Thursday, 10 April 2014

"Shared" no more. An Assen city centre street reclaimed for pedestrians and cyclists

When we moved to Assen, the Ceresplein had quite recently been converted into a de-facto Shared Space. This area accommodated pedestrians, cyclists and drivers mostly on the same surface and it looked like this:
June 2009 image from Google Maps.
The turn that the car is making in the image above was into a street which has been a cycle-path for some years now. However, there's more. Last year this area was changed again. The street is no longer a space where motor vehicles are allowed. In 2013, immediately after the works were finished, it looked like the photo below. It still does:

Now from the opposite end. 2009:
Note how the cyclist has been pushed to the side in this view

The parked cars in the 2009 image have been replaced by buildings and cyclists use the centre part of the streeet without being concerned about cars.
Before 2013, the Ceresplein formed part of a through route which allowed skipping past a traffic light.
The Ceresplein is highlighted in Green. Drivers now have to use the yellow roads to avoid the centre rather than driving through the Ceresplein
This is a now a pedestrian area
which allows bikes in their marked
areas. Bicycles are ridden on the
part which looks like a road. Motor
vehicles are allowed only at specific
times for loading and unloading.
Note that loading times are quite
Ceresplein was never extremely busy with through traffic and as a result it was never really very dangerous. I suspect this is because there was only ever a small advantage to drivers of using this route rather than sticking to the main route. The only crash requiring hospitalization that I'm aware of came about due to a youngster unwisely jumping in front of a friend's car "as a joke". However, the number of cars passing through here was high enough to be annoying and to change the behaviour of cyclists and pedestrians. Rather than being somewhere where it was pleasant to hang about, most people were anxious to get to somewhere else instead. The current situation is undoubtedly more pleasant. It's better not to have to think about through motor traffic when walking or cycling in this area.

The change in use here has also improved other streets in the city centre. Removing through traffic in the Ceresplein has greatly reduced the use of the streets which once led through traffic to it. This has worked precisely because they now have to leave by the same route as they arrived so there is no longer a reason to come to those streets by car unless you need to. These other streets are now nearly car free and this makes them a lot more more pleasant by bicycle than they used to be.

Pedestrianized - with bicycles
The Ceresplein is now a pedestrianized zone which allows bicycles. This is quite common in the Netherlands (another example) and it works very well with careful design. Such a zone should not be planned as a main through route by bike any more than it should be a main through route by car, but in a space as wide as the Ceresplein this is less of an issue.

It's also important to note that the area for cyclists looks like its an area for cyclists. In fact, it looks like a road. This is a convention which both cyclists and pedestrians are used to. If this space had no clear demarcation of cyclist and pedestrian areas then there would be more conflict.

The video below shows the Ceresplein now. It's now a relaxing space. It's ideal for shoppers, and therefore also for shopkeepers. When cyclists can take their bikes right up to the shops and when they will stay longer because the environment is more pleasant, shopping is made easier:

Compare this film with another film shot the same afternoon of a Shared Space with through traffic a few metres away.

Note that to the best of my knowledge, the Ceresplein was never formally referred to as "Shared Space". However, it had all the characteristics of Shared Space. Unlike other city centre streets in Assen which are nearly car free, this street embraced them. Motor vehicles used this as a through route and was it functionally a shared space. If it quacks like Shared Space and walks like Shared Space then to all intents and purposes, that's what it is...

Because the Ceresplein was never that popular as a through route, it actually worked better than many declared Shared Spaces. However it's still far better now without the through traffic. Certainly far better than an actual shared space a few metres away.


Lior Steinberg said...

Thanks for the interesting observations! I have to admit that as many others, the first time I heard about shared spaces, I was also fascinated with the idea. I hope that more observations like this will help to shape the entire concept.

If the old lady or the young child can't cycle there confidently, then we haven't achieved anything.

However, it is important to distinguish between safety problems because of shared space and safety problems despite the shared space... For example, the racing cyclist. I think that he used the pavement just because it was his shortest way to turn right (desire line). I wouldn't blame the shared space. // Lior

David Hembrow said...

Lior: You're referring to the video from another blog post). The racing cyclist in that video did indeed use the pavement as a shortcut. However, he did so only because it's now possible to use it.

Refer to that post and you'll see how this junction used to look - the pavement was made inviting as a short cut by the Shared Space redesign, widening and removing kerbs. It's all part of how the redesign has increased stress amongst all the users of that junction.

The contrast with the area shown in this blog post is enormous. The Kerkplein, where there are cars, is unpleasant and no-one stays there for longer than they have to, while the Ceresplein, where there are no cars, has become a space which people like to stand around in. It's a nice place to talk to your friends.

Lior Steinberg said...

David, yeah, I read all the posts you published in the last few days about the topic. When commenting, I wrote it in the wrong post.

I agree, I have never encountered a shared space in which I felt comfortable as a pedestrian or cyclist.