There is no consensus regarding the proper aesthetics of street wayfinding. However, most people do agree that streets cluttered with an overabundance of wayfinding elements pose potential safety risks to distracted drivers and pedestrians – and obscure the legibility of the street itself.
The Naked Streets model advocated by Hans Monderman, which uses the deliberate removal of pedestrian-oriented safety and navigation features, such as traffic lights, railings, curbs and road markings, encourages communication between drivers and pedestrians that did not exist before. Sharing previously segregated space “exploit[s] the natural skills of humans to negotiate movement, resolve conflict and engage not only with each other but with their context. Shared space might look chaotic, but people are using their brains and intuition, not acting as mere automatons in response to signals from on high (May 2009).” Places that have used Naked Streets (also known as Living Streets) design concepts to address problematic street intersections have seen positive safety outcomes while also enjoying benefits of an uncluttered streetscape.
One example is the roundabout at Laweiplein, Drachten in the Netherlands. Here, approaching drivers perceive the unsignaled roundabout as utterly ambiguous, which causes them to slow their speed. The intersection serves 20,000 cars each day. Before the 2003 redesign, the intersection was signal-controlled with distinct zones for pedestrians and drivers. The redesign removed the signals and replaced them with a roundabout. Texturized pavement was installed where the sidewalk merges with roadway. Illuminated fountains at the four corners articulate and soften the intersection’s edges (Garrick 2006). Results of the intervention are positive with a 20% reduction in accident rates and shorter cross-city commute times. This suggests that shared streets are not just for low-volume local streets.
Benefits extend beyond measureable safety improvements. Laweiplein’s surrounding commercial and theater district has also experienced revitalization since the completed intersection improvements (May 2009).
- Demands that drivers, cyclists and pedestrians think, evaluate and act on real-time feedback they are receiving from other road users, resulting in safer, slower drive speeds.
- Produces measureable reductions in traffic altercations and personal injuries.
- Applicability: The shared streets approach with no signals or signage cannot be applied to any intersection. It hinges on several dependent factors, such as traffic volumes, intersection geometry, topography and the prevailing mix of users (drivers, pedestrians, cyclists) (Vanderbilt 2011).
- Social norms: Shared streets interventions may work better where social norms do not overly privilege the individual nor reward litigious behavior.
- Safety: There is no more assurance of safety with shared streets than there is with conventional intersection design. There will always be some that break the rules.
- Accident liability: When accidents do happen, it may be more difficult to determine the party at fault.
Garrick, Norman W., June 22, 2011. "The Art and Science of Shared Streets, A.k.a. “Naked Streets”," Congress of New Urbanism - New England. The University of Connecticut School of Engineering, 12 Oct. 2006. Web. ( http://www.engr.uconn.edu/~garrick/articles/Congress%20of%20New%20Urbanism%20-%20New%20England%20Chapter.htm)
May, Matthew E., 2009. “In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing” New York: Broadway
Vanderbilt, Tom, June 30, 2011. "The Traffic Guru." The Wilson Quarterly 32.3 (2008): 26-32. The Woodrow Wilson Center. Web. (http://www.wilsonquarterly.com/article.cfm?AID=1234)