A street without rules, a safer street?

A few weeks ago, I started listening to another podcast: WHY? Philosophical Discussions About Everyday Life, hosted by philosopher Jack Russell Weinstein.

Listening through the backlog, I found an excellent show, Episode 28: “On Liberty and Libertarianism” with guest James Otteson. In it, Jack and James philosophize about so-called “Libertarianism”, talking about how government should relate (or not relate) to both social and moral issues.

One of James’ fantastic talking points was on traffic. In short, all the rules and regulations that both drivers and pedestrians must follow are dehumanizing. Destroying the human connection between driver and pedestrian takes the social issue of road sharing and turns it into… well, something else, where drivers and pedestrians no longer need to think—it becomes a matter of just reading signs, staying within lines, and blindly following the guidance of blinking lights.

In the show, they discuss a Finnish town with a high number of traffic accidents. The town removed traffic lights, stops signs, and other regulatory sundries and traffic accidents went down.

They’re beginning to do the same on London’s Exhibition Road in the UK:

The idea is that when driving zones are heavily delineated, drivers tend to be on autopilot, focusing on other cars rather than pedestrians or cyclists. That’s why London has so many guard rails on either side of pedestrian crossings, preventing pedestrians from straying into the road where they’re not supposed to. But 10 years ago, Kensington and Chelsea experimented with removing the railings from Kensington High Street and found that the number of pedestrian accidents dropped by 60%. It seems that when drivers are forced to be more aware and pedestrians are forced to take more responsibility for themselves, everyone is safer. Rules, it seems, were counterproductive.

Interestingly enough, The Guardian publishes this in the Arts & Design section and describes the movement as liberal. In my opinion, it’s anything but. Leave it to the Europeans to re-pioneer freedom & common sense.

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