Shared Space: A crazy idea?

What exactly makes an idea crazy? Perhaps more importantly, why do we so often assume that all crazy ideas automatically bad or not worth exploring? As the old adage goes, great ideas pass through three stages: first they are ridiculed, then violently opposed and finally accepted as being self-evident. Today I am going to try to move people from the mocking stage to violent opposition.

Last week on the Strong Towns blog, I wrote a piece about Kansas City’s streets that locals called “highly inflammatory” and “overly critical” (read it for yourself — they are a sensitive lot). In that piece, I made the following statement that has drawn only ridicule from the KC masses:

Here are the immediate things I would do tomorrow if I were put in charge of renovating Kansas City’s downtown:

4. Change all signalized intersections into a shared space area. As a temporary transition, shut off the traffic lights and paint the intersections to alert everyone that this is shared space.

The thought of a downtown without traffic signals was bizarre to many people. Don’t traffic lights help with congestion? Wouldn’t the downtown be more dangerous to everyone without signals? It seems like there would be anarchy and chaos. This is a crazy idea! Someone even asked me if I had heard of the MUTCD, as if it were a book in the Bible. (For non-engineers, the MUTCD, also called “the mutt”, is the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices).