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Martin Laplante

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Thu, 31 May 2007

Main Arterial Woonerf

Here is an interesting panorama of a busy dreary Toronto intersection as it might look if it were a woonerf.

A woonerf is a Dutch invention based on having very little formal separation between automobiles and pedestrians. The effect is like making cars drive on the sidewalk - the ultimate traffic calming measure. Pedestrians don't just have priority, this is an alternate universe where they are the evil overlords and their children make you bend to their whim. Once the drivers realize that the pedestrians own this realm, very few visual signals are required to control traffic flow. The speed gets low enough and drivers are alert enough that a minimalist approach works. Woonerf intersections and traffic circles have some visual cues but no signs.

The panorama in the link lets you click and drag to look around. What the photographer has done is to paint out all the traffic regulating elements. The effect is surreal. Of course, woonerf is unlikely to work on this type of high-volume intersection of major arterials, so I assume the panorama is tongue in cheek.

Woonerfs have been slow to propagate outside the Netherlands and Flanders, but there are some pilot projects in the UK, where they are called Home Zones. Despite a great deal of talk in North America, and high-profile articles about traffic designer Hans Mondermann, nothing has come of it yet. Would the concept work here? Will cars submit to this humiliation? Will fire departments and snow removal officials veto it? They're really not fond of new ideas.

There is an urban design charrette coming up for a large brownfield area near where I live. I will propose using my neighbours as guinea pigs.


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