Every journalist and cycling campaign group can cite one great example of a town where the simple switching off of every set of traffic lights has transformed it overnight into a transport utopia: Drachten, half way between Amsterdam and Groningen in the Netherlands.
Here in the UK, Drachten’s experiment is being repeated with reportedly great success in the nearest equivalent town that we have — Portishead in Somerset:
Portishead is a little smaller than Drachten, with a fast growing population currently at around 25,000, compared to the Dutch town’s 45,000. But like Drachten, Portishead has no passenger railway line, and is bypassed by a motorway. In Dracten, Phillips R&D employs thousands; in Portishead, Argos and Homebase employ literally tens of people. But both towns also serve as dormitories for centres of employment nearby. Drachten is just down the bike path from Groningen, the largest city in the Dutch north-east, and Europe’s cycling city, where cycling has a modal share of 57%. Portishead is just down the NCN bike track from Bristol, the largest city in England’s south-west, and the UK’s cycling city, where cycling has a modal share of 5%.
In short, with so many controlled variables — such striking similarities between the two towns — there can be no reason why simply switching off the traffic lights won’t achieve in Portishead the same clean, friendly, decongested transport utopia as Drachten. The gentlemen of Bristol Traffic might like to take their white van on a trip to the seaside, and tremble at the power of a dozen orange bin bags, a roll of duct tape, and a yellow “Signals Not In Use” sign. They might even find themselves spontaneously showing other road users respect.
Only one person on the video questions whether ripping out the traffic management will, alone, solve Britain’s transport problems: it will only work if we also have driver education, to teach empathy and equality. Ah, that must be what the Dutch have that we’re missing.
5 thoughts on “Shared space in Portishead”
We have already looked at that the portishead problem, the key ones being the big traffic jams on the motorway access route, the congestion on the M5 avonmouth bridge on summer fridays, and of course the tax dodging pedestrians and cyclists who get in our way once we get to Bristol, which, combined with an anti-car council, make driving hard.
However, we are pleased to see that central government is going to pony up 3 million pounds to improve the motorway junction, so making it easier to get between Portishead and the M5 traffic jams. That’s 1/10 of the entire three year cycle city funding, and 120 pounds per resident. Well spent, we say!
I don’t think it would work here. Having visited the Netherlands many times, they have a much better developed cycling culture where many drivers also cycle and thus have a greater sense of ‘sharing space’.
In the UK, many people have simply been driven around as children, then buy a car as soon as they turn 17. In Bristol, drivers assimilate pavement space for themselves, park on double yellow lines, in cycle lanes, on bends etc – just take a look at the Bristol Traffic Blog to see the photos. There are a lot of drivers out there who still mistakenly think they pay road tax(abolished in 1937) and therefore are the only ones entitled to use the roads. Even the BBC, AA & RAC get it wrong!. Most of our culture here in the UK is geared towards driving everywhere. Turning off the lights will only give drivers the go-ahead to drive how they please. Turning off speed cameras has resulted in huge increases in people speeding. A lot of drivers don’t give others enough respect now – do you think they will magically do so when traffic lights are turned off?. No – they will take over as much space as they can since it is assumed that ownership of a car entitles you to do so.
The UK is not Holland and needs a massive cultural change if anyone thinks that switching off lights will change people overnight.
Turning off lights will also increase congestion as it lures people into false sense of confidence if they learn that the traffic flows better.
Actually, Shared Space might be just what you need.
These ideas have been criticised quite a lot in the Netherlands for being hostile to cyclists and returning “might is right” to Dutch roads.
If we’re to counter the “war on the motorist” then policies like this just might be what are needed to make sure that cyclists don’t get any silly ideas.