Is Shared Space safe ?
|The Laweiplein Shared Space "squareabout" in the small town of Drachten, highlighted in red, has been the subject of much hype. Many claims are made for a low accident rate here but the evidence does not support this. In fact, this one intersection was the scene of more cyclist crashes and injuries than the conventional Dutch roundabout a few metres to the east. It causes more injuries to cyclists than all twenty-one roundabouts in Assen combined.|
Blue flags for crashes, yellow where injuries have occurred.
|Cyclists using the pavement to ride|
around the Laweiplein. Pavement
cycling is a symptom of inadequate
subjective safety at this junction. It's
common to many shared spaces.
It would appear that the Laweiplein is more dangerous for vulnerable road users - a problem which has often been noted with Shared Space. The safety record of the Laweiplein clearly does not justify the hype from Shared Space enthusiasts and this design should not serve as an example for future developments. It would likely have been safer had this junction been given a more normal roundabout treatment.
injuries and deaths
The Laweiplein "squareabout" on its own is the site of more cyclist injuries than all 21 roundabouts and all the Simultaneous Green traffic light junctions in Assen combined. This should not be regarded as a safe design.
Shared Space area of Haren is highlighted in red. The Shared Space layout road through Haren is where the largest concentration of crashes has occurred in this town between 2007 and 2012.
We visit this town on our study tours, cycling into the town on the relatively safe cycle-path which leads from the South East in this image and leaving on the relatively safe cycle-path to the North West. You can see quite clearly how the road both South and North of the Shared Space area has far fewer crashes than does the Shared Space itself.
A six year old blog post discusses some of the many problems in Haren and none of my objections from that time have changed.
Shared Space does not work well. The number of crashes which have occurred should speak for themselves. Claims have been made for enhanced safety in Haren just as in Drachten, but these are all in comparison with an earlier road layout with higher speed limits. It is probably that a more normal modern Dutch street layout would be safer than the current shared space. For example, the nearly car free streets in the centre of Assen (a have a much better safety record even though Assen's population is more than three times greater than Haren.
Also note the cluster of two blue and two yellow flags on top right of the image. These are residential roads which serve as a rat-run in Haren. They're over-used by speeding through traffic at rush hour times because drivers as well as cyclists seek to avoid the Shared Space and it was on these roads at rush-hour that I experienced the closest thing to real road rage that I've ever seen in the Netherlands.
Update: Shifting goal-posts - three more examples
No discussion of the shortcomings of Shared Space is ever complete without the sound of goal-posts being shifted. There are as many opinions about what Shared Space "really is" as there are advocates for it. Naturally, this blog post has resulted in the same attempts to paint any given examples as "nota actually shared space" as does any other criticism of the concept.
I didn't pick the examples above because they were particularly bad, but merely because they've been discussed often. The wikipedia page claim about Drachten has come up many times and I've written about Haren before. Actually, neither of these two examples are particularly dangerous as Shared Spaces go.
Here are three extra examples showing the frequency of collisions at other shared spaces in the Netherlands, including those designed by Hans Monderman himself:
|The main street through Muntendam, a village of only 4500 people, is a shared space. There's a line of incidents stretching the entire length of the shared space from top left to bottom right on the map.|
I think it's sufficient to say that exaggerated claims of safety are made for shared space. Shared space should not be considered to be a magic bullet which removes danger. The one thing shown repeatedly to remove danger is slowing, restricting and removing motorized vehicles from where people walk and cycle. This applies especially to through traffic. Of course, when you take those vehicles away, the space is no longer shared. Read other blog posts about Shared Space, including video.
Not all dangerous roads and intersections in the Netherlands are Shared Space. Read on for other examples:
study tours as an example of something not to emulate. No fewer than 38 collisions have taken place here between 2007 and 2012, including several injuries to both cyclists and pedestrians.
The design of roundabout shown above is not one which we recommend. It doesn't work well in the Netherlands and given the relative lack of experience of non-Dutch drivers with this layout I'd expect it to work even less well in other nations. For that reason, we recommend instead taking note of the safest design of roundabout design used in Assen.
|Genuinely safe design: At this example of the safest design of roundabout used in the Netherlands there were just four "fender benders" between cars. No injuries to anyone and no cyclists or pedestrians were involved at all.|
Just four incidents occurred at this roundabout between 2007 and 2012. All of them involved only motor vehicles and there were no injuries. We will look closely at the features of this roundabout on this year's study tours.
Read more about safe roundabout design.
Simultaneous Green junctions
Where a roundabout is not the right solution, traffic light junctions may be required instead. The safest traffic light junction design uses Simultaneous Green lights for cyclists. Read more information at that link about this very safe design.
The most dangerous junction in the Netherlands
the most dangerous road junction in the whole of the Netherlands. 29 collisions have occured at one side of this gyratory and another 10 at the other. While there is segregated cycling infrastructure at this junction, it's not well designed.
Every user of this junction has too much to take in. Cyclists, pedestrians and drivers all make mistakes all the time. You can see this in a video. We use this junction to demonstrate what not to do.
What causes crashes ?
busy cycle-route here in Assen. This cycle-path supports riding at very high speeds and is well used by racing cyclists as well as by recreational riders and the occasional dog walker.
No reported crashes have occurred on the cycle-route between 2007 and 2012. Crashes occur predominantly where cars are. Unravelling of routes keeps cyclists from danger.
In another example, rural roads are also punctuated regularly by blue and yellow flags. Only one of the flags on this map shows a collision between a car and a bike all of the others are between cars or between cars and inanimate objects. For example, the blue flag at the bottom involved a tree "in collision with" a car.
Cycling takes place almost entirely on segregated cycle-paths in this area and these have a very good safety record in comparison with roads. This is most easily observed on the map from the cycle-route along the red line, a very peaceful and popular car free recreational cycle-path which is entirely separated from the road. On that route, where cars are excluded, there have been no collisions at all.
|We demonstrate good practice on study tours|
as well as showing what not to do
Cyclists fare best where their interactions with motor vehicles are limited and controlled. They fare best where infrastructure ensures that minor mistakes do not result in injuries.
Anywhere that we rely upon everyone behaving perfectly but where we do not protect the most vulnerable, there will be injuries.
Good design takes human nature into account and removes the causes of danger from those who are most vulnerable.
More updates on Shared Space and danger
16 April 2014
The BBC recently reported on Blackett Street, a Shared Space in Newcastle in the UK. They say that there is an "area of concern is Blackett Street, where four accidents have taken place in two years". People world-wide need to start to take note of how dangerous Shared Space has proven to be.
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).
This data suggests that the accident rate in Poynton for all users after shared space was introduced is 67% higher than it was before. The accident rate for pedestrians is now 10x greater than before.
Shared Surfaces. A video showing the problems that blind people have with negotiating the Shared Space in Poynton. Note the incident with a frustrated pedestrian at 3:50.
The Shared Space in Ashford, Kent (UK) opened in 2008. According to a local source, the heralded improvement in safety has not been seen. The exact same number of collisions and injuries occured in the four years after the shared space redesign of a street in that town as happened in the four years before. This may sound almost benign, but while there were no serious injuries in the four years leading up to 2008, there were two serious injuries in the four years after 2008. The numbers are small, but they point to the situation becoming worse in Ashford rather than better.
Who was Shared Space ever for ?
A document from 2007 claimed a dramatic improvement in safety on the Laweiplein in the first two years after it was converted to shared space, but as you can see from the figures at the top of this article, the claimed short term benefit does not appear to have continued in the longer term.
It's also interesting to read some of the text in the 2007 document. "Public perceptions of traffic safety have declined since 2000, with around 45% responding “poor” or “bad” to opinions on traffic safety compared to 3 0% in 2000. A significantly higher proportion of elderly people are negative about traffic safety now( 47% compared to 3 8% before)." It is also interesting to note that "Public perceptions of the ability of traffic to flow freely have changed dramatically from 2000 to 2005 . In 2000, 66 % rated congestion “bad”; by 200 this proportion had fallen to 5 %."
It has been my contention for many years now that the better flow of motorized traffic claimed for Shared Space is achieved at the expense of vulnerable road users. Both the convenience and safety of vulnerable road users are compromised by Shared Space. This is what I have observed in every Shared Space that I have visited. It can be observed quite dramatically in two of my videos, of a Shared Space junction in Assen and of Exhibition Road in London.
Where are the advocates ?
I've been writing about the problems with Shared Space since 2008. In the last six years there have been many hand-waving attempts to "prove" safety but no actual statistics have turned up.
What there have been are attempts to move the goal posts. This takes the form of claims that there's some better "shared space" which really works, either some other site than whichever one it was that I last wrote about, or perhaps some future design.
There have also been emotive suggestions that Shared Space is safe, even including "appeals to authority". For example, I was recently informed that Hans Monderman was a genius, that I should respect him for that reason and therefore not disagree. As it happens, I have a lot of respect for the man and I think it very unfortunate that he is no longer here to defend and, where necessary, perhaps improve upon his ideas. However that does not mean any of us should take his work as beyond criticism and we certainly should not assume that other peoples' interpretations of his ideas are beyond criticism.
Actual evidence in favour of the safety of Shared Space, especially for vulnerable road users, seems to be seriously lacking. Available statistics do not support the proposition that this is a safe way to design streets.
June 2014 update. Steve Melia
Please read Steve Melia's webpage and article about how Shared Space guidance lacks "evidence-based policy".
He says "The key message for transport planners and urban designers concerned about sustainability and the pedestrian experience is that sharing space with traffic is no substitute for traffic removal". I concur. While Shared Space does not achieve these objectives, Nearly Car Free streets do.