Hans Monderman, Engineer of Livable Streets, 1947-2008


New Mobility Agenda‘s Eric Britton sends along sad news that Hans Monderman, the Dutch traffic engineer renowned for his innovative "shared space" plans emphasizing human interaction and negotiation over blind obedience to mechanical traffic control devices, died yesterday. He was a rare and radical traffic engineer who believed that the art and science of his profession could be used not just to facilitate the movement of motor vehicles but to build community and enhance human relationships. Britton writes:

I learned this morning of the sad news that our dear friend and colleague Hans Monderman has passed away. It is a great loss.

Hans was an exceptionally creative, energetic and original thinker
and doer, right up the middle of the New Mobility Agenda at its best.
His specialty was not to write lots of fat reports or go to
conferences, but rather to get out onto the street and show people and
policy makers what can be done if we apply our minds to it.

His approach has been called "Designing for Negotiation", which he
in his usual modesty admitted works better in some places than others.
At busy urban intersections with slow traffic, he found that it is
often safer and more effective to get road users to focus on looking at
one another instead of traffic control devices.

I had the opportunity to meet Monderman and see some of his work in Drachten and Groningen during a trip to the Netherlands in October 2006. In addition to being a major innovator, Hans was an incredibly nice guy, open and inviting. As much as he will be missed, I have no doubt that his ideas about traffic engineering and urban design will live on and come to be seen not as radical, but state-of-the-art, in cities around the world.

Drachten’s busiest intersection before Hans Monderman.

Drachten’s busiest intersection after Hans Monderman.

 More on Hans Monderman:

  • Wired Magazine: No street signs. No crosswalks. No accidents. Surprise: Making driving seem more dangerous could make it safer.
  • New York Times: A path to road safety with no signposts.
  • Streetsblog: German town chooses human interaction over traffic signals.

Monderman Photo: Aaron Naparstek, Drachten before photo courtesy of Ben Hamilton-Baillie, Drachten after photo Ben Behnke, Spiegel.

  • Kathy Madden

    Last year we met with Hans in the Netherlands and he told us that although his work started by analyzing why accidents occurred in some areas and why they didn’t happen in others, he said that there was one essential goal of calming any intersection. This goal was simply to slow the traffic down to where there could be eye contact between the various people who are meeting each other at the intersection – on foot or in a vehicle.

    While we were visiting him we had the honor to go with him to several of the intersections that he had worked on and experience them first hand. It was the most remarkable experience to walk through the intersection and, as a pedestrian, have the right of way just prior to bicycles, buses, private vehicles and trucks. One bus pulled up beside us and the driver opened the window and said “Mr. Monderman – I just wanted to thank you for what you did to this street – it works so much better now”.

    Older people were casually riding on bicycles doing their errands and everyone was doing something we had not seen in a long time – using hand signals to indicate when they were turning.

    The experience we had walking in these “shared” intersections was like walking in slow motion – almost like being in some sort of ballet or slow dance!

    We have much to thank Hans Monderman for and much to do to utilize if his ideas and experience in US citites today.

    Kathy Madden
    Project for Public Spaces

  • steely

    Indeed. great post, and great comment, Kathy.

    in case anyone is interested, here is a piece that ran in T.A. magazine about 3 years ago, about Hans’ approach. it generated some controversy among those who advocate for sight impaired peds. is there a way to make such streets safe for the blind?


  • comentz

    His ideas and work will live on but only if decisionmakers in this city are not afraid to experiment with fresh ideas…ok…how about fresh and tested ideas…

  • xue

    paul (steely) – in the US when shared/curbless streets have been done they have been done with faux-sidewalk areas on either side where the sidewalks used to be, delineated by ADA-compliant “truncated dome” strips. so along blocks, these kinds of designs are not a problem. curbless intersections could be a bit trickier but i think those have been done in the US as well.

  • Great work! Now, imagine no private autos.


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