Accidents Halved As Street is Stripped of ‘Safety’ Features


The results are in on one of urban designer and "shared space" proponent Ben Hamilton-Baillie’s London projects. Kensington High Street is twice as safe now that all of the traffic engineering "safety features" are gone. The Standard reports:

ACCIDENT levels have almost halved in a London street where "safety" equipment such as guard rails, white lines and signposts were stripped out.

The redesign of Kensington High Street has been such a success that the "naked road" concept is set to be rolled out to other cities in Britain and around the world.

Engineers removed railings, scores of signposts and combined traffic lights with lamp posts to reduce clutter.

They cleared the road surface of superfluous white lines, re- aligned the kerb to follow the line of shop frontages and junked the different coloured surface materials used by other councils.

Now Kensington and Chelsea council aims to capitalise on its success by pressing ahead with a major new road scheme near South Kensington Tube station a key stepping stone towards a multi- million-pound redevelopment of Exhibition Road.

In spite of warnings from the Department for Transport that the scheme would worsen safety, figures obtained by the Standard show that the number of accidents in Kensington High Street has fallen from 71 a year to just 40 a drop of nearly 44 per cent.

Accident levels on comparable roads across London have fallen by only 17.5 percent, an internal council study shows.

Since the scheme was completed in September 2003, the number of pedestrians hurt has fallen from 26 a year to nine.

Photo: Ben Hamilton-Baillie

  • sara

    any ideas why safer streets might have resulted from this plan?

  • Charlie D.

    I would guess that it’s because all users of the road have to negotiate with each other and acknowledge each others’ existing, as opposed to blindly following automated signals instructing them to do something that may or may not actually be the safest thing to do.

  • Sara, I think this slightly dated Wired article may give an indication:

  • ddartley

    I heard this guy on WNYC’s “Fair Game” not too long ago–apparently he’s been on more than once–put his name in the “search archive” field:

  • it sounds really good. however, I’d like to know if these results continue with time. Do drivers & peds eventually return to the familiar patterns or do they continue to behave safer. I’d suspect that the improvements are due to the “negotiation” effect described, but I’d feel safer making conclusions after seeing the data over a longer period, as well as breaking out the data to see what percentage of the accidents involved local residents (as either drivers or peds).

  • mfs

    I bet they could lower the accident rate further if they started driving on the right side of the road too. (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  • Mitch

    What does this imply for bikes?

    I would suggest that in some places (though definitely not everywhere) those despised Class III bike routes are the safest way to provide for bike traffic. And they are safe for the same reason that Kensington High Street is safe — they remove the illusion of safety, and force bikes, cars and pedestrians to pay attention to each other.

    Sometimes separated facilities are the best way to provide for bikes, but not always. I think it’s important not to be ideological about this issue.

  • Tom

    Reading about this entry I wondered if the picture was before or after, because if it is after then the street was not Striped of “Safety” features, as there are what appears to be a traffic light, a walk and don’t walk light, a median, painted dashes indicating the cross walk and a stop line for the cars on the right side of the picture. Then reading what appears to be the source of the report (I clicked on reports), it seems that engineers did not remove traffic lights, but “combined traffic lights with lamp posts to remove the clutter.” It maybe the removal of clutter, so that what was expected was clearer to people that made the street safer. So, I would say that saying that the street was striped of safety features and that calling this the “naked road” concept is misleading at best. It seems, from this picture, that there is just as many safety features as most roads, although maybe not as large.

    Also, in the comments I clicked on the Wired article indicated by Rollie. I had read this before and it seems to me that the most important change for Monderman’s “favorite intersection” was the building of the traffic circle or round about. It has long been known that merging traffic; such has what happens at traffic circles or limited access highways are safer than the right angle intersection and therefore do not need traffic lights or other such things. It seems that the traffic circle made these other things unneeded by eliminating crossing traffic.


  • Brit Pop


    One thing that you have to keep in mind is that London streets are really heavily, aggressively designed and engineered for “safety.” For example, Ken High Street used to have all of this fencing running down the middle of it — these kinds of cattle chutes that peds would have to walk through to cross the street. So, while this new street might not be as “naked” as a Hans Monderman project in the Netherlands, it’s pretty naked compared to how it used to be.

  • Tom

    Brit pop,

    Yes, but I didn’t write that there wasn’t any changes from before. I was referring to idea that there were still plenty of safety features, if the picture is an after one and that the headline and the reference to “naked road” is misleading at best, unless one would consider most of the streets in the New York City area to be “naked” as it appears to me that the picture doesn’t show anything very new compared to what I’m use to in the New York City area. Maybe the lines and traffic lights are somewhat smaller. Also, in regard to Monderman’s “favorite intersection” that is a traffic circle. Traffic circles also are not new. As to Monderman’s square, that maybe a new idea, but the article doesn’t say much about it.

    I’m not saying that these ideas are not good ones. I just don’t see much that is new in regard to the redesign of Kensington High Street and with the traffic circle, when compared to what I’m familiar with. I like the idea of traffic circles. Also, again if the picture is after the change then there still are lots of safety features on Kensington High Street.


  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    The one part of the DOT’s Queens Boulevard safety plan for my neighborhood that I didn’t like was the proposed “Z crosswalk,” which I think is one of the median fence styles referred to above. They hadn’t put it up last time I checked.

    Speaking of “safety” features that don’t work, has the city finally gotten rid of all the idiotic Giuliani/Hoehl pedestrian barricades?

  • Charlie D.

    I totally agree with Mitch. Sharing the road Class 3 style works very well where there is low traffic volume and/or slower traffic.

    One of the things bicyclists struggle with now is positioning themselves in lanes designed for much wider vehicles. I have found when all lane markings are removed, it becomes MUCH easier, as bicyclists can maneuver and position themselves as needed without feeling that they are taking up an entire lane. The other vehicles then can negotiate around the bicyclist as needed.

    It’s often quite nice in the period after when they repave a road and when the stripe it. In my experience, traffic is slower and the road feels much calmer.

  • interesting. I always thought it was better to have more safety features put in. What can be said about cyclists? Would it be easier for them to maneuver with such stripped features?


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