The controversial "Shared Space" traffic planner, Ben Hamilton-Baillie

Imagine a major intersection with no traffic lights, no traffic signals, no painted lines on the road, and no curbs. Now imagine that scenario with over 26,000 vehicles passing through a traditional village center with heavy pedestrian traffic bustling through. Believe it or not, this already exists and it’s called a “shared space” and it is located in the village of Poynton. Ben Hamilton-Baillie is the urban designer responsible for this phenomenon, and he will be a keynote speaker at this year’s 52nd International Making Cities Livable Conference on Achieving Green, Healthy Cities.

Ben was tired of people mindlessly driving and not having to think at all because the traffic signals did all the thinking for the drivers. The goal of the shared space was to bring drivers, and pedestrians to be more involved in their daily commutes. In response to the rise of frustration and anxiety from communities due to this movement Ben states, "Shared space is a term that simply describes a shift in thinking away from the regulated highway towards using the natural skills that humans are blessed with to negotiate movement and allow the normal civilities of life to continue."

Ben led the village of Poynton through a revolutionary change. While similar changes have taken place elsewhere, mostly in Europe under the leadership of Hans Monderman,  Poynton’s intersection is by far the busiest to ever be a part of the movement. "Over the years, the increase in traffic and the steps taken to try to deal with that have changed this place from being the heart of the village into being merely a traffic-signal-controlled wasteland," said Ben. This sad state of affairs was his main reason for starting the $6 million dollar project. Engineers have now completely reconfigured the intersection at the center of town, replacing a traffic light with two "roundels" that cars must negotiate without the guidance of traffic signs. Pavements of varying colors and textures are the only signal as to which type of road user belongs where.

Since November 2008, when the scheme was first implemented there were only 4 accidents in three years, which is an improvement to the 17 that happened in the three years leading up to the change. Ashford, which is another U.K. community applied the same changes to their town led by Ben, and also saw a tremendous decrease in crashes since the elimination of traffic signals.

Despite most people’s first instinct at the idea of no traffic laws, Ben Hamilton-Baillie has gone past the hesitation and the doubts from citizens and has created notably safer cities for pedestrians and drivers alike. Moreover, with handsome paving replacing all the lights, signs, beacons and painted lines, the aesthetic appeal of these public places is vastly improved.

One neighborhood in Bristol, the site of the 52nd IMCL Conference, has “Shared Space” traffic calming in action similar to the “Wohnstrasse” in Germany. This is the self-build neighborhood of St. Werburghs. Varied paving, trees, planting and street furniture, bollards and street lighting enhance the streets for the pedestrian and slow the traffic. “They look to extend the social domain by reducing the areas designed for traffic flow,” says British urban design consultant Ben Hamilton-Baillie.