Monday, 17 October 2011

Behavioural Economics Meets The Street?

Behavioural economics is about how our brains process information and respond to the cues that surround us - frequently in ways that differ from what economists would deem “rational.” This came to mind at a workshop I attended in Brighton last week. Not a workshop about economics, but a workshop about streets and the psychology of streets.  The workshop, based on the Department for Transport’s Manual for Streets, was run by an organisation called Places Matter. The workshop was designed to give participants an overview of Manual for Streets, outlining the principles of successful street design. Naturally, there was a visit to Brighton’s “trophy” street scheme, the award winning New Road. P1080912 New Road But we also went up to Brighton Station, a thorny challenge, where scoping out a new scheme is soon to be subject to public consultation. Thinking about streets is now moving away from formal modes of control beloved by traffic engineers to thinking about what 1 P1080590 Bude c res people actually do in streets: getting the “right” kind of behaviour on streets needs a more subtle approach than  just rules and regulations. The keynote presentation at the workshop was from Martin Stockley, a designer/engineer/practitioner and a thinker about streets.
Some of Martin’s key themes:
  • There is no single answer to how a street should be.
  • Conflicts are inevitable but probably can’t be solved: we should aim to let people interact and resolve (not solve) conflicts.
  • Manual for Streets is about controlling less, allowing more.
  • Civility is the name of the game.
  • The focus should be on “allowing regulations” to encourage “normal” behaviour.
  • It’s not normal to have to wait (eg to cross a road)
  • Local authorities are confusing “risk aversiveness” with “liability aversiveness.”
  • We need to aim for acceptable safety, not absolute safety.
  • Barriers on streets are perceived to increase safety, whilst actually increasing danger.
  • Vehicle speeds need to be lower.
  • Streets should be where people can act normally, not be regulated and controlled.
  • The streets are ours.
More of Martin’s thoughts on streets in this video. Naturally, filmed on the street.

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