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What happens when you remove all traffic signs? A German town finds out.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

This unpretentious villagelike neighborhood in Frankfurt’s far-northern tip is known for the idyllic character of its old half-timber homes and its views of rolling hills.

Now it is a symbol of Germany’s effort to rescue its streets from the hegemony of cars and give more space to pedestrians and cyclists.

To prod drivers to better share the road, in February Nieder-Erlenbach got rid of all traffic signs and traffic lights in the town center. It also erased marked crosswalks, leaving only one sign that says “common street” and calling for a reduced speed of 30 km/h (18 m.p.h.). The only other rule: “Always give way to the person on the right.”

Thus Main Street turned into a “naked” square shared equally by bikes, pedestrians, cars, and trucks. With the change, Nieder-Erlenbach adopted a radical traffic-management philosophy gaining popularity in Europe. Pioneered by a Dutch engineer who thought towns were safer with fewer rules, “shared space” envisions open surfaces on which motorists and pedestrians can “negotiate” with one another by eye contact, other signals, and a greater consideration for one another.


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