For nearly a century, cities have designed separate spaces for different modes of transportation. Cars dominate, with pedestrians sequestered to the relative safety of sidewalks. Cyclists, relative newcomers, do not fare well; bike on the road and you’re in automobile territory; on the sidewalk, you’re subject to the wrath of pedestrians. Is it possible to coexist peacefully and safely?
Recently, a number of American cities have implemented design principles known as Shared Space. These principles were modeled after the “woonerf” or “living street,” pioneered by two Dutch traffic engineers, Hans Monderman and Joost Vahl. In this system, cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists travel together without the traditional safety infrastructure to guide them.
Shared Space challenges traditional road design using techniques that may at first seem counter-intuitive; improving safety by allowing cars, cyclists, and pedestrians to coexist in a shared, undivided street. Without striped lanes and signage to regulate behavior, users of the shared space stop reading signage and start to look out for one another. Motorists must now slow down and share the road with pedestrians and those using alternative means of transportation. Pedestrians are given greater liberty, allowing them more freedom to navigate the street. In a Shared Space, priority is blurred and divisions eliminated, requiring motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to all navigate the space together, mindful of what each person is doing.