Shared Space has been over-sold around the world. Claims have been made of a reduction of danger which I showed earlier this week doesn't stand up to analysis when compared with better infrastructure designs. It is also often claimed that Shared Space creates a "place" where people feel safe, though many people see the reverse in practice.
|This is Somewhat different from what the architect promised.|
Since that time, I've visited many shared spaces in the Netherlands and seem common problems in them. When I visited London last year I took time to observe the Shared Space in Exhibition Road and this turned out to have much the same problems as do shared spaces in the Netherlands.
|People never look happy when cycling|
amongst large numbers of cars.
In 2008 I pointed out the problems which more vulnerable road users experience in Shared Space areas. I return again today to the theme of Subjective Safety. Unless people feel safe, they won't ride so often. The Netherlands is putting its predominant position as the leading cycling nation in jeopardy by implementing Shared Space.
In 2008 I referred to "a recent road layout change in Assen right next to a 'shared space' style junction". Last year this was made into a formal real shared space and it now looks like this:
The six minute long video shows how people behave on the Kerkplein. Note that while this is edited it didn't take long to collect the material - 20 minutes of raw footage was edited down to six. Similar incidents to those in this video can be seen to occur all day every day at this junction, and at other Shared Space junctions. Note that no-one is standing here enjoying this "place". A very stark contrast with video shot just a few minutes later on the same afternoon showing people doing exactly that on the car-free Ceresplein.
When we moved here in 2008 the Ceresplein was the only Shared Space area in Assen. Kerkplein was as in the photo below - a junction at which there are no rules other than "give way to the right". It's quite common for small and not very busy streets in residential areas to be combined by junctions with priority to the right, but less common for busy junctions. This was almost like a prototype of Shared Space thinking - no traffic signals, no painted lines on the road to show priority. Each participant in traffic had to decide who will take priority, how and why. These junctions are unpleasant to cycle across because you can't rely on motor vehicles coming from your left giving way to you as they are supposed to. Between 2007 and 2012, the Kerkplain was the site of 19 incidents:
|The flags show collisions since 2007. There have been 19 reported collisions in total, four involving cyclists and one of which injured a pedestrian. Note that these figures refer to the time while it had this proto-shared-space layout and not to the layout which we have now. Note also that this single intersection was more dangerous than all nineteen roundabouts in Assen and all the simultaneous green traffic light junctions combined.|
|Before. Proper kerbs, pedestrian|
crossings and central reservations
The asphalt has gone, replaced by a tiled surface. The pedestrian crossings and central islands have been removed. A single large and expensive street lamp has been installed to replace normal street-lamps. The road has been narrowed and the pedestrian area on the Northern side outside the Jozefkerk has been widened.
The two junctions have been combined into a "Shared Space".
|After. The Kerkplein Shared Space|
in Assen during a 2013 study tour.
This junction has not been made more pleasant or more convenient to use. In my view, this area is now more confusing than before. One of the obvious symptoms of this added confusion is that the junction is more commonly abused by its users than it was before.
There wasn't a problem with people driving cars over the pavement (sidewalk) when that pavement was separated from the road by a kerb.
It wasn't so difficult for pedestrians to cross the road when there were pedestrian crossings.
The changes that have been made were the wrong changes. They have not addressed the existing problems. In fact, the junction is worse to use now than it was before. In particular, the experience of vulnerable road users has been made worse by the changes here. What's more, while the appearance has been improved, this has not become "a place" where people congregate. Because of the traffic this is an unpleasant location. No-one stays here for any longer than they have to. Contrast the video above with one shot in the car-free Ceresplein a few minutes later.
Why write about it now ?
|By comparison, this junction in|
Assen copes with more traffic and
has a higher speed limit. This
location has proper segregated
provision for cycling so the four
minor incidents here were merely
'fender benders', No cyclists or
pedestrians got hurt. Despite high
traffic levels, no-one feels scared
to cycle here. There are many
well designed roundabouts and
traffic light junctions in Assen.
If you're looking for inspiration
from the Netherlands, look to those
and not to Shared Space.
Shared Space does not serve the vulnerable. Rather, it prioritises the powerful.
I've visited many shared space junctions in the Netherlands, in small villages, towns and cities. I've also observed shared space in London. At every single shared space junction that I have seen, motor vehicles come first.
"Pit Canaries" revisited
The result of building infrastructure which puts motor vehicles first is that an unpleasant environment is created for vulnerable road users. One of my very first blog posts was about how cyclists could be seen as the "pit canaries" of the roads. i.e. you can tell whether cycling is healthy in your area depending on who cycles and how. A mainly young adult male demographic and wearing helmets and reflective clothing is an indication of very low subjective safety. In the Netherlands, cyclists do not look like that, but is because of the conditions which cyclists face. Bad spots are rare. Shared Space remains rare.
|This woman is crossing Kerkplein with|
a child on his own bike. Does she look
happy surrounded by those cars ?
This type of junction, which at the very least causes inconvenience but also scares people, is precisely the sort of thing to build more of if you wish to see cycling become the domain of the brave rather than something which is for everyone.
While many claims are made for Shared Space, no junctions designed as shared spaces are truly "shared". This junction design has failed to achieve any aim other than perhaps to "smooth the flow of traffic". You'll notice that motor vehicles flow very nicely, often not stopping even if they should have given way and often pushing their way past even if this means going very close to people crossing the road by foot or driving over the pavement. It is only by removing both the traffic and the threat of violence that comes with it that conditions result which make walking and cycling pleasant. Remove the "sharing" part of Shared Space and the problems go away.
Why haven't shared spaces led to a drop of cycling in the Netherlands
|Kerkplein every day: Cyclists choose|
the pavement because this junction is
frightening by bike. What will it take
to make them choose not to cycle ?
The truth is that we don't know whether Shared Space has had a negative effect on cycling and it would be very difficult to tell if it has. In any case, as yet, we should expect any such effect to be small.
|Another day, another Shared Space|
in another town. Cyclist riding on
the pavement because that feels
safer than riding on the road. This
is a very clear signal that the
infrastructure is not good enough to
support mass cycling.
Other nations have almost exactly the opposite situation. Where only the brave cycle, those same brave people are likely to cycle through shared space without finding it appreciably different to any other street. But in these cases while it may be difficult to observe a negative effect we should weigh up the possibility of something else having had a positive effect.
Shared Space is very unlikely to attract cautious people to take up cycling. On the other hand, proper cycle-paths, especially if installed at the required density, have a proven track record of attracting people to cycle.
This has been covered further in the local news and it was an issue in the recent local elections. Hopefully the situation at this junction will soon be improved.
For the architect it's seemingly all about that lamp-post
|Myth: According to the architect, the Kerkplein is supposed to look like this - dominated by people walking and cycling. Contrast this view with the video above which shows how this really looks.|
What amazes me is that people are taken in so often by promises like this. The Kerkplein never looks as shown in the architects imagined images. In reality it looks exactly as shown in my photos and video:
|Reality: The Kerkplein is dominated by cars. No-one spends time here on purpose - it's a place which you want to get away from|
Poynton in the UK has been the subject of much hype and many claims of improved behaviour and safety. As with other claims about improved safety of Shared Space, which are often made before the real results are known, the claims about Poynton also do not seem to stand up to scrutiny.
In the five years between July 1, 2005 to July 1, 2010, before the Poynton scheme was introduced, there were nine accidents, one of which involved a pedestrian (i.e. 1.8 per year, 0.2 per year involving a pedestrian). Between March 31, 2012 and March 31, 2014, after the Poynton scheme was completed, there have been six accidents, four involving a pedestrian (i.e. 3 per year, 2 per year involving a pedestrian).
Much the same result has been recorded in Dutch shared spaces, e.g. Haren and Drachten and it is to be expected that the Kerkplein in Assen will also cause injuries.
Half way through writing this article, my friend Terry visited and made the suggestion of opening a Shared Space zoo. "Let the animals and public mix it up a bit". Should be an exciting experience. It might even be safe to walk backwards through such a zoo with your eyes closed, at least if you're selling the concept.