Sunday, February 03, 2008

shared space

Shared Space

I live on a street that's barely two lanes wide. That is, two on-coming cars can pass each other but two large trucks cannot. It's a two-way street with parking on one side. When cars approach from opposite directions, one must usually pull over so the other may pass.

The street has sidewalks and during much of the day, the sidewalks have pedestrians: women and children going to and from the school at the end of the block and its playground; commuters going to and from the major bus route at the end of the street; people running errands; and various helpers -- caretakers, maids -- who come and go to their work in the neighborhood homes.  It's a family-friendly place.  And it's quite unusual. Streets in new residential neighborhoods, ones that meet current standards, are more than twice as wide. We have about 30 feet from the edge of one sidewalk to the edge of the other across the way. The standard calls for this width to be 70 feet. But 70 feet, though appropriate from a traffic engineering point of view, is not a humane distance. It doesn't foster community. The new subdivisions with enormous streets, feel sterile and unwelcoming compared to our more human-scale space.

Our environment isn't teeming with humanity like the Mulberry Street of 1900 which I blogged not too long ago, but it's not as empty as the new subdivisions farther out in the suburbs.

Its streets have shared space in the sense that they aren't totally dominated by the needs of motor vehicles. This gives them quite a bit in common with experimental shared-space urban areas in Europe and other places.

Here's a definition
of the term: "Shared space is a term used to describe an approach to the design, management and maintenance of public spaces which reduces the adverse effects of conventional traffic engineering. The shared space approach is based on the observation that individuals' behaviour in traffic is more positively affected by the built environment of the public space than it is by conventional traffic control devices (signals, signs, road markings, etc.) and regulations.


Since it has stop signs, my neighborhood doesn't have shared space as outlined in this definition. It's also almost entirely residential. It isn't a mixture of apartments and commercial space -- places where people go to drink coffee, shop for books, buy bread, and the like (though it does have shops within walking distance).

This shared space exists in , where we spent some time last June.

Some of the characteristics are also present in Kensington, a town a bit to the north of us.

It's pleasant to fantasize about a life both free of traffic control and also blessed with people who are civil to one another -- considerate, unhurried, convivial. But outside the special situations created to ensure that -- as much as possible -- the second condition accompanies the first, I don't see this happening. In fact, as a bike commuter, I'm sure I wouldn't appreciate the time I would lose if my crossing of every intersection had to be negotiated with appropriate politesse.

It's a concept that works in my neighborhood -- at least most of the time. And it's one I treasure in cities and towns that I visit. But until everyone lives within walking distance of job, merchants, service organizations, and other needs -- or until humankind has learned to get about by means other than cars, it ain't gonna happen.

Here are some shared-space links:

- Shared Space: home page for seven pilot projects in: Province of Fryslân (Lead Partner, the Netherlands), Municipality of Emmen (the Netherlands), Municipality of Haren (the Netherlands), Municipality of Ejby (Denmark), Municipality of Bohmte (Germany), Suffolk County Council (United Kingdom) and Municipality of Oostend (Belgium).

- Wikipedia article

- Lose the Traffic Lights to Improve Our Streets?, Written by Joshua Liberles.
Wednesday, 23 January 2008

- A civilising influence, By Clare Dowdy. Published: April 20 2007 18:37 | Last updated: April 20 2007 18:37

- "Shared Space" Traffic Calming: Counterintuitive, But It Works, Erica Barnett. January 4, 2008 2:46 PM

- Sharing street space for a safer Bohmte, Posted by: Jeannie Choe on Friday, January 25 2008.

- A Green Light for Common Sense, To Slow Drivers, German Town Drops Traffic Signals and Lane Markers. Monday, December 24, 2007.

- The shared-space: Shared Space is a European project with the purpose of developing new policies for the planning of public space. For this purpose, a new view regarding the planning of public space is applied in seven pilot projects. The essence of the new approach is that people’s behaviour in the street is stronger affected by expression of the surroundings than by the application of the usual traffic instruments such as speed bumps, traffic islands, or pedestrian crossings.

Photo from the Washington Post:
Bohmte, Germany, has been tearing out stop signs, traffic lights and sidewalks since September to force drivers and pedestrians to share the pavement, in an approach known as shared space. Several towns across Europe have undertaken similar measures.
Bohmte, Germany, has been tearing out stop signs, traffic lights and sidewalks since September to force drivers and pedestrians to share the pavement, in an approach known as shared space. Several towns across Europe have undertaken similar measures.
(Photos By Craig Whitlock -- The Washington Post)

Here's a shared-space video link.

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