Shared space is an urban design approach which seeks to minimise demarcations between vehicle traffic and pedestrians, often by removing features such as curbs, road surface markings, traffic signs, and regulations. Typically used on narrower streets within the urban core and as part of living streets within residential areas, the approach has also been applied to busier roads, including Exhibition Road in Kensington, London.
Schemes are often motivated by a desire to reduce the dominance of vehicles, vehicle speeds, and road casualty rates. First proposed in 1991, the term is now strongly associated to the work of Hans Monderman who suggested that by creating a greater sense of uncertainty and making it unclear who had right of way, drivers reduce their speed, and everyone reduces their level of risk compensation. The approach is frequently opposed by organisations representing the interests of blind, partially sighted and deaf who often express a strong preference for the clear separation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Prior to the adoption of the term, street design projects carried out in Chambéry, France, by Michel Deronzier from the 1980 used the term "pedestrian priority".
The term was used by Tim Pharaoh to describe informal street layouts with no traffic demarcation (for example "Traffic Calming Guidelines", Devon County Council, 1991).
It was more widely applied, especially by Ben Hamilton-Baillie, since the preparation of a European co-operation project in 2003. The European Shared Space project (part of the Interreg IIIB-North Sea programme) developed new policies and methods for the design of public spaces with streets between 2004 and 2008 under the leadership of Hans Monderman until his death in 2008.
The goal of shared space is to improve the road safety and vitality of minor roads and junctions within the street hierarchy, particularly ones with high levels of pedestrian traffic by encouraging negotiation of shared areas between different road users. Shared space minimises demarcations between vehicles and pedestrians thereby, according to some authorities including the UK Government, reduces the dominance of motor vehicles and enable all users to share the space. In work done for the UK Department for Transport MVA (2010) explains that shared space is a "design approach rather than a design type characterised by standard features".
Hans Monderman suggests that an individuals' behaviour in traffic is more positively affected by the built environment of the public space than by conventional traffic control devices and regulations.
- "Shared space is successful because the perception of risk may be a means or even a prerequisite for increasing objective safety. Because when a situation feels unsafe, people are more alert and there are fewer accidents."
- "We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behaviour...The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles." (Der Spiegel quotes Monderman)
- "When you don't exactly know who has right of way, you tend to seek eye contact with other road users. You automatically reduce your speed, you have contact with other people and you take greater care."
- "To understand how shared space works, it is important to move away from reliance on 'rights' and laws, and to recognize the potential for conventions and protocols ... Such conventions and protocols evolve rapidly and are very effective if the state does not intervene through regulation." (Shared Space Expert Team)
The introduction of such schemes have had positive effect on road safety, traffic volume, economic vitality, and community cohesion where a user's behaviour becomes influenced and controlled by natural human interactions rather than by artificial regulation.
This design method is however bitterly opposed by many organisations representing the blind, partially sighted and deaf. Some organisations note that some of their members avoid shared space areas entirely. See Criticism section below for more details.
Numerous towns and cities around the world have implemented schemes with elements based on the shared space principles.
Graz, introduced a shared space zone around a five-point intersection known as Sonnenfelsplatz next to the University of Graz with the intention of easing congestion from 4 separate city bus lines and auto, bike and pedestrian traffic as well as reducing the number of accidents, which opened in October 2011. This was the first shared space concept for Austria.
Ejby, introduced a shared space project in Denmark. It was part of the European Interreg IIIB projekt with Province of Fyslän as lead partner. The project was led by urban planner Morten Mejsen Westergaard and Bjarne Winterberg. It was supervised by Hans Monderman.
Makkinga has no road markings and no signs giving an order or direction signs visible in the streets. There is a traffic sign at the entrance to the town which reads Verkeersbordvrij, meaning "free of traffic signs". Parking meters and stopping restrictions are also absent. Drachten is another pioneer town for such schemes. Accident figures at one junction where traffic lights were removed have dropped from thirty-six in the four years prior to the introduction of the scheme to two in the two years following it. Only three of the original fifteen sets of traffic lights remain. Tailbacks (traffic jams) are now almost unheard of at the town's main junction, which handles about 22,000 cars a day.
Several of Auckland's streets have been turned into shared spaces. These include Elliot and Darby Streets, Lorne street, the Fort street areas, all near Queen Street, Auckland and Federal Street by the Skytower. However, Auckland's first shared space is Wairepo Swamp Walk, completed mid-2010. Wairepo Swamp Walk is one of a number of transport infrastructure projects improving transport services around Eden Park as part of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. A research study has been undertaken by Auckland Transport in conjunction with the University of Auckland to evaluate city centre shared spaces in the Auckland CBD.
Since the zebra crossings and traffic signs were replaced with a spacious fountain, benches, and other street furniture, the Skvallertorget square in Norrköping has experienced no accidents, mean traffic speeds have dropped from 21 to 16 km/h (13 to 10 mph) and livability has increased.
The concept of a shared space where no right of way can is defined for all participants is presently not legally possible. The Strassenverkhersgesetz (SVG) requires that at least one of the participants has a right of way. As a result, the Swiss concept of Begegnungszone has become popular. However here pedestrians have right of way.
The Department for Transport issued national guidance on shared space in 2011. This is described as "evidence-based policy", drawing on research commissioned from MVA consultancy. This claim has proved controversial, with one study questioning much of the evidence on which the guidance was based. The Department for Transport’s “Manual for Streets” reports that "subject to making suitable provision for disabled people, shared surface streets are likely to work well where the volume of motor traffic is below 100 vehicles per hour (vph) (peak)”.
The Transport Research Laboratory's research found that "below flows of 90 vehicles per hour pedestrians were prepared to mingle with traffic. When flows reached 110 vehicles per hour pedestrians used the width between frontages as if it were a traditional road, that is the majority of pedestrians remained on the equivalent of the footway and left the carriageway clear for vehicles... The study indicated that pedestrians were more at ease when the traffic flow consisted of buses only rather than a higher mix of general traffic.” 
In Seven Dials, London, the road surface has been re-laid to remove the distinction between the roadway and the footway and kerbs have been lowered to encourage people to wander across the street. A scheme implemented in London's Kensington High Street, dubbed naked streets in the press – reflecting the removal of markings, signage and pedestrian barriers – has yielded significant and sustained reductions in injuries to pedestrians. It is reported that, based on two years of 'before and after' monitoring, casualties fell from 71 in the period before the street was remodelled to 40 afterwards – a drop of 43%.
Gwynedd Council transformed Castle Square in Caernarfon by shared space to form a simple clean foreground to Caernarfon Castle which is a World Heritage Site. The scheme uses Local slate and granite surfacing and high-quality street furniture and a new fountain to redefine the character of the space creating a change in the behaviour of drivers. The space has improved the image of Caernarfon and how people feel about their town but there have been issues with the control of parking.
Brighton City Council transformed the whole of New Road, adjacent to the Royal Pavilion, into a fully shared space designed by Landscape Projects and Gehl Architects, with no delineation of the carriageway except for subtle changes in materials. The route for vehicles along New Road is only suggested through the location of street furniture, such as public seating and street lights. The re-opening of the street has led to a 93% reduction in motor vehicle trips (12,000 fewer per day) and lower speeds (to around 10 MPH), alongside an increase in cyclist and pedestrian usage (93% and 162%, respectively).
In spring 2008, shared space was introduced in Ashford, Kent. The award-winning scheme, delivered by lead designers Whitelaw Turkington Landscape Architects, replaced a section of Ashford's former four-lane ring road with two-way streets on which drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians have equal priority. Unnecessary street furniture, road markings and traffic lights have been removed and the speed limit cut to 20 mph. The scheme has vastly improved safety records since it opened. Between November 2008 and January 2011, there have been four road casualties there, resulting from the six reported accidents. Claims about the success of the Ashford scheme were called into question during 2011 by a study conducted by the University of the West of England.
Following the initial reports claiming a success for the Ashford scheme, other UK local councils planned to use a similar approach; these include Southend-on-Sea, Staines, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Hereford, and Edinburgh.
Another scheme in London is the redevelopment of Exhibition Road, which is home to a number of world-class institutions, into a shared space. Following a design competition in 2003, a court case, and numerous community consultations, the scheme was completed in 2012.
A good example of the shared space concept can be seen at Princess Royal Square (formerly Pier Square) in Weston-super-Mare, where the conventional road system has been replaced by a vibrant seafront open area. This has been complemented by the restoration of the Coalbrookdale fountain in its centre. After initial problems getting local residents to accept the new layout and its function, it has survived its first seaside summer and is now a popular tourist attraction in itself with the re-built pier adjoining it.
Also in Poynton, Cheshire.
In West Palm Beach, Florida, removal of traffic signals and road markings brought pedestrians into much closer contact with cars. The result has been slower traffic, fewer accidents, and shorter trip times.
In Savannah, Georgia, the famous Oglethorpe Plan has been adapted to accommodate pedestrian and vehicular traffic throughout a network of wards, each with a central square. The size and configuration of the squares restrains vehicular traffic to speeds under 20 miles per hour, a threshold speed beyond which shared space tends to break down.
There are certain reservations about the practicality of the shared space philosophy. In a 2006 report from the Associated Press, it was commented that traditionalists in town planning departments say the schemes rob the motorists of vital information, and reported that a spokesman for Royal National Institute of Blind People criticised the removal of familiar features such as railings, curbs, and barriers.
Shared surfaces, which are generally used in shared space schemes, can cause concern for the blind and partially sighted who cannot visually negotiate their way with other road users, as the lack of separation implicit in these features has also removed their safe space. The UK's Guide Dogs for the Blind Associations "Say No to Shared Streets" campaign has the support of more than thirty other disability organisations. There have been similar concerns raised by other groups representing some of the more vulnerable members of society, including Leonard Cheshire Disability, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, and Mencap, who have noted problems when negotiating a route with motor vehicle users, leading them to challenge its fundamental premise.
In New Zealand, concerns about such limitations of the shared space concept have led, in cooperation with disability organisations, to the introduction of vehicle- and obstruction-free corridors ("accessible zones") along the building lines (i.e., in the areas where footpaths would normally be located), to provide a safe route in the shared spaces being introduced. Monderman has stated that these objections are more a matter of communication than design, stressing the importance of consulting such people during the design stage. The November 2007 issue of the Dutch Fietsersbond (Cyclists' Union) newsletter criticised shared space schemes as encouraging the bullying of cyclists by motorists, giving examples of people who feel less safe as a result. The Dutch Fietsberaad (Centre of Expertise on Bicycle Policy) has also demonstrated some ambivalence over shared space schemes, describing some benefits but also some drawbacks for the less assertive cyclist. Fietsberaad has noted that shared space has decreased car speeds but that "some cyclists do not dare take priority. Instead, they dismount and wait for priority to be clearly given, then walk or ride across the intersection. A problem may be that they are met halfway by cars from the other direction and must rely on the drivers to give way of their own volition. Owing to low speeds and the cyclists' defensive behaviour this crossing strategy need not be unsafe in itself, but it most certainly is not convenient."
More recently, David Hembrow has stated that Shared Space was an experiment that has been eclipsed by better ideas in Holland, where the real desire is to reduce but not entirely eliminate traffic in town centres. The term applied is "autoluwe", or "nearly car-free streets". Nearly car-free streets, he says, "is a concept which pre-dates the hype about "Shared Space", which remains popular, and which works precisely because the streets are not shared on an equal basis with cars."
Reviewing the research which underpinned national policy in the UK, Moody and Melia (2011). found that some of the claims made for shared space schemes were not justified by the evidence—particularly the claims that pedestrians are able to follow desire lines, and that shared space reduces traffic speeds. Their primary research in Ashford, Kent, suggested that in streets with high volumes of traffic, pedestrians are more likely to give way to vehicles than vice versa. Most people, but particularly women and older people, found the shared space intimidating and preferred the previous layout with conventional crossings. A study by Hammond and Musselwhite  using a case study of Widemarsh Street in Hereford found that if traffic volume was relatively low and speeds of vehicles slow anyway then vulnerable road users found it easier to share the area with vehicles, including those blind or partially sighted and older people with mobility impairments.
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- Shared space UK Department for Transport