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How mingling road users improves safety

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Integrating not segregating motorists, cyclists and pedestrians makes streets safer, 'Shared Space' experiments suggest.


April 16, 2012


New Thinking: Streets Should be Shared (1/13)

The 'Shared Space' approach to road safety seeks to slow traffic down by integrating not segregating all road users - motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, shopkeepers.

Projects like Exhibition Road in London (shown here) do this by deliberately blurring boundaries between pedestrian and traffic zones, removing kerbs, signs and traffic signals, introducing benches, lamps and trees, and covering the whole street with the same paving.

The absence of boundaries and clear rights of way makes drivers uneasy and so encourages them to drive more cautiously and considerately. The theory is that driver risk perception and behavior is more effectively modified by surroundings and human interaction than by artificial controls like speed limits and conventional street designs.

(Source: Olivia Woodhouse)


Old Thinking: Road Users Must Be Segregated (2/13)

Kew Bridge intersection in the London area of Brentford, the antithesis of Shared Space principles. Here traffic and pedestrians, roads and sidewalks, transport and civic life are rigidly segregated by guard rails and barriers, raised kerbs, multiple traffic signals, formal crossings and road signs.

Shared Space advocates argue that this conventional approach to street design simply encourages people to drive faster and less carefully because the environment is so highly-regulated that they don’t expect to encounter pedestrians in ‘their space’. There is virtually no opportunity for meaningful interaction between drivers and other road users.

(Source: Ben Hamilton-Baillie)


Exhibition Road before Reconstruction I (3/13)

Exhibition Road in West London runs between some of the city’s most iconic museums and galleries, from the Royal Albert Hall up to Hyde Park. The reconstruction of the street, officially unveiled in February 2012, is perhaps the most ambitious Shared Space project in a major city so far.

Previously, as in this photo, the crowds of pedestrians flocking to visit these tourist attractions were squeezed into narrow sidewalks, with relatively few places to cross a street dominated by fast-moving traffic. Therefore the main goal was to improve pedestrian movement and activity.

(Source: Olivia Woodhouse)


Exhibition Road after Reconstruction I (4/13)

The streetscape has been transformed. The new kerb-free sidewalk and road areas have been flattened out and merged using the same chequered paving. There is increased space for pedestrians to move and cross the street as vehicle-free zones have been expanded.

Pedestrians are assisted by a new, lower speed limit, new street lighting masts with circular bases that people can stand on as they wait, and the benches that break up the linear form of the street. All these measures bring traffic speeds down and remove the assumption that drivers ‘own’ the main part of the street.

(Source: Olivia Woodhouse)


Exhibition Road before Reconstruction II (5/13)

Another view of Exhibition Road emphasizes the formal segregation of pedestrian and traffic zones through traffic lights and pedestrian crossings protected by safety barriers. Opportunities to cross the street are limited with parked and moving vehicles taking up the majority of the space.

(Source: Olivia Woodhouse)


Exhibition Road after Reconstruction II (6/13)

Now pedestrians appear comfortable crossing at any point as the traffic has slowed down and takes up less of the available street space. Parking is now restricted to one side of the street.

On the right hand side can be seen a black cast iron drainage channel cover. These run along each side of Exhibition Road, about four metres out from the respective buildings. Beside the drainage channels, strips of ‘corduroy’ tactile paving warn blind and partially sighted people that they are moving into or out of vehicle free areas.

(Source: Olivia Woodhouse)


Shared Space Town (7/13)

The De Kaden area in the Dutch town of Drachten is an example of Shared Space in the purest sense. Despite a quite high traffic volume, hardly any measures have been taken to regulate traffic. The former carriageway, remodelled in 1998, is now an integral part of the surrounding public spaces featuring trees and street lamps.

It is actually a single large, paved square that for the most part can be used by all traffic. There is no pavement, height difference or bike paths. Cars are only excluded from one corner, by bollards. Pedestrians criss-cross the street amongst the passing traffic as the social life of the adjacent cafés and shops merges seamlessly with the street.

(Source: Fietsberaad)


Laweplein Squareabout before Reconstruction (8/13)

The Dutch town of Drachten is one of the earliest and best-known Shared Space areas. This photograph shows the Laweplein intersection before it was remodelled in 2003; regulated by traffic lights with separate direction lanes for cars and even bicycles, traffic islands and pedestrian crossings.

(Source: Fietsberaad)


Laweplein Squareabout after Reconstruction (9/13)

The intersection was remodelled into a public square with trees, grassy spaces and fountains giving a real sense of place. The fountains’ height even increases with increasing numbers of motor vehicles.

Out went the traffic lights, barriers and formal crossings and in came a roundabout and ‘courtesy crossings’, making the space a ‘squareabout’ open to all. The central island of the roundabout has a small hillock, so drivers can only see a limited part of the roundabout.

(Source: Fietsberaad)


Laweplein Squareabout: Easy Riding (10/13)

There is no separation between cyclists and pedestrians in the Laweplein. The approach roads do have bicycle lanes, but as soon as cyclists enter the roundabout they meet a bricked space shared with pedestrians. There are no signs for bike paths or ‘yield’ signs.

The bicycle crossings are made of brick paving instead of the usual red asphalt. They are not raised, although the use of concrete bands at either side does give the impression that they are higher than the road surface, thereby encouraging traffic to slow down.

(Source: Fietsberaad)


Interact, Communicate, Negotiate (11/13)

By introducing uncertainty into the streetscape Shared Space encourages all road users to interact via eye contact and gestures rather than assuming or demanding rights of way according to rules, signals or other outside controls. They must think for themselves and Shared Space depends on this communication.

For this interaction to work traffic must be slowed down. In the Laweplein an evaluation by Noordelijke Hogeschool Leeuwarden (NHL) University of Applied Sciences found that over 95% of cyclists continue without having to stop because motorists invariably give way, in part due to their lower speeds.

(Source: Fietsberaad)


Kerb-free zones (12/13)

In most Shared Spaces there is no difference in height between the road and the sidewalk, with the boundary often subtly marked by shallow trenches, drainage details, trees or lampposts. Trees in particular blur the distinction between road and public space.

(Source: Fietsberaad)


Courtesy Crossing (13/13)

Replacing formal pedestrian crossings with ‘courtesy crossings’ like this one in Chester, England also forces motorists and pedestrians to communicate with each other. The wooden bollards and differently-colored paving stones alert drivers to the crossing, which appears slightly more raised than it actually is.

(Source: Ben Hamilton-Baillie)

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