According to this article in Discover, less can be more when it comes to road signs. The “risk compensation effect” is a recognition that animals “tend to adjust their behavior to compensate for perceived risk.”
A team of urban planners has concluded that traffic signs and signals actually make the roads more dangerous “because they lead us to believe we are safe.”
“Conventional highway engineering operates on the dumb molecule theory of human behavior,” says John Adams, emeritus professor of geography at University College London and a Shared Space advocate. “And the human molecule is responsive to what it sees about it.”
Today five American cities are trying the approach, and seven major pilot projects are in the works across Europe. The town of Drachten in the Netherlands has only 2 of its 18 traffic lights left. Since the program began in 2004, accident rates at the town’s main intersection have dropped to only one per year from a previous nine-year average of just over eight, congestion has fallen by 20 percent, and journey times have been reduced by 10 minutes. Stripping London’s busy High Street Kensington shopping area of some of its signage, lights, and pedestrian barriers reduced traffic-related casualties by 43 percent. After the English town of Seend went bare, it witnessed a 5 percent fall in average speed, and accidents dropped by a third. Shared Space’s success is about more than safety, Adams says. “I think that there is a dawning collective guilt about how we’ve allowed the car to wreck not just the physical environment but also the social environment.
This article notes that the “risk compensation effect” might explain why bicycle riders with helmets are more likely to get struck by cars.