Editors, Daily Planet:
With all the talk about traffic in Berkeley—Marin Avenue, the circles, the buses and all—it is time to add another concept to the mix and really get people going. How will our city streets function if we remove all traffic signage, road striping and stoplights? Is Berkeley ready for the complete removal of the reminders of the rules everyone should know anyway?
A recent article in the Toronto Star described these “Naked Streets.” The idea, gaining popularity in Europe and pretty much the rule in less developed countries, is to reduce the sense of ownership vehicle drivers carry and equalize users of roads by forcing more eye contact and negotiation. Experiments in a handful of European cities with signage removal are ongoing, but the preliminary results are very encouraging. Dutch, German and Danish planners are having good results with the test, even in crowded inner-city intersections. Some districts in London will soon begin trying out the idea.
On naked streets, drivers slow down a bit, check the intersections on approach and make eye contact with other drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists, instead of blindly driving wherever the signs say they can. Removal of signs and striping encourages drivers to focus not on lights and signage but on what’s happening around them, and to adjust their driving style accordingly.
In the U.S., we go for extreme regulation rather than common sense and sharing. Americans will shudder with thoughts of anarchy on the roadway when they hear of naked streets, but when all signage, striping and lights are removed the rules of the road still apply. Naked streets might reverse our authoritarian impulses just a little. Oh, maybe we’ll keep the street signs.