Monday 25 February 2013

"Nearly Car Free" areas

The Dutch term "autoluwe" refers to any place with few cars. There is no translation in regular use in English but I think we need one. I propose "Nearly Car Free" or NCF or a way of describing these areas. It's perhaps a little cumbersome, but it's descriptive and difficult to distort its meaning.

This "winkelerf" uses the same sign
as a woonerf, but the character of the
street is not like a woonerf. Children
don't play in the streets here. In
practice this works the same as
any autoluwe shopping street.
Woonerven (Home Zones) are Nearly Car Free but woonerven are residential areas. Shopping streets do not have the same character. While woonerven are not through routes by either car or bicycle and serve only those who live in the area, shopping streets have to allow access by the public.  Shopping streets should not have the same form as a residential area. The idea of Autoluwte goes back to the 1970s and it is common in very many town centres and smaller shopping areas across the entire country. Every town and city has areas like this and the centres of Assen and Groningen are not exceptions.

The video shows how this works on a fairly cold February afternoon (min -3 C, max +2 C) in Assen. There are a lot of cyclists and pedestrians but you won't see many moving cars. Many of the pedestrians have reached the centre of the city by bicycle. You can see their bikes parked everywhere in the video. Because there are very few moving cars there are also very few interactions with cars. This results in a high degree of subjective safety and makes it possible for everyone to feel safe when walking or cycling:

In the centre of Assen everyone cycles in safety. If you don't watch this video then you will probably not understand the blog post.

Nearly car-free streets like this feature all across the Netherlands. They're a great success.

Removal of railings
Note that anti-pedestrian chain railings were once installed on streets like this in the Netherlands in order to prevent pedestrians from crossing the road where it was most convenient to do so. They're gone now. Pedestrians can now cross at any point on a street which is no longer designed for the maximum convenience of motor vehicles.

A very common type of street
Almost all city centres in The Netherlands work in this way. Some streets are only for pedestrians, many allow cycling for access, those where automobiles are allowed are usually not useful as through routes.

Groningen also has nearly car free streets. As in Assen, this means that even
small children can ride, and crash, their own bikes in the centre of the city,
safely isolated from the danger of cars.

This is not "Shared Space"
Unfortunately, foreign observers often confuse NCF with the much newer, but much less successful idea called "Shared Space". This is unfortunate as they are actually diametrically opposed ideas.

"Shared Space" in Haren. Much through
traffic by car, conflict is promoted,
Cycling feels uncomfortable and
is discouraged.
While NCF removes motor vehicles in order to make cycling and walking more pleasant (an example of unravelling of routes), "Shared Space" seeks to achieve the same ends while keeping motor vehicle through traffic and forcing motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to "share" the streets on an equal footing. Simply because architectural features of the space have been changed, drivers are expected to behave in an unusually friendly manner towards pedestrians and cyclists for eternity. Those same architectural features are also supposed to give pedestrians and cyclists more confidence to make their way as vulnerable road users amongst a large volume of motorized traffic.

"Shared Space" in Haren.
It's really all about cars,
not about pedestrians and
This is of course ludicrous and it does not work. The Netherlands was the first to come up with the idea of Shared Space, but it is not popular here now. "Shared Spaces" in this country date from the early 2000s when the idea had its brief popularity and before people had seen the problems with it. They have been retrofitted with features such as pedestrian crossings, railings and signs because of course it turned out they were necessary in order that people would be able to do such things as cross the road.

In "Shared Space" areas, pedestrians run across the road and cyclists cycle amongst the pedestrians. Such areas do not have relaxing and pleasant streets as seen above in Assen and the many other places which have excluded cars.

The most effective way of civilizing town centres is to remove cars from them
Removing cars from streets is a very effective way of encouraging cyclists. However, this removal has to be almost total in order to make cycling attractive to the whole population.

Note also that "pedestrianized" areas in the Netherlands usually make it clear that they do not exclude bicycles.

We are running an open Cycling Study Tour in May 2013. Book a place if you wish to see how what we describe on this blog works in real life.

Well before it was applied to streets in the Netherlands, the underlying principle of Shared Space was laid out very clearly by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.


Al said...

a timely post- the likes of Martin Cassini seem to be going all-guns-blazing to promote "shared space" solutions to heavily trafficked junctions in the UK at present. Quite, quite mad.

BBnet3000 said...

Are those example pictures really shared space? Theres no curbs but it looks pretty clearly delineated to me. The sidewalk is level with the roadway but they are both clearly seperate.

In an example like this,_Brighton_-_shared_space.jpg there are clearly a lot of cars using the area (or at least parking there) and yet it appears that cars would have to drive very carefully and considerately.

David Hembrow said...

Yes BBnet. Haren is "Shared Space".

Unfortunately, it is quite normal that an example of "Shared Space" is criticized, someone will pipe up and claim that whatever example has been given and shown to be less than wonderful is not "Shared Space", but look over here at something new and expensive elsewhere. This will not do. It's no good to keep on insisting that its a moving target in order to deflect criticism.

Luckily, in this case there's a video on youtube of Hans Monderman telling you how the "nice shopping area" they created is "a nice place to be" and "a big success".

Of course, it has had to be changed a little since then. They had to put down (and move) pedestrian crossings to enable pedestrians to cross the road, and it now has quite a lot more signs than it used to have, including signs banning cyclists from riding on the "sidewalk" because of course they wanted to in order to avoid the cars and also parking restrictions, I think.

Anonymous said...

The Brighton example works because it's a dead-end for motor vehicles (and isn't it disabled parking only?) and the footfall is high. Calling it "shared space" suggests it's successful because of the lack of delineation between a pavement and a road, but it's the lack of motor traffic which makes the difference.

I've been to Haren and it's not pleasant. It's the only place in the Netherlands where I've had to pass a stopped bus on the outside, and it's the only place in the Netherlands where I felt the need to swear at a car driver! Haren fails because it's a through-route for high volumes of motor traffic – exactly the sort of road which needs separate areas for different traffic types.

There's an unsung street in central London called Villiers Street, which runs from Embankment station to the Strand. It's always really busy with people walking, and although cars can drive through it's not a useful route, so few use it. When the odd taxi does venture up there it does so carefully and at walking pace. While it doesn't have raised kerbs, there is clear delineation between the "footpath" and the "road" including bollards. As far as I know, Villiers Street wasn't a multi-million pound "shared space" scheme, and yet it works – because the traffic has been almost completely removed.

Conversely, Byng Place in Bloomsbury may look posh (it was billed as shared space and cost millions) but it's the same old rat-run full of speeding motor vehicles.

So look not to the expensive granite setts or the fancy architechts' drawings. The sharing of a space depends on the traffic balance, not the appearance.

voltairesmistress said...

I biked around Helsinki's shared space streets, as well as their separated protected bike lanes. I was impressed by how cautious and courteous the Finns were when driving. A completely different and non-hostile road environment from what I experience in San Francisco where I live. It has changed the way I drive. Does anyone know what the Finns have done exactly and why it appears to work so well, even with shared space? They are a very communitarian people, so I don't know if what they've succeeded at would work in a countries where the culture is more, "me first".

David Hembrow said...

Voltairesmistress: Be very careful about impressions picked up on holiday. When I went to work for a couple of weeks in San Francisco twenty years ago I was impressed by how courteous _your_ drivers are.

Similarly, English people tend to think that the Dutch are more careful drivers, while the Dutch tend to think the English are more careful.

This is simply the result of lack of familiarity. It's also why we offer study tours. We have a unique perspective due to being cycling campaigners who have lived and worked for years at a time in more than one place.

There is no magic bullet so far as drivers are concerned. The Finns are the same as the Dutch and as the British and as Americans. Give people cars and some of them will abuse the power. If you spend just a short time in one place you're unlikely to experience it.

No rose tinted specs here.

mediumspiny said...

I don't want to seem picky, but shouldn't Nearly Car Free be NCF rather than NFC. NFC could be for Nearly Free Cars!

Robert said...

As far as I know there are no Monderman "shared spaces" in my home city, but talk about shared spaces and locals will point to various streets in the city centre. The signage on these streets says "no motorised vehicles except for off-street access", so they are in fact NCF streets. The local use of the term "shared space" is understandable and reasonable given that they are spaces shared by pedestrians, cyclists, and (a few) motor vehicles. Local cyclists like them, but they don't know that Monderman has hijacked the term. That means that when a Monderman so-called shared space (which are in fact not shared at all) is implemented in the UK, cyclists I know think that what has been implemented is their idea of a shared space, but somehow working with lots of motorised vehicles. To add to the confusion these Monderman-inspired designs may well result in reduced accidents and a more pleasant junction, but that's because the underlying junction design is better than what was there before. However, the obvious feature is the fancy block paving (which of course does make the junction look nicer), so people assume that's the reason why the junction is better and sing the praises of "shared space". It's an utterly confusing mess.

ultrix said...

The problem we have in Finland is maybe a bit different from the one in other countries. We have moderately good cycling infrastructures outside city centres, but they are all shared with pedestrians.

It has become almost a consensus in the latest few years that when a "kevyen liikenteen väylä" ("light traffic route", referring to shared pedestrian+cyclist routes AND wide sidewalks with a pdestrian+cyclist sign) is too narrow (under ca. 3,5 meters), we must instead paint a cycle path on the carriageway.

Because of those ugly cycling-allowed-sidewalks we also have rampant sidewalk cycling even on very narrow sidewalks and AFAIK it would be an outrage if someone did that in Denmark or Netherlands.

As an example, here's an everyday photo of our main street in Tampere/Tammerfors:ämeenkatu2.jpg

The street has a 4-lane carriageway with bus lanes and moderately wide sidewalks with very heavy pedestrian masses. Cycling is obligatory on sidewalks half the year (from April to October) and on bus lanes the other half. De facto everyone cycles in the middle of pedestrians the whole year and practically no fines are carried.

– any ideas how the Dutch would repair this?

Another case, Satakunta Bridge:

- an old bridge, with a carriageway and very narrow sidewalks
- a major car traffic thoroughfare acting as a part of the Inner City Ring, speed limit 40 km/h (with traffic lights near the both ends of the street)
- cycling on the sidewalk forbidden, but rampant (police razzias every summer, sidewalk cyclists are fined here)

Any ideas how to stop this phenomenon of sidewalk cycling?

ultrix said...

Yet a video from our city, depicting the cycling conditions on the main street:

David Hembrow said...

Ultrix: The pictures and video were interesting to see. It seems obvious to me that there will always be conflict between cyclists and pedestrians on sidewalks as well used as this. For that reason alone, they should not be shared use.

However, such sidewalk cycling is bad not only because of the conflict with pedestrians. It is also undesirable because it is not convenient for cycling. It is necessary to slow and stop frequently and crossings are not designed such that they are safe for cyclists to use at speed. This makes cycling less desirable than it would be on a more well designed street.

To me it seems obvious that amongst your four lanes for motor vehicles there is plenty of space to change things to make cycling easier, safer and more convenient. However, at the moment the available space is allocated rather too heavily in favour of motorized vehicles.

Eliminating sidewalk cycling is easy:

Illegal sidewalk cycling is a symptom of cyclists not having a feeling of sufficient subjective safety on the road.

If proper cycling infrastructure was constructed then the police would have one fewer job to do because no-one would feel a need to choose the "safety" of the sidewalk in order to avoid motor vehicles.

( p.s. I remember ultrix (though you could have named yourself after something else))