February 2, 2007

This summer my wife and I visited Berlin. On this trip I fulfilled a long held ambition to visit the Bauhaus Museum; I wasn’t disappointed. The museum contains many exhibits chronicling the work of one of the Bauhaus’ directors, the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who is the person best known for promoting the concept of “Less is More”.

So what has this got to do with road markings? Plenty – or maybe a need for just the opposite. I was Googleing the phase “removal of road markings” when up popped a reference to a Dutch traffic engineer by the name of Hans Monderman. Hans has taken the concept of “less is more” to heart. His philosophy is that by removing road signs and markings you place the responsibility for safe transit squarely back in the hands of the road users: motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike.

In some ways this is not unlike the airline pilot who is ultimately responsible for the safety of his/her aircraft. Contrary to popular belief, an air traffic controller cannot order a pilot to do anything; s/he can only advise the pilot.

We drivers have been absolved of responsibility. There are signs everywhere ordering us about and we are commanded when to stop and when to go by traffic lights. We are always on the defensive, mindful of the fact that someone, somewhere is watching us on CCTV ready to pass judgement on our every move, and we have lost the ability to communicate with other road users properly.

No wonder the topic on the radio this morning was road rage. Just think about that for a minute all you legislators and traffic engineers out there. Maybe the cure for road rage is less signs, less regulation and less surveillance. We are after all, fundamentally socially responsible and thoughtful beings.

I shall refrain from the usual blogster’s tendency to rewrite someone else’s material and point you in the direction of this excellent introductory article about Hans Monderman’s work if you want to find out more.

And talking as we were of our trip to Berlin, we chose to drive there. Oh yes it was exhilarating to crank the car up to its maximum speed once we got onto the German Autobahn, but it could not be sustained for long. After a while I settled for a cruise speed of around 100 mph. The great thing was that it was my decision based on my assement of the road conditions, the car’s ability to perform and my capability as a driver. It was rewarding to be able to concentrate solely on the task of driving, without the need to constantly look in my mirror for a blue light or the flash of a speed camera.