Living and naked streets

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Historically, streets within Western city centres were naturally shared spaces. It was only in the 1950s, when private vehicles began to dominate the street, that different road users became segregated into distinctive zones with pedestrians sidelined to narrow, restricted footpaths.[1]

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Part of the agenda behind the Streets Without Cars studio is to re-imagine the streetscape as a pedestrian-focused space, and explore the possibilities for alternative street development once the car is given less significance within the street hierarchy.

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The living street and naked street models are examples of alternative street development aimed at developing streets as public shared spaces which are safer, more social and pedestrian-focused.

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Living streets

The living street or woonerf model began as a movement in the late 1960s in Delft, The Netherlands, as a reaction to the dominance of cars impacting the traditional streetscape of the city. It was pioneered by Dutch engineer, Joost Vahl, and sanctioned in 1976 by the Dutch government as a new residential street model.[2] The main agenda behind living streets is creating streets as shared social spaces that facilitate a variety of uses, not primarily as a vehicular thoroughfare, but as a residential garden to be equally used by pedestrians, cyclists and cars.

The key principles of living streets are:

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The main operational and design features of living streets are:

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Naked streets

The naked street model was advocated in the 1970s by Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman, appointed by the Dutch government to resolve the escalating traffic accidents within the town of Friesland, Netherlands.[3] The main agenda behind Monderman’s theory was to create safer, shared streets through the deliberate removal of conventional street paraphernalia such as traffic lights, curbs, road markings etc. This strategy creates a higher level of perceived risk of accident, and corresponding increase in risk-mitigation behaviour. It works to “exploit the natural skills of humans to negotiate movement, resolve conflict and engage not only with each other but with their context.”[4]

The key principles of naked streets are:

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The main operational and design features of naked streets are:

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The case study of Exhibition Road, London, is an example of how the living street and naked street models have been more recently applied to transform a previously vehicle dominated, cluttered street environment into a shared, safe and socially conducive street environment. The re-development was completed in 2012 by Dixon Jones and involved the removal of all street signage, a reduction in traffic speed to 20km/h, street art and furniture and continuous textured surface treatment.[5] Reviews of the changes after completion showed that:

  • Traffic volumes were expected to reduce.[6]
  • Increased pedestrian activity in the area.
  • Safer street environments.
  • Attractive public space.

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This case study demonstrates how shared street models, such as living and naked streets, provide an outcome that can be beneficial to both pedestrians and vehicles. Both provide good examples for the Streets Without Cars studio, demonstrating the possibilities of creating better street environments where traffic movement and pedestrians can coexist.


  1. Introduction to the woonerf; Woonerfgoed; Delft.
  2. Bruce Appleyard and Lindsay Cox; At Home in the ZonePlanning; volume 72, number 9; 2006; p. 31.
  3. Hans Monderman interview with Sarah Lyall; The New York Times; 2005.
  4. Naked Streets; Re: Streets.
  5. Exhibition Road London redevelopment; E-Architect; 2014.
  6. Exhibition Road Phase 4 report; Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; 2014.

Image Sources

  1. Morice Town Home Zone, copyright the The Neighbourhoods Blog.
  2. Car use figures in Australia, author’s own image.
  3. The argument for pedestrian-prioritised streets, author’s own image.
  4. Living and naked streets models, author’s own image.
  5. Living streets principles, author’s own image.
  6. Living streets operational and design features, author’s own image.
  7. Naked streets principles, author’s own image.
  8. Naked streets operational and design features, author’s own image.
  9. Exhibition Road, London, before redevelopment, copyright Olivia Woodhouse.
  10. Exhibition Road, London, after redevelopment, copyright The Daily Mail.

Naked streets

20140124 laweiplein drachtenLaweiplein in Drachten, the Netherlands.

How do we improve road safety in residential areas? The answer’s simple: make it riskier.

Naked streets is a concept developed by Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman, who proposed that by creating a greater sense of uncertainty and making it unclear who has right of way on a street, drivers reduce their speed and all street users increase their level of risk compensation. This last principle originates from behavioural theory that suggests people adjust their behaviour in response to the perceived level of risk: in riskier environments, pedestrian and drivers respond by behaving more safely.

The practical application of a naked street involves the removal of all hard safety measures, including safety barriers, traffic lights, warning signs, speed humps, pedestrian crossings and road markings. These are all replaced with road surfaces that do not clearly distinguish between vehicle and pedestrian space, ambiguity in defining traffic rules, and a street environment that fosters eye contact and human interaction. The Woonerfgoed, a Dutch network “focussed on the quality of life on the street” further define the naked street or woonerf (Dutch for living street) as a “street primarily meant as a social space, where people can meet, pedestrians and cyclists can move around freely, and children can play safely.”[1] The woonerf was introduced to the Netherlands in the late 1960s and requires that drivers drive at or near walking pace, or under 20km/h.[2]

Monderman drew international attention with a project in 2001, where he was responsible for the upgrade of the Laweiplein, a crowded four-way intersection in the town centre of Drachten in the northwestern Netherlands. He removed the usual clutter of traffic lights, warning signs and pedestrian crossings, and replaced them with an integrated carriageway / footpath surface and a raised roundabout island of grass. Reviews of the changes a year after completion revealed that:

  • Congestion had decreased
  • Traffic accidents had reduced by half, despite traffic volume increasing by a third
  • Drivers and cyclists were more likely to indicate prior to changing direction
  • Despite the measurable increase in safety, local residents perceived the intersection to be more dangerous[3]

A favourite demonstration of Monderman’s was to walk backwards and with eyes closed into the intersection. Instead of honking or worse, striking him down, the car and bicycle traffic diverted its way around him. The typical binary experience of stop or go was replaced with a slower, organic, more alert and more human process of negotiation. The increased perception of risk was, according to Monderman, essential: risk induces safe behaviour. If residents had not felt less secure in the Drachten redesign, “he would have changed it immediately.”[4]

In the past thirty years, naked streets have successfully been applied around the world. The concentration is highest in Europe: by 1999, there were 6,000 of them in the Netherlands; in 1991, London’s Kensington High Street was transformed into a shared space environment; the upgrade in 2011 of East Street in Horsham, Sussex, was a significant improvement over the existing car-dominated environment; projects have been successfully implemented in Denmark, Belgium, Germany, France, Sweden and Spain among others.[5] An instructive video showing movement through one such project in Graz, Austria, can be viewed here.

20140124 east street horsham before

20140124 east street horsham afterEast Street in Horsham, Sussex: before and after.

We think that naked street principles, whose essential agenda is to balance traffic movement with social uses of public space[6], is an exciting proposal for Drummond Street. The street is already well used, but high speed car and bicycle traffic, particularly during the morning rush[7], is a considerable impediment to being able to enjoy the space safely. This perception was echoed by your briefing aspirations to us, where many of you identified traffic improvements as important to you.


[1] Introduction to the woonerf; Woonerfgoed; Delft.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Hans Monderman quoted in Tom Vanderbild; The Traffic Guru; The Wilson Quarterly; Washington; 2008.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Philip Booth; Green Streets are Naked Streets; Resurgence and Ecologist; Devon; 2006.
[6] Naked Streets Policy Briefing; Living Streets; London; 2009.
[7] According to our traffic surveys conducted along Drummond Street in October last year, there are 6.5 times more car and bicycle trips per hour during the morning peak than off-peak times.

Image sources:

  1. Laweiplein Drachten, How’s Our Driving? in How We Drive. Copyright Tom Vanderbilt.
  2. East Street before, East Street, Horsham – A shared space that can’t be shared? Copyright for this and the following image belongs to As Easy As Riding A Bike.
  3. East Street after.