A World Without Traffic Lights

This short, Poynton Regenerated, recounts the counterintuitive adventures of Poynton, “a town within the civil parish of Poynton-with-Worth, and the unitary authority area of Cheshire East, England.” Frustrated by ever-growing gridlock, city planners embraced something radical in an attempt to revitalize their downtown center:

They removed their traffic lights:

…Engineers completely reconfigured the intersection at the center of town, replacing a traffic light with two “roundels” that cars must negotiate without the guidance of traffic signs. Pavements of varying colors and textures are the only signal as to which type of road user belongs where.

It was a controversial move for the community of some 14,000 people, which lies about 11 miles from Manchester in the northwestern part of England. Now, a year after construction wrapped up, a video called “Poynton Regenerated” makes the case that the shared space scheme maintains a smooth flow of traffic while simultaneously making the village center a more attractive and safer place for pedestrians, leading to increased economic activity downtown.

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As the article notes,  the film’s director (one Martin Cassini) is hardly neutral, “himself an avowed foe of traffic lights and signs and advocate of the shared space concept.” And a town of 14,000 is small enough that one might well question how transferable its success or failure will be to larger areas and projects. But “success” definitely seems to be the appropriate word, at least so far.

A local city councilor says that the main street no longer seems like a dying place, as it had for years before the change. Some 88 percent of businesses in the area are reporting an increase in foot traffic, and real estate agents say they’re seeing new interest in buying property in the area.

(HT to Laughing Squid’s tireless EDW Lynch. And Image Credit to this spectacular, not particularly accurate article.)

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • Dale

    The idea is interesting, although apparently it depends on eye to eye contact between people in order to negotiate right of way. This isn’t possible at speeds above 20 mph, so the goal is to slow down the cars: a slow but continuous flow. Some proponents of shared space say that car drivers will naturally slow down when in close contact with pedestrians. However, a 2011 study from the University of the West of England, Bristol indicates that doesn’t happen. The roadway needs to be engineered so that drivers are forced to go slower.

    I guess the two “roundels” in Poynton are intended to slow down traffic. And perhaps the new design may also divert some traffic to an alternative route. I wish them well.

    But from what I understand, the deaf and the partially sighted communities in areas where “shared space” has been implemented remain adamantly opposed to the concept. I suppose that is not surprising.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/summathissummathat Joseph Susanka

      The speed/eye contact you mention, Dale, seems like a significant hurdle/road block — Heh. Sorry. — when it comes ti using this sort of strategy in places with larger populations/heavier traffic…aka, the places that really need it. Still, a (potentially) nice solution to the problem in smaller areas.