Buchanan Report Warned Urban Designers of the essay

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Buchanan report warned urban designers of the potential damage caused by the motor car and presented ways of mitigating this damage.

"It is impossible to spend any time on the study of the future of traffic in towns without at once being appalled by the magnitude of the emergency that is coming upon us. We are nourishing at immense cost a monster of great potential destructiveness, and yet we love him dearly. To refuse to accept the challenge it presents would be an act of defeatism" (Lyall, 2005, p. 204)

To that end, Colin Buchanan, architect, civil engineer and planner, presented government with a set of policy blueprints that included strategies to be used for traffic containment and segregation and that could be feasibly and gainfully incorporated into urban development.

The rise of the motor car signalled a plethora of problems not least congestion of streets, pollution, smog, growth in road collisions, accidetns, and the ugly intrusion of cars into the lives of the people so that people and vehicles would be mixed and cars would dominate the scene. Buchanan -- and many others too -- thought it important that the vehicle scene be controlled and that chaos be supervised by order. The attempt was to find one single solution to do so.

Buchanan's solution was complex and original. He suggested that the problem of cars could not be stymied; that acquisition of cars would multiply and that therefore the phenomen had to be accepted but controlled.

One of the ways to do so was to designate towns or geographical areas that would be off limits to cars or restrict vehicle intake in order to maintain their historical environment and maintain privacy to their citizens. He also suggested that certain larger scale urban redesigning would need to be implemented in towns and that, expensive as this may be, it would be necessary to do so in order to differentiate space between people and cars. Certain standards, inlcuding safety, visual intrusion, noise, and pollution limits, should always be set. Cities with economic wherewithall should rebuild themselves in order to cater to the modern motor car, but cities where money was depleted would need to face the problem by restricting traffic.

Each urban area should have its own character. Planners should design these designs beforehand and structure their plans for traffic regulation accordingly. This would result in towns where roads would be constructed in an environmentally pleasing fashion with the hierarchical networks of roads designed in such a way that longer-distance traffic would be directed away from local and inner areas so that people and cars would be kept seperate and urban sprawl would not be commingled. The result would resemble a carefully planned vast room with corridiors specifically set aside for traffic.

Buchanan recommended imposition of bypasses around small and medium-sized towns in order to allevaite congestion in the center of towns and cities. This would give ciites their much needed inner pockets of space.

When and where restrictions on volume of traffic were needed this could be achieved by construction of one-way roads or roads closed to traffic or by a combination of licences or permits, parking restrictions, or subsidised public transport.

Pursuing the same objective of maintaining space and privarty, Buchanan reocmmended that stores face squares or pedestrainized streets rather than the roads, and that rooftop or multi-storey parking be constructed nearby. Urban areas could consist of multiple levels with traffic moving as a bloc underneath a building deck and with squares reserved for fountains, statues, and fine arts devoid of traffic. There could be also pedestrian areas that would be free of the same. In this way, the streets need not be composed of buildings constantly facing rows of moving cars.

The Monderman thesis

The Monderman thesis is almost the exact opposite of Buchanan's recommendations. Whilst Buchanan moved for regulating cars, Monderman moved for removing that control.

Hans Monderman had an extremely interesting idea of ridding the environment of all conventional traffic signs such as the traffic lights and speed signs; the signs exhorting drivers to stop, slow down and merge; the center lines separating lanes from one another; even the speed bumps, speed-limit signs, bicycle lanes and pedestrian crossings. Curbs are removed too. Counter-intuitive, he claimed that removal of these signs would make people drive slower and would compell pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists to move through, what he called, the 'shared space' by gesturing to and communicating with one another. Drivers would look to people with whom they shared the road for signs of how and when to advance instead of turning to signs for guidance. Structured as 'shared space', 'designing for negotiation', or 'Shared Street', Monderman's ideas, at first dislarming, have already been intoduced in various countries such as Europe (Spain, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Britain), the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia, Japan, and Brazil. They are gradually being introduced to parts of America and Canada and the European Union is conducting an intensive study on its effects with the intentions of possibly introducing Monderman's pruned down design through all parts of Europe.

Results seem dramatic, in fact too good to be true. Wired, a skeptical magazine extolled the theme when it reported, on success of the scene in Florida that:

Planners have redesigned several major streets, removing traffic signals and turn lanes, narrowing the roadbed, and bringing people and cars into much closer contact. The result: slower traffic, fewer accidents, shorter trip times. People felt it was safe to walk there. The increase in pedestrian traffic attracted new shops and apartment buildings. Property values along Clematis Street, one of the town's main drags, have more than doubled since it was reconfigured." (PPS; n.d.)

Part psychologist too, Monderman, argued that when people are treated as idiots they tend to actualize that. Treating them as the reverse however will make them more responsible, aside from making the roads more pleasent and, counterintuitively, safer for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.

Monderman's arguemnt has a certain attraction to it. As he says: "A wide road with a lot of signs is… saying, go ahead, don't worry, go as fast as you want, there's no need to pay attention to your surroundings. And that's a very dangerous message." (ibid.)

The driver is focused on himself and, smug in his belief that he possess the road is apt to ignore passing cars and cyclists; accidents consequently becoming rife. Forced to concentrate, however, the driver is compelled to become more cautious as well as more other- oriened. Insrtead of the car becoming the king of the road, the driver discovers that he shares the road with others and becomes more aware and sensitive of those others. His driving becomes less reckless and others are allowed shared space too. Most strikingly, not one accident has been recorded on any of Monderman's roads.

Contrast between Monderman and Buchanan

Monderman's idea is attractive in that it makes for friendlier, pleasant, caring world. With driver's attention focused on others, people learn to be less self-focused and to share the space as Monderman calls it. Dramatic though it may sound with all the following removed: conventional traffic signs such as the traffic lights and speed signs; the signs exhorting drivers to stop, slow down and merge; the center lines separating lanes from one another; even the speed bumps, speed-limit signs, bicycle lanes and pedestrian crossings- and the environment seeming naked and disorienting as a result, improvement may be gained by a more aesthetic, more naturalized environment and the world may become a friendlier, less selfish place. Monderman's ideas, impractical though they sound seem to work and most importantly he has his practicalities too. Highways stay untouched as long as they are well organized and well regulated. It is only the infrastructure of the local network of small city roads that we are talking about. But that is a lot.

Most strikingly there has never been an accident on any of Monderman's roads. Nonetheless, Monderman's ideas have only been in circulation for a relatively limited amount of time. When contrasted with Buchanan, Buchanan's ideas, constricting though they may seem are more practical and take into account human nature by regulating and controlling traffic via the implemenation of signs and 'sacred' spaces.

Their downside is that they 'treat humans as idiots' as Monderman is won't to say. On the other hand, some people are idiots and many of us are simply plain selfish with others being sociopath. It would be taking too great a risk to believe that all are capable of allowing 'shared space' to succeed.

To that end, I prefer Buchanan's approach. Whilst Monderman is extremely attractive, we cannot rely on all mankind to be unilaterally responsible and capable of restraining themselves without the imposition of police and laws. There are some who will naturally incline to anarchy and lawlessness as well as particular moods that may incline individuals to the same. For these reasons, and given that we are living in an imperfect world, a set of homogenous…[continue]


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