I'm really interested in the trials of a 'naked road' scheme, which removes all the signage and road markings on a road in an attempt to reduce speed and improve safety. The scheme is being trialled on Exhibition Road in Kensington and in Wiltshire, following successful trials in Holland. The news, first announced by the BBC a few weeks ago, has been reported again today in a BBC News 'Magazine' article, which also contains some analysis. Early results from the Wiltshire trial suggest a 33% fall in the number of accidents and a 5% fall in speed.
One reason why the scheme appears to have gotten results might be because of the 'psychological safety net' effect caused by kerbs, traffic lights and so on. A similar effect can probably be seen with safety belts - wearing them makes you feel safer and thus drive faster. However, it would be harder to argue that safety belts should be removed in order to improve safety (even if only from the driver's seat).
Another factor may be that the scheme forces drivers to make more eye-contact with each other, decreasing the impersonalisation of driving in traffic.
However, whilst I can see that making drivers more alert might improve safety - the scheme would also surely mean that pedestrians also have to be more alert. Whilst this might help decrease accidents caused by unthinking pedestrians, it may also add to the stress of being a pedestrian, which is perhaps unfair as it is not pedestrians which are the big problem with road safety.
I wonder what those people who talk of adaptive design would make of it all? In some ways, the 'naked road' is analagous to leaving an area of grass unpaved in a new neighbourhood, waiting to see where trodden paths naturally form, and then creating paved paths over these tracks (a great idea that I saw somewhere but cannot find the refernce for). However, the difference might be that whilst in this example, the people creating the paths are all equal in terms of contribution to the paths (apart from their weight and shoe design), on the street the cars have a much more powerful ability to negotiate passages than pedestrians (who can only stop cars by being in a massive crowd).
The fact that pedestrians and motor vehicles operate on the same level ('at grade', in design-speak) is the cause of huge problems, as there's no easy way for the two types of traffic to cross each other without building costly bridges or underpasses. The 'naked roads' scheme doesn't solve this problem, but it does at least contribute towards our thinking about how it could be solved...