from those my friend who is blind needs. I can’t think of a single accommodation that would work for me that would somehow help her. I didn’t read this and other interviews and think there was some malice or ignorance involved, I simply read it as the solutions they came up for one population didn’t work well for all populations … so they went back to the figurative drawing board. I also didn’t read any of the articles and think that the designers were trying to marginalize special populations, they just didn’t yet have the best solutions. At least in my experience, the best solution to a multifaceted problem is rarely the first thought that comes to my mind. Public projects always go through a review process — there were eight designs (maybe more) I’ve seen for the Washington Monument in DC that came before the design they developed. I’ve also read in other articles they’re adding formal crosswalks at the two ends of the street as part of the next stage of construction.

  9. posted by Lianne on

    I don’t know how I feel about this. I love the idea that motorists could be made to not feel like it’s “their” space, but I’m not sure that’s possible. In my experience, when a person gets in a car, that person becomes a raving lunatic who is not to be trusted. This viewpoint keeps me alive.

    A better uncluttered street would be one where cars aren’t allowed. That would eliminate the need for any signs or curbs. 🙂 It would also have the added benefit of increased pedestrian traffic, which is good for local businesses.

  10. posted by Maurs on

    Apparently this really works!!

    I notice the negative comments are from ‘drivers’ point of view.

    In my home town a couple of junctions were being reworked and had no lights. A former roundabout became a mere bollard in the middle of the cross roads and the local population were stunned at how well it worked. Drivers became more thoughtful, slowed down and traffic constantly moved through the junction.

    This ‘experiment’ has been going in on one other town in England and one in Holland that I know of. Here’s a slightly old link… but it shows this concept has been cooking for a while…


  11. posted by Mark Harrison on

    This is not some experiment. This is based on DECADES of experience in mainland Europe, which have shown, time after time, that doing this makes roads MUCH SAFER.

    People can theorise all they want about how it couldn’t possibly work, or the council ‘missed something.’

    But that’s like continuing to argue that planes can’t fly, despite decades of evidence they can 🙂

  12. posted by April on

    In Japan, many of the roads are extremely narrow because most of them are built on top of old footpaths (and they go willy nilly, not in a grid pattern like in many areas in the US).

    I saw on TV once that one particular road, which was very narrow even by Japanese standards, was a two way street. There were always accidents on that road because people would drive too fast (hit other cars, pedestrians, etc.). The solution? They took out the lane dividing line on the road. No more printed line meant both sides of the road drove more carefully, and the number of accidents dramatically dropped.

    So, knowing that, this article makes sense to me.

  13. posted by April on

    Oh, forgot to mention that most roads in Japan don’t have sidewalks. This skinny road definitely didn’t.

  14. posted by GreyQueen on

    As a Brit (but not a Londoner) I find this fascinating. In my medium-sized English city we had a power outage which took out all the traffic lights one afternoon just before peak traffic time (school run and commute). Frantic people tried to get them back in time for peak flow as they anticipated total gridlock. Astonishment ensued when motorists and other road users successfully managed without and there were far fewer delays than normal. Other Brit experiments have been to remove the centre line from narrow roads, to experiment with intervals of trees planted on rural roads where they go into villages (something to do with how the driver’s brain reads the speed it’s travelling at according to how fast the trees flash past)and making a sort-of garden wall type entrance where through routes go into villages, to convey the sense of enclosure and hominess, to make drivers aware that they are now entering an environment where people live as opposed to travelling through open country.

    The interface between human beings as pedestrians and cyclists and human beings as drivers is always going to be a potentially-fraught one. However, those of us who live in parts of the world where our cities and towns took shape centuries, sometimes millennia, before the era of the automobile, have to try to manage the interface creatively. It will be intersting to watch the experiment in London.

  15. posted by KarenM on

    Last time planners in my city tried to install something novel here (in this case, a sensible European-style roundabout), people rebelled like the world was coming to an end. The main objection was the belief that it compromised the safety of elderly and disabled pedestrians. Seniors reported that they were too fearful to cross.

    Drivers in general claimed they simply stopped visiting the area where the roundabout was installed because they found it confusing and stressful — supposedly this hurt our small downtown’s businesses.

    All the statistical support in the world won’t sway people who only want what is familiar and emotionally comfortable. This is an apt topic for a decluttering blog after all.

  16. posted by [email protected] on

    I’ve commented on another site today about another experiment conducted in a UK city (it may have been London). Slightly different, but it investigated driver behaviour.
    This is lifted exactly from what I posted earlier =
    “ps – ref helmets – there was a experiment done in the UK. They found that adult commuter cyclists not wearing helmets were less exposed (during this particular experiment) to ill-mannered road users. The presumption was that the drivers felt the cyclists were more vulnerable as they weren’t wearing helmets and hence exercised more caution”
    I’m a big believer in personal responsibility (I’m not saying don’t wear helmets – I believe you should) but as an example we holidayed in France and upon visiting a deserted lake with old boats on the shoreline found no warning sign. Common sense told me not to get in them! There was also a sign by a pool rather succinctly outlining – ‘lead by example to your children’ (paraphrased), rather than an endless list of do’s and don’ts.

  17. posted by Rosa on

    There’s a great description of these “no sign” projects in the book Traffic, too – the key is that drivers *are* confused, with no clear “now it’s my turn” signals, so they drive slower and pay more attention – which is safer for everyone.

    It’s not really lack of clutter, though – just lack of roadsigns. The more (non-sign, non-car) things there are along the roads, the more complex driving becomes, and the more attention drivers have to pay.

  18. posted by Katrina on

    I like it as an idea.

    But I’m not sure it’d work in some countries. It needs a mature society in which individuals take responsibility for their actions. And not a society where some people would rush to court to sue if there wasn’t a sign saying “don’t walk in front of moving vehicles”.

  19. posted by Katie A. on

    I live in a neighborhood with very narrow streets, which for years had few stop signs. Since they added them, I’ve felt that pedestrians pay less attention to cars that might be racing down the hill–a lot of people don’t stop at the signs (and I’ve even had people drive around me when I did stop), which can create a dangerous false sense of security. But there’s no denying that when cars do obey the signs it’s safer for everybody.

    And then there’s an intersection nearby where there are literally 20-30 road signs. It’s completely unsafe, because who has the time to read all of that signage while they’re driving?

  20. posted by Maria McCann on

    For some time now there has been a ‘save our streets’ campaign in the UK and I think it is long overdue. The ideal is sometimes described as ‘legible streets’. Many of our streets are now illegible, so cluttered with signs, markings, lanes, barriers to slow down drivers, information painted on tarmac, parking restriction signs, directions to local attractions/toilets/cafes and all the rest of it that they are terrifying to anyone not already familiar with the road, especially when traffic is going at speed. (Katie A hit the nail on the head here. You know you can’t read/mentally process all the information so you just pray you are reading the most important bits!) It also makes once beautiful roads incredibly ugly.

    The Daily Mail has its own political agenda which obliges it to drag in the expression ‘nanny state’ wherever possible, but in my opinion some of these problems would respond to MORE government control. At the moment it’s anarchy out there. Unified traffic signs and direction signs, with the information together, IN ONE PLACE, with good clear lettering, would give drivers a chance of reading it all and would be a huge improvement on the crazy spattering of signs we have at present. Other stuff should be ruthlessly pruned away. It’s a constant distraction and a cause of accidents.

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