traffic psychology: pseudoscience or mere quackery?

Naked Streets are in the news, and ALLDERBLOB readers demand satisfaction. They demand comment: what is it, to be a “Naked Street?”

Evidence for the effect of the Naked Streets comes to us from the mouth of Dutch traffic engineer [traffic engineer? pseudoscience or mere quackery?–ed.] Hans Monderman, whom we met the other day at Toronto’s Walk 21 conference. We sent our ill-reputed correspondent, Jacob Allderdice, who had official capacity as presentor of a “Walkshop” called “Life at the speed of a Bicycle,” in which he took conference delegates to experience Toronto’s mysterious Danforth Peninsula. We have examined Allderdice’s theories on the Danforth elsewhere, and will return to his claims at a later point [no doubt; now, let’s get to the naked part already! –ed.].

Naked Streets are the talk of the town these days. In fact, we described the German town of Bohmte in a previous entry, and noted the existence of a couple “naked” intersections we know of here in Toronto. But coupled with the delight Toronto feels when the eyes of the world turn to it (“Toronto: The Bilbao of Canada,” as the PR flacks would have it) (rejected slogan: “You like me, you really like me!” was felt to be too obscure), the presence of Hans Monderman in Toronto these past few days has brought the notion of naked streets to front pages of the local papers.

Monderman was quoted today in “A radical road map: no signs, no lights, no rules,” a lengthy feature article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail and Car Advertiser.

Drachten, Netherlands, after getting naked with Hans Monderman
Drachten, Netherland, population 55,000: Stripped naked by Hans Monderman click image for higher resolution

Naked streets, a.k.a. “shared space,” are streets stripped of legalistic information like speed limits, stop signs and stoplights, and even delineation between sidewalk and roadway.
Same intersection before stripping click image for higher resolution

They leave cars, bikes and pedestrians to stew in ethical and moral choice at every turn of the wheel, and every footfall. The intent is that each street, each intersection, each vista, present to the participant a question, not an answer. The effect is a substantial reduction: in speed of traffic; number of collisions; severity of injuries from collisions; and, most surprisingly, a reduction in overall time spent in transit from A to B.

From the Globe story:

It used to take cars roughly half an hour to travel across the city. Now, although traffic moves more slowly, the trip takes about 10 minutes. This means cars don’t idle in traffic jams as often – steady engines are quieter and use less gas.

Yes, under conditions of Naked Streets, it appears the time spent crossing town is lowered, even while the average speed of a typical motor vehicle is also lowered. In other words, flow is improved; stoppages eliminated. Cars spend less time idling, as well as less time speeding.

But what got us in the story was not the concept of Naked Streets. We can deal with that. What got us was this paragraph:

Leon James, a University of Hawaii researcher and one of the world’s most prominent traffic psychologists, doubts that Mr. Monderman’s designs would work on most North American roads.

Traffic Psychology? We don’t need no stinkin’ traffic psychologists.

Here’s all you need to know about traffic psychology (see also the ALLDERBLOB of August 24, 2005): “Motorists are egotistical. Hence, the ego manifestation boxes (“cars”) in which they propel themselves about the planetary landscape. A car is always physically larger than the motorist’s own (human) body, as it is the physical manifestation of the ego that has inflated beyond the physical space the body occupies. Motorists will not always be aware of their ego problem, subconsciously inventing the “need” for a car, such as the placement of their habitat (“home”) far away from the place where they must forage (“work”).”

Also: “Motorists are antisocial” and “Motorists are subconsciously homicidal.” See the link above for the substantiation to these claims.

But what about pedestrians and bikes? Aren’t they “traffic” too? Yes, and we’ve got them pegged:

The pedestrian leads generally a more positive existence than that of the motorist. The pedestrian is, after all, out in society interacting with other human beings, without the distancing effect of metal armour. But pedestrians are seriously psychologically dysfunctional, and these dysfunctions stem from their self-loathing.


Unlike the motorist, however, the pedestrian is not homicidal. Rather, the pedestrian prefers to enact beatings and maimings, and does not require the need for the certainty of killing power (unless, of course, the pedestrian goes on to become a motorist). The archetype of the pedestrian is the street thug. Pedestrians, if they are not already in a street gang, are sad, frustrated people itching to join one.

As for cyclists, here we have the pinnacle of human perfection: “cyclists represent the “norm” in terms of healthy human psychology, and they exist in a dysfunctional society, sandwiched in between two frighteningly dysfunctional groups, motorists and pedestrians.

One Response to “traffic psychology: pseudoscience or mere quackery?”


    [...] and from within it she would prefer to remain aloof and secure. Automobile manufacturers have all kinds of psychologists working on the question, and it’s not for no reason they invented and advertise the SUV, [...]

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