Shared space in Portishead

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.