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I remember some years ago in the UK, I believe it was during the 1970s, the British Government decided to do a study to find out why pedestrians did not bump into each other, or cause a huge gridlock in the middle of the street when crossing the road at a light.

In big cities like London during rush hour, large numbers of people would wait to cross on opposing sides of the street. When the light turned green, they would all cross at the same time, in what must have appeared to traffic engineers, complete chaos.

Someone in their wisdom decided to do a study, because that’s what engineers do when they don’t have answers. After spending several tens of thousands British Pounds, of the tax payer’s money, they came up with this astounding discovery:

“People just go around each other.”


Walking, the original means to get from A to B; just putting one foot in front of the other. Look down on any busy street in any large city and it appears to be chaos, with people going every which way. However, beneath the chaos there is order; each individual has a destination and is just taking the route necessary to get there.

Now watch the video (Below.) of Market Street in San Francisco in 1905. Into the mix of people walking, has been added horse drawn vehicles, automobiles, and bicycles.

The same chaos prevails, but people simply go around each other. 

The reason it works is because there are less people and everyone is going very slow. I wonder how long it took in 1905 to get from one end of Market Street to the other, and I wonder how that time compares to today?

The strange thing I find is that there is more sanity in the chaotic street scene above than I see in a typical rush hour street scene of today.

It is the huge variation in speed between people walking, bicycles and autos that cause most of the problems in our large cities; both accidents and traffic hold ups.

If pedestrians pretty much kept to the sidewalks; if cars slowed down to closer the speed of a bicycle, I believe everyone would get to their destination just as fast; not to mention a lot less stressed.

Try making that argument to the guy who has spent thousands on the latest car that does zero to 60 in seconds; it will never happen, but allow me my flight of the imagination.



Reader Comments (8)

Hi Dave,
One exception today is people staring at their (fill in the blank__________)
electronic leashes. Look around today and everywhere many people are staring down at the devices and are oblivious to what's going on around them.
Many cross busy streets or J-Walk and are so addicted to these devices they feel invincible to everyone else. I believe there would be less accidents and
"close calls" if these devices were not in use. We all know that using them while driving or any other activity short of sitting on a bench is dangerous, illegal or just foolish, yet people carry on like "nothing is going to happen."
I'm not against the devices, I just want people to use more commom sense and show some respect for others around them.

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

One of the things that impresses me about this video is that there are no different zones for the various categories of users. Here in the Netherlands there are clear delineations in the zones to be used by pedestrians, cyclists, cars, and trams/buses/taxis, and everything works more or less. Yet in this video there are no such demarcations yet everything works! And I love the guys pushing the car, faster than the tram.

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim J

Do a search on youtube for street scenes in India and it looks the same.

Side note. Is this person any relation? Alex Moulton I guess it's like asking Dave Jones if he knows Alex Jones.

May 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterspokejunky

No relation to Alex Moulton, but we've been getting each other's mail for years.

May 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

The speed of getting to the destination in a city might indeed be the same when going slow(er) and steady. I don't think it's the speed differential that causes most of the problems in our large cities. I think it's the fact that so many people can't handle driving cars. There is so much that goes on when one is moving quickly, and for the person's nervous system to be able to process it quickly, efficiently and positively, he/she needs to be in good health. How many people are truly healthy? Someone who walks at 4 kph doesn't have that issue (as much); ditto for someone biking at 18 kph. If people took care of their health instead of stuffing themselves with drugs and junk food, they would be able to handle fast driving just fine; then even a large speed differential would be OK.

May 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMicheal Blue

What I did notice in that video is how the private autos were all over the place and seemed to be just cruising around for the hell of it. The days of private ownership of automobiles are numbered. The personal car used to represent freedom, but it has come to be the greatest source of enslavement in our country. I won't bore anyone with what I mean, I suspect the readers here already understand.

Are there any utopian stories that have private autos in them?

May 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim Joe Comstock

FYI, not only did Disney understand what motormania meant to civility but recognized that tomorrow's utopia was dependent on Magic Highways. In contradiction to livable chaos, Magic Highways would make transportation safe and efficient.

"Ideas which seem like pure fantasy will be common place to future generations":

May 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

That is a pretty funny study they did. When you think about it, it is amazing how people don't bump into each other.

May 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSchwinn 430

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