Crossing Cambodia

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cambodia, ahead of the times

In spite of the many Crossing Cambodia postings, shall we say deploring the traffic situation in Cambodia, could it just possibly be that in fact Cambodia is setting a new trend and from becoming a laggard in aspects of enforcing traffic rules (let alone in enforcing the traffic law) to becoming a trendsetter?

German magazine 'der Spiegel' in it's English language section published an article last November under the header of
'Controlled Chaos. European Cities do away with Traffic Signs'.
The Europeans are (they think) wading into unchartered territories:

'We reject every form of legislation ...'
This revolutionary idea is brought up in the first paragraph. But little do the Europeans know that the idea already exists, in ... Cambodia.
'European traffic planners are dreaming of streets free of rules and directives'.
No need to dream, come to Cambodia! But:
'They [European traffic planners] want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and humane way, as brethren -- by means of friendly gestures, nods of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and warning signs'.
This is where reality kicks in; bye, bye dream. Can Cambodians' interaction in road traffic be called 'humane'? How many friendly gestures, nods and eye contact do you get?
But what is meant by controlled chaos in reality?

'Stop signs and direction signs are nowhere to be seen. There are neither parking meters nor stopping restrictions. There aren't even any lines painted on the streets'.
Same, same! Now the amateur psychologist:
"The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior," says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project's co-founders. "The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles."
Um..., has Hans ever been in Cambodia? Is traffic in Cambodia 'socially responsible'?
Should we now not stop improving the traffic flow via law (enforcement)? Because if the social responsibility will 'dwindle', what's next?
But let's let the author explain further:
'Psychologists have long revealed the senselessness of such [German traffic sign postings] exaggerated regulation. About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What's more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also forments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow'.
Interesting. So, if you put up a sign you are actually teasing the traffic user. Com'on, I dare you to take a u-turn! In Germany there might be good law enforcement meaning that everybody complies, but in Cambodia putting up a signboard literally means an invitation to go up the wrong way on a 1-way street. That's why. Now Crossing Cambodia undertstands!
But this being Germany there must be someone willing to uphold humanity's faith in the German ideals:

'They [guru Hans and his followers] demand streets like those during the Middle Ages, when horse-drawn chariots, handcarts and people scurried about in a completely unregulated fashion. ...
If clear directives are abandoned, domestic rush-hour will turn into an Oriental-style bazaar, he [Michael Schreckenberg of Duisburg University] warns'.
It may sound like chaos, it may resemble the Middle Ages, let's call it Cambodia? And what's wrong with Oriental-style bazaar's? We at Crossing Cambodia luv' them!

Well, the Americans, ever trying to be hip were on to this earlier. At least according to Wired magazine: Roads gone wild!

Here Hans Monderman is no traffic guru, but a traffic engineer. The article dates December 2004, so maybe he became a guru in the two years.
'Monderman and I [the author] stand in silence by the side of the road a few minutes, watching the stream of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians make their way through the circle, a giant concrete mixing bowl of transport. Somehow it all works'.
Yes, it does work, why not? But on West Palm Beach, USA, the article looks at :
The old ways of traffic engineering - build it bigger, wider, faster - aren't going to disappear overnight.
But, but that's exactly what the Cambodia government is striving for. Can they be wrong? We'll find out, somewhere down the track, 10, 20 years?

Now Wired gives the exact recipe:

How to Build a Better Intersection: Chaos = Cooperation
1. Remove signs: The architecture of the road - not signs and signals - dictates traffic flow.
2. Install art: The height of the fountain indicates how congested the intersection is.
Does an Independence Monument count? An age old fake bridge on Norodom? An ancient temple complex?
3. Share the spotlight: Lights illuminate not only the roadbed, but also the pedestrian areas.
No can do, we need the electricity to illuminate the tv and crank the karaoke machine. Bad idea.
4. Do it in the road: Cafe's extend to the edge of the street, further emphasizing the idea of shared space.
In Cambodia everybody does it on the road, ... oh not that. But extending to the edge of street, yes, beyond the edge, yes, and if you don't have the space for a party, simply annex the street.
5. See eye to eye: Right-of-way is negotiated by human interaction, rather than commonly ignored signs.
A big no-no, you see eye to eye, you lose. No in Cambodia we get by, by ignoring all the rest of us.
6. Eliminate curbs: Instead of a raised curb, sidewalks are denoted by texture and color.
What about eliminating streets? Or eliminating sidewalks all together? There's no merit in them.

Well, what an interesting article(s); so is Cambodia really ahead of time? Are traffic signs useful? Is law enforcement needed?

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