I don't know how these thoughts advance our transition to a future mobility paradigm, but a few of the ideas put forward by John Adams at a Camden Cycling Campaign talk (courtesy of velorution) make a lot of intuitive sense to me. The first idea, which I originally heard about during a trip to England, suggests that anarchic traffic rules (no signs, no traffic lights, no line markings, etc.) actually can make the roads safer for everyone concerned. Adams, an authority on risk, claims that odd erratic or absent-minded behavior makes everyone more wary as they travel around urban areas. Making frequent eye contact in this kind of environment apparently helps quite a bit.
John showed us figures to support the idea of " safety in numbers " for cyclists - countries with large numbers of cyclists have a lower per km cycled accident rate. He then returned to the " balancing behaviour " diagram and talked of interactions between road users, in particular between cyclists and lorry drivers1. The other user affects our behaviour and we affect theirs. But unfortunately lawyers and insurers get involved and the fear of litigation is stifling - risks that we might have been willing to take in the past may not be so acceptable in the future.The corollary of this: making people feel safer doesn't really help either, largely because they compensate with risky behavior in other areas. As a case in point consider bicycle helmets. Apparently, studies cited by Adams showed no increase in fatalities when local government lifted mandatory motorcycle helmet laws. The rationale being riders feel more invincible and travel faster when wearing helmets, which makes the chances for injury greater, helmet or no helmet.
When I look back and consider the rare situations where I wear a helmet, such as during competitions with mandatory rules, I've begun to realize more and more that these rules serve more as liability disclaimers than anything else. I had a few more comments on this from a post from last year.
1The band's spokesman, Mick Houghton, said the accident happened last Monday (year 2002) as Mary (Hanson of Stereolab) was cycling through central London. "We believe a vehicle, possibly a truck, backed into her, but I really don't know much more than that at the moment..."