Shared space is an urban design approach which seeks to minimise the segregation of pedestrians and vehicles. This is done by removing features such as kerbs, road surface markings, traffic signs, and traffic lights. It has been suggested that, by creating a greater sense of uncertainty and making it unclear who has priority, drivers will reduce their speed. This is conducive to a safer environment for both pedestrians and vehicles. Shared space schemes are often motivated by a desire to reduce the dominance of vehicles, vehicle speeds, and road casualty rates.
Shared space design can take many different forms depending on the level of demarcation and segregation between different transportation modes. Variations of shared space are often used in urban settings, especially those that have been made nearly car-free ("autoluwe"), and as part of living streets within residential areas. As a separate concept, "shared space" normally applies to semi-open spaces on busier roads, and here it is controversial.
Shared space is opposed in particular by organisations representing the interests of blind, partially sighted and deaf people, who often express a preference for the clear separation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
The origin of term is generally linked with the work of Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, who pioneered the method in the Dutch province of Friesland. Prior to the adoption of the term, street design projects carried out in Chambéry, France, by Michel Deronzier from the 1980s 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).
The term has been 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.
Philosophy and support
The goal of shared space is to improve the road safety and vibrancy of roads and junctions, particularly ones with high levels of pedestrian traffic, by encouraging negotiation of priority in shared areas between different road users. Shared space is a "design approach rather than a design type characterised by standard features".
Hans Monderman suggested that an individual's behavior in traffic is more positively affected by the built environment of the public space than by conventional traffic control devices and regulations. A reason for the apparent paradox that reduced regulation leads to safer roads may be found by studying the risk compensation effect.
- "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."
Such schemes are claimed to 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. Monderman has stated that objections are more a matter of communication than design, stressing the importance of consulting all relevant groups during the design stage.
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.
There are wide-ranging 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, kerbs, and barriers. Shared space is bitterly opposed by many organisations representing blind, partially sighted and deaf people. Some of their members avoid shared space areas entirely. 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. Lord Holmes' 2015 report Accidents by Design found that sixty-three per cent of respondents reported a negative experience of shared space, and thirty-five per cent said they actively avoided it. Lord Holmes attacked the concept as a recipe for "confusion, chaos and catastrophe".
The Dutch Fietsberaad (Centre of Expertise on Bicycle Policy) has demonstrated 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."
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.
Nearly car free
The British Transport Research Laboratory found that below flows of 90 vehicles per hour adult pedestrians were prepared to mingle with traffic. When flows reached 110 vehicles per hour, they used the width between frontages as if it were a traditional road.
Numerous towns and cities around the world have implemented schemes with elements based on the shared space principles.
In October 2011, Graz opened 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. 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 project 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. An evaluation of the Laweiplein scheme in Drachten concluded that traffic now flows at a constant rate and at equal speeds for motor and bicycle traffic and more freely with reduced congestion, shorter delays and improved capacity including for pedestrians. Additionally, which ties in with the philosophy of shared space and which is evidenced by the reduction in recorded accidents, public perceptions of traffic safety have declined.
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 is defined for all participants is presently not legally possible. The Strassenverkehrsgesetz (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.
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 rebuilt the foreground to Caernarfon Castle. The scheme uses local slate and granite surfacing and high-quality street furniture, and a new fountain, intended to create a change in the behaviour of drivers.
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 scheme 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 been claimed to have improved safety records. 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.
At Princess Royal Square (formerly Pier Square) in Weston-super-Mare, the conventional road system has been replaced by a seafront open area. This has been complemented by the restoration of the Coalbrookdale fountain in its centre.
In Poynton, Cheshire, it was found that as well as providing significant safety improvements, and regenerating the retail and social centre, the road capacity was not reduced after the redevelopment of a busy junction in the town incorporated shared space elements. In the scheme, the redevelopment of a multi-lane signalised crossroads, with a traffic flow of 26,000 vehicles per day, which was completed in March 2012, traffic lanes, signals, road markings, road signs and street clutter were all removed. In the first three years after the redevelopment there was one minor personal injury accident, compared to 4-7 serious incidents in each of the three years leading up to the project. Although no speed limit changes were made, average traffic speeds fell to around 20 mph and there were reductions in vehicle journey times as well as reductions in pedestrian delays at the junction.
A pilot road layout project, which includes shared-space elements, is to be trialled in the Stobhill area of Morpeth, Northumberland. Opposition groups argue that the plans are unsafe for children and disabled people.
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 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.
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