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Street Facts and Common Myths

On this page we counter the most common reasons given by councils for not tackling street clutter.

A standard response from councils to complaints about street clutter is that signs, bollards and guardrails are required for safety regulations. In fact very little is dictated by law and as our answers below demonstrate, much received wisdom about street design is inaccurate.

Boston street signs

Britain has the safest streets in Europe

False: Britain has been relatively successful in reducing casualties for drivers and car passengers. But this has been at a cost to other street users. Our record for child safety is particularly poor, and we have discouraged cyclists and pedestrians from using our streets. Beautiful, legible streets mean safer streets for all.

Traffic lights are essential for road safety and reducing congestion

False: Traffic lights are only necessary where streets are designed for vehicle speeds above 30 mph. They do not necessarily reduce accidents.

Uncontrolled junctions encourage lower speeds and greater caution, and can reduce delays to vehicles and pedestrians. Across Europe, many traffic lights are being removed at busy intersections with positive results.

Unmarked objects in the middle of streets are a hazard to traffic

False: Statues, fountains, trees and other landmarks can enhance road safety by emphasizing the unique identity of each place and forging a psychological link between the driver and his or her surroundings.

Standardised road signs and markings are essential

False: Standardised signs may be appropriate for trunk roads and motorways. In built up areas, often they have little effect on driver behaviour. Legible streets with their own distinctive identity and sense of place achieve safety through enhancing driver concentration.

Rubbish bags in a Street

The only way to tackle poor driving, speeding traffic or bad behaviour is to have more signs

False: Research and practice, both here and abroad, suggests that fewer signs and less control by authority allows social and cultural constraints to be more effective. Drivers become politer and rely more on eye contact to avoid other drivers.

Guardrails are essential to improve pedestrian safety

False: Barriers between pedestrians and traffic can encourage higher speeds and generate a false sense of security. They reduce visibility for children and people in wheelchairs and inconvenience all pedestrians. There is little evidence to suggest they improve long-term safety.

Sign post

The only way to control parking is to use yellow lines and signs

False: Some parking restriction signs are no longer legally required. And some towns have already adopted the simple principle, already widely used in mainland Europe, of identifying where you CAN park, rather than where you cannot. Yellow lines are unnecessary where parking would clearly cause an obstruction. Where used, they need be no wider than 50 mm.

White centre line markings are necessary to help prevent collisions

False: Recent evidence shows that centre lines increase traffic speed. They also reduce driver awareness of the surrounding activity by drawing the eyes towards the far distance.

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