I can understand why David and Mark should want a rest. Writing an accurate, high-quality blog for a long period is extremely demanding and time-consuming. Their new posts will be much missed, but their archive of posts will continue on-line as an invaluable resource for cycle advocates, transport planners and engineers around the world. Their last post to be written (though not, apparently, last to be published) is one of the best and most important of all. Entitled Campaign for Sustainable Safety, not Strict Liability, it again busts one of the great international myths about the Dutch cycling culture, explaining the true nature of Dutch liability law and its true influence on cycling conditions in the Netherlands (which is slight), before explaining the Dutch policy that needs to be understood and campaigned for elsewhere, the real basis of the Dutch road safety record: Sustainable Safety. I urge you to read it, and to pass it on to all those interested or involved in the area.
I've mentioned Sustainable Safety here before. It's based on five principles, that Wagenbuur goes into in detail in the second part of the article:
- Functionality of roads
- Homogeneity of mass, speed and direction of road-users
- Predictability of road course and road-user behaviour
- Forgivingness of the road environment and the road-users
- Awareness of the road-user
The desire for homogeneity of traffic is thus the basis for the Dutch bias towards separating out the classes of road-users, motor vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians (and in some cases buses, trams, lorries, motorcyclists and mopeds) in their own spaces, to minimise the damage they can do to one another in the event of a crash, and, where such separation is not possible, to ensure that no road-users have enough energy (through their speed, energy being proportional to speed squared) to risk serious damage to others. The homogeneity requirement essentially determines what the vast majority of Dutch roadscapes, streetscapes and townscapes actually look like.
But, strangely, straightforward as this all is, there is a huge amount of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Dutch traffic safety principles in other counties. There is something of a propaganda campaign in the UK, and possibly elsewhere, by some people, to try to convince others that the basis of Dutch road safety is precisely the reverse of what it actually is, that it is actually about mixing up different types of road users as much as possible. Consider this, from the blog of Angela Saini, a science journalist who has just made a programme for BBC Radio 4:
For the last few months I've been asking traffic engineers and scientists whether it's possible to rebuild the streets in a way that might make us safer, happier and generally nicer people. The linchpin of this idea is an increasingly popular (if controversial) concept known as Shared Space, which is a way of designing streets without segregating road users. Essentially, everyone is encouraged to use the same street at the same time... there are no pavements as such. Pioneered in Holland, it seems to be working over there by slowing down drivers and making all road users more aware of each other. And it's since been imported all over the world.And this is from the BBC webpage on the programme, to be broadcast today Tuesday 3 January at 21:00 and tomorrow, Wednesday 4 January at 15:30:
The early roots of this innovative concept lies in the work of the late Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman. A passionate advocate of shared space, Monderman and colleagues started small - more than twenty years ago, converted an intersection in the northern Dutch province of Friesland from a conventional signal-controlled intersection to a brick-paved street, giving equal priority to cars, people and cycles. The idea was that people would use their own minds in navigating the streets, building their own informal traffic rules. Research has shown that these kinds of shared spaces automatically reduced traffic speed to under 20 mph - the threshold at which the chances of being severely injured in a road accident plummets. This highly counterintuitive approach - increasing risk decreases accidents is finding favour (albeit slowly and not without opposition) all over the world.
Today, Monderman's vision can be experienced throughout his Dutch province of Friesland, no where more so than in Drachten, an unassuming town that until recently was famous only for being the home of the Dutch electronics giant Philips. Drachten's shared space schemes (and those of its near neighbours) now attracts a regular pilgrimage of engineers and planners, from all parts of the world - Australia, Japan, Britain, South Africa, India and even Colombia.Now this is all a load of cobblers – except perhaps the statement about the "centre of pilgrimage" – insofar as an impression is being given that shared space is quintessentially Dutch, a significant part of Dutch thinking on planning, an expanding movement in the Netherlands, or a thing that the Netherlands is actively exporting. In fact, shared space has been a very limited experiment in the Netherlands that runs contrary to usual Dutch practice, it has not been popular there, and it is not much known or discussed in the Netherlands. Drachten is a small place (population 45,000), and only a small area of the centre of the town has received shared space treatment. Other Dutch examples of shared space consist of the odd street, square or precinct, set within the normal Dutch mode-segregated street environment. (And by the way, another thing wrong in the quote is that Drachten is not "home" to Philips, Philips' HQ is in Amsterdam).
Interest in Monderman's ideas has come very much from outside the Netherlands, not within. Marttijn Sargentini, the bike cheif in Amsterdam, and thus a very important Dutch traffic planner, far more important than Monderman, told CTC's Cycle magazine (October 2007):
I'd never heard of Hans Monderman or "shared space" until all these foreign visitors came here and kept telling me about them. Here in Amsterdam we are very clear – for safety, for speed, to give an advantage to the bike, we aim to separate wherever possible.The Dutch are always experimenting with urban design, and shared space has been a minor experiment there that is getting blown out of all proportion by foreigners who are not seeing the wood for the trees, they are not observing basically what normal Dutch street design is about. The answer Angela Saini's opening question is, obviously, "no", it's not possible to rebuild streets in a way to make us generally nicer people – what a silly idea. Sustainable safety is not about making people "nice". People are as people are, they are human, but design can minimise risks by taking their frailties and real behaviours into account.
Shared space in the UK has been mostly promoted by the architect Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who seems to have made it his trademark. According to a BBC news story on shared space in Ashford, Kent, where pedestrians have complained that the new design leaves them feeling exposed when crossing the shared space roads:
Ben Hamilton-Baillie, the architect behind the scheme, said the point of the shared space was so that pedestrians and drivers interacted and negotiated for space and right of way.
He said that although that may not be easy or comfortable for the pedestrian it did appear to work.
"So far it looks as if there has been a significant drop, particularly in more serious accidents, maybe as much as 75%," he said."That doesn't necessarily translate into how people feel when they cross the street, but the reduction in speed has been the most important single element in transforming what was an unattractive concrete collar surrounding Ashford into a civilised part of the town centre itself."I beg your pardon? Shared space "may not be easy of comfortable for the pedestrian"? I though that it was supposed to benefit pedestrians! I though it was supposed to give them more freedom! I thought that was the whole idea of it, Mr Hamilton-Baillie!
I can't understand what the point of shared space is supposed to be. The benefits claimed for it seem to be illusory, as Hamilton-Baillie's words, if accurately quoted, seem to confirm. What are the actual better outcomes of shared space as opposed to segregation? Hamilton-Bailie here seems to retreat from any idea that shared space should feel pleasant for vulnerable road-users, to a claim about merely reducing casualties, and a claim that what he has created is somehow more "civilised" than what used to exist. I have heard this word used before by a shared space adherent, it is a favourite word of theirs: geographer John Adams used it once in Camden. It is meaningless, an expression of mere personal aesthetic preference or prejudice. How is this Ashford design "civilised"?
If pedestrians feel uncomfortable and unsafe, as they seem to feel in the Ashford shared space, then they will avoid it, and they will avoid crossing the road there (and particularly vulnerable people like the blind, disabled and elderly will avoid crossing the road there), and so casualty figures might well go down. But that's the easiest way to reduce casualties, and the worst: just frighten the vulnerable away, those who are most likely to have accidents, just exclude the non-motorised, not by law, but through intimidation. That seems to be the British version of Sustainable Safety: a kind of quasi-voluntary apartheid.
You see this in UK cycle route engineering as well: you build something so fantastically dangerous that few people on a bike will ever use it, so there cannot be many cycling casualties, because there are few cyclists, and the safety record for cyclists looks good. Something like this, a crazy cycle crossing of a motorway-type road in the Bikeless Borough of Barnet, North London, which has only ever killed one cyclist, and frightened most of the rest of them away. A good safety record: British-style Sustainable Safety in action.