Monday, 22 February 2016

Shared Space vs Nearly Car Free Spaces

An interesting concept has hit the streets the last few years. Something called shared space. The idea being that if you make people not knowing who should be where, who should go first, and other things like that, they will go slower and be more cautious. 

And to some extent introducing ambiguity does increase these things, ever notice that you drive closer to the centre of an unmarked roadway than on a road with a centre line? 

But it isn't all good news. In fact many of these shared spaces get a number of things fundamentally wrong. 

Sharing can only happen when those with big and powerful things are very restrained. You can share power with Napoleon if perhaps he is only the mayor of say Troyes, as in, not much power at all. Mixing with cars is OK given low speed, but probably of even greater importance is low volume. The street I live on has a 50 km/h speed limit, set by the default for non provincial highways in urban areas. But yet it's pleasant to ride on my street because almost nobody ever uses it. The garbage truck, a few delivery vehicles at times, some guests for parties a few times per month or so, plus the residents. 

This is why many attemps at fietsstraaten and shared space often fail. The volume of motor traffic is still too high. The Kerkplein in Assen is an example. Regardless of how careful and slow a driver, in particular buses, may be behind you, would it feel safe to have all that metal and rubber around you? 

Other concerns include thinking about the blind. Another goal of shared space tends to include removing the differences between sidewalk and roadway. This can make it a real challenge for someone who can't see to understand where is what. Tactile paving helps, but if you do that, then finding the intended crossings can also be difficult. 

Shared space is not what you want. The Dutch phrase Autoluwte is what you really want for a street like this, or an honest to goodness woonerf. The idea behind each of them is to open up the whole street to people, but in different ways. Autoluwte means streets with extremely little car traffic, and indeed that is the translation: Nearly Car Free (Good idea David). This is usually done in the pedestrianized zones. Of course somehow the people living there and the storeowners need to get things delivered by van sometimes, and so pedestrianized districts in the Netherlands have specific exceptions for deliveries, usually restricted to off peak hours. Many pedestrianized streets in the Netherlands permit cycling. However they are not main routes for cycling. The focus is access for cycling. Sharing with pedestrians where there are too many pedestrians is a bad idea. 

The other kind of nearly car free street is the woonerf. This translates to living yard or living street. Nobody uses the street unless they live there or have an actual need of being there, like guests for a party. Many traffic calming elements are used to maintain the speed limit, which was literally walking pace, but given that a car engine might stall at those speeds, and that it had to be an exact figure in EU law, it was set at 15 km/h, which is about the speed an automatic car will go if you just turn the shifter to drive and take your foot off of the pedal. Really no more speed needed than that. Parked cars alternate between sides of the street, there is brick paving, intersections might be raised, will certainly be uncontrolled and the street is very narrow. Often they are one way streets for motor traffic. 

Note that these are not main routes for cycling either. There should be plenty of access and filtered permeability, but they aren't main routes, which are much straighter, smoother, wider and with no expectations of slowing down for playing people. It is not as pleasant having swarms of cyclists riding past your house either, and it is not good to mix a main stream of cycle traffic and children playing on the street itself. Pedestrians are not restricted to the sidewalk, if a sidewalk is even present, and they are not required to walk on the side of the road. You are even encouraged to play in the middle of the street. 

The sign for woonerven regulations shows a person walking, a kid playing and a house, all bigger than a car icon on the same sign, showing exactly who the street is for anyway. 

Shared space is not what you want. More nearly car free (and indeed some car free spaces too) zones is what you want. 

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