Hans Monderman: Supporting background

  • Lyall on Monderman
  • Short biography
  • New York Times article
  • The challenge before us

  • Letter of nomination
  • Letters of international support
  • Click to signal your support

  • Each of the following sections of the official nomination have been prepared not by Mr. Monderman who for family reasons is not available at this time, but by a group of international colleagues who have got together to see if we can in this way make his important contributions better known world wide. For a list of those who have gotten behind this effort to indorse this nomination, please click to http://www.kyotocities.org/challenge/monderman-award.htm.

    Lyall on Monderman. New York Times, 22 Jan. 2005

    [The following introduction has been excepted from article by Sarah Lyall that appeared in The New York Times. January 22, 2005.]

    "I want to take you on a walk," said Hans Monderman, abruptly stopping his car and striding - hatless, and nearly hairless - into the freezing rain.

    Like a naturalist conducting a tour of the jungle, he led the way to a busy intersection in the center of town, where several odd things immediately became clear. Not only was it virtually naked, stripped of all lights, signs and road markings, but there was no division between road and sidewalk. It was, basically, a bare brick square.

    But in spite of the apparently anarchical layout, the traffic, a steady stream of trucks, cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians, moved along fluidly and easily, as if directed by an invisible conductor. When Monderman, a traffic engineer and the intersection's proud designer, deliberately failed to check for oncoming traffic before crossing the street, the drivers slowed for him. No one honked or shouted rude words out the window.

    "Who has the right of way?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't care. People here have to find their own way, negotiate for themselves, use their own brains."

    Used by some 20,000 drivers a day, the intersection is part of a road-design revolution pioneered by the 59-year-old Monderman. His work in Friesland, the district in northern Holland that takes in Drachten, is increasingly seen as the way of the future in Europe.

    Variations on the shared-space theme are being tried in Spain, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Britain. The European Union has appointed a committee of experts, including Monderman, for a Europe-wide study.

    His philosophy is simple, if counterintuitive. To make communities safer and more appealing, Monderman argues, you should first remove the traditional paraphernalia of their roads.

    That means the traffic lights and speed signs; the signs exhorting drivers to stop, slow down and merge; the center lines separating lanes from each other; even the speed bumps, speed-limit signs, bicycle lanes and pedestrian crossings. In his view, it is only when the road is made more dangerous, when drivers stop looking at signs and start looking at other people, that driving becomes safer.

    "All those signs are saying to cars, 'This is your space, and we have organized your behavior so that as long as you behave this way, nothing can happen to you,"' said Monderman. "That is the wrong story."

    The Drachten intersection is an example of the concept of "shared space," a street where cars and pedestrians are equal, and the design tells the driver what to do.

    "It's a moving away from regulated, legislated traffic toward space which, by the way it's designed and configured, makes it clear what sort of behavior is anticipated," said Ben Hamilton-Baillie, a British specialist in urban design and movement, and a proponent of many of the same concepts.

    Highways - where the car is naturally king - are part of the "traffic world" and another matter altogether. In Monderman's view, shared-space plans thrive only in conjunction with well-organized, well-regulated highway systems. Monderman is a man on a mission. On a daylong automotive tour of Friesland, he pointed out places he had improved, including a town where he ripped out the sidewalks, signs and crossings and put in brick paving on the central shopping street. An elderly woman crossed slowly in front of him.

    "This is social space, so when Grandma is coming, you stop, because that's what normal, courteous human beings do," he said.

    Planners and curious journalists are increasingly making pilgrimages to meet Monderman, considered one of the field's great innovators, although until a few years ago he was virtually unknown outside of Holland. Hamilton-Baillie, whose writings have helped bring Monderman's work to wider attention, remembers with fondness his own first visit.

    "Essentially, what it means is a transfer of power and responsibility from the state to the individual and the community."

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    A brief biography

    Hans Monderman, Engineer and innovator. Dutch citizen. Born in 1947. Married.

    • Since 1969 as a civil engineer project leader infrastructure constructions and controller traffic safety at the Province of Fryslân
    • From 1979 consultant traffic safety at Regional Traffic Safety Commission, (accident analysis, road engineering, speed reduction measures); from then on developing and bringing into practise on several spots in Province of Fryslân Shared Space approach.
    • From 1996 part time traffic planner municipality of Smallingerland (Fryslân)
    • 1999 to 2002 policy consultant province of Groningen (integration of traffic and landscape)
    • From 2002 programme manager of integration programme (spatial, landscape and traffic planning) in charge of provinces Drenthe, Groningen en Fryslân

    Dressed in a beige jacket and patterned shirt, with scruffy facial hair and a stocky build, Monderman has the appearance of a soccer hooligan but the temperament of an engineer, which indeed he trained to be. His father was the headmaster of the primary school in their small village; Hans liked to fiddle with machines. "I was always the guy who repaired the TV sets in our village," he said.

    He was working as a civil engineer building highways in the 1970s when the Dutch government, alarmed at a sharp increase in traffic accidents, set up a network of traffic-safety offices. Monderman was appointed Friesland's traffic safety officer.

    In residential communities, Monderman began narrowing the roads and putting in design features like trees and flowers, red brick paving stones and even fountains to discourage people from speeding, following the principle now known as psychological traffic calming, where behavior follows design.

    He made his first nervous foray into shared space in a small village whose residents were upset at its being used as a daily thoroughfare for 6,000 speeding cars. When he took away the signs, lights and sidewalks, people drove more carefully. Within two weeks, speeds on the road had dropped by more than half.

    In fact, he said, there has never been a fatal accident on any of his roads. Several early studies bear out his contention that shared spaces are safer. In England, the district of Wiltshire found that removing the center line from a stretch of road reduced drivers' speed without any increase in accidents.

    While something of a libertarian, Monderman concedes that road design can do only so much. It doesn't change the behavior, for instance, of the 15 percent of drivers who will behave badly no matter what the rules are.

    Nor are shared-space designs appropriate everywhere, like in major urban centers, but only in neighborhoods that meet particular criteria. Recently, a group of well-to-do parents asked him to widen the two-lane road leading to their children's school, saying it was too small to accommodate what he derisively calls "their huge cars."

    He refused, saying that the fault lay not with the road, but with the cars. "They can't wait for each other to pass?" he asked. "I wouldn't interfere with the right of people to buy the car they want, but nor should the government have to solve the problems they make with their choices."

    Monderman's obsessions can cause friction at home. His wife hates talking about road design. But work is his passion and his focus for as many as 70 hours a week, despite quixotic promises to curtail his projects and stay home on Fridays.

    The current plan, instigated by Mrs. Monderman, is for him to retire in a few years. But it is unclear what a man who begins climbing the walls after three days at the beach

    Source: From article by Sarah Lyall ,The New York Times, January 22, 2005

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    The challenge before us

    Hans' starting point is that motorized traffic is likely to remain an essential feature of European economies and their spatial fabric for several generations. By exploring new approaches to allow the integration of traffic management, spatial planning and spatial design, he intends to achieve key improvements in the interrelated areas of road safety, spatial quality, economic prosperity and community capacity and confidence.

    European Shared Space project:
    This approach will be assessed in the European project Shared Space, in which since February 2004 seven partners joined forces in the European co-operation project Shared Space. Each of them undertakes a pilot project, and together they aim to develop a new policy for designing public spaces at regional, national and eventually at a European level.

    In the Shared Space approach, the design of a public space encourages social behaviour. You can achieve that by regulating less with signs and markings and by calling upon the self-regulating ability of people. Perhaps it takes a little while to get used to it, but it is usually pleasant to stay in an environment where people behave socially, where they take each other into account, where they look each other into the eyes. In the Shared Space approach the car should become an equal of the other road users in residential areas. They should respect each other.

    People want to, have to and must make their own choices more and more. So the government must ensure that decision making and implementation are organised on an appropriate scale. If people know each other and do not feel like a cog in a large bureaucratic wheel, problems can be solved in their specific context.

    This is what the Shared Space partners want to realise. The partners' pilot projects will produce experience and knowledge in design and planning processes and will demonstrate a kaleidoscope of practical solutions, thus raising understanding and acceptance of the approach amongst politicians, professionals and the public.

    Technology and People: Less is More
    Technology (within all sectors) has achieved spectacular results in many places in recent years. The problem is however that those responsible for bringing it on board all too often neglect to take into consideration that the ultimate aim should be to serve people, and above all people in their daily lives.

    To the contrary, and most unfortunately, the present dominant thinking in all too many cases is that people have to fit systems (traffic, IT, TV, politics) -- instead of systems and sector knowledge fitting people and their demands. Technology has thus alienated from people, their culture, their traditions.

    So this leaves us with two challenges for the immediate future, which I would now like to share with the World Technology Network and in particular my colleagues with specific concerns about environment and quality of life:

    • 1st: We need to better match technological development and innovations with human needs and measures (la dimensione umana, al passo di uomo)
    • 2nd: To use insights gained from examining and living with past experience, positive and negative, to guide and anchor innovations and future projects.

    How to achieve this:
    Researchers, innovators and policy makers must better learn how to communicate with people and how to embed their own profession in society context. Sometimes less is more

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