CarFree USA links to a video documenting how a busy Dutch intersection functions without any traffic controls:
Ted White explores the “shared space” concept in greater detail in Baltimore’s Urbanite. He points out that both the stop sign and stop light were invented in Detroit — ca. 1915 and 1920, respectively! The entire 1890s bicycle craze had passed by that point, and for decades urban streets had been happily and safely shared by pedestrians, cyclists, horses, and whatnot. Traffic regulations only became necessary once Model As began choking the streets, since cars’ size and speed makes them nearly incapable of civilly sharing the road.
As I’ve argued before, traffic controls were invented to tame automobiles — and requiring pedestrians and cyclists to follow the same rules is like playing a game of foursquare on a polo field. The old rules don’t work when you change the underlying space. Remember, the term “critical mass” comes from another Ted White, describing how cyclists just randomly self-organize at uncontrolled Chinese intersections. (Since China has fewer cars, they also have fewer traffic controls. Funny that.)
Sure, some of this is possible thanks to that weird Dutch libertarian streak, and a little bit more to the much more stringent regulation of driving licenses in the Netherlands, but actually, even here in the U.S. studies have found that decades of over-engineering roads (wide lanes, soft curves, no trees or other visual distractions) have resulted in faster, less attentive driving.
A lot of people won’t believe that it works, but already:
– If you’ve ever driven in, say, Boston and Texas, you’d be sure that Boston has higher car crash and pedestrian fatality rates: Boston drivers are maniacs with death wishes, half the intersections don’t even have street signs, etc., yet the pedestrian death rate in Orlando (with extensive, suburban-style traffic controls everywhere) is three times higher than that in Boston.
– Another example of Dutch deregulation that did successfully translate to the U.S.: the self-checkout lanes in many big-box retailers today were brought to the U.S. by Royal Ahold, a supermarket operator based in the Netherlands. It’s counterintuitive, but self-checkout actually reduced shrinkage (theft): employees steal more than customers, and self-checkout puts fewer people in contact with cash drawers.