Saturday 27 December 2014

The devastating effect of Shared Space on the blind.

Shared Space represents a return of "might is right" to roads which could instead have been transformed to favour cycling and walking.

I've long been opposed to Shared Space because of its effect on all vulnerable road users. In 2008 I quoted the UK Guide Dog's association who said that "All of the participants reported greater difficulty" in Shared Space areas. The video below, produced in the UK, further shows the effect of Shared Space on blind people:

In the past I've visited many Shared Spaces in the Netherlands and well as in the UK. This includes Exhibition Road in London and the Shared Spaces in Southend-on-Sea.

Another UK example mentioned in the video is Poynton. Many claims were made for the safety of the new arrangement in Poynton before and just after its conversion to Shared Space, but now that a few years have passed we can see that the new layout in Poynton has proven to be ten times more dangerous for pedestrians in the period after conversion to Shared Space when compared with the period before.

Shared Space in Assen. Able-bodied cyclists don't like it either.
Note also how well "place-making" worked out. It's become
one of very few places in Assen with a fly-tipping problem.
Not just a problem in Britain
One participant in the video makes a point that it is British planners who don't understand Shared Space. There's a suggestion in the video that it somehow works better in the Netherlands but this is not really so. In reality, Shared Space doesn't work well in the Netherlands either and we see exactly the same problems in this country as are seen in the UK. Vulnerable road users are disenfranchised by Shared Space in just the same in the Netherlands as in the UK.

Hans Monderman's own pet schemes are not excluded from this criticism (see previous posts about Haren and Drachten).

Real statistics
Advocates of Shared Space continue to make claims of safety without any supporting statistics. Earlier this year, I revealed how the claims of safety are not backed up by Dutch road traffic crash statistics, which actually show quite bad safety records for many Shared Spaces compared with their surrounding area.

Counter the hype
Shared Space is a hype. This was acknowledged even by Hans Monderman during his lifetime. I would like think that had he remained alive, Hans could have countered some of the myths which grew up around his idea and slowed down its adoption. Sadly he is no longer here to do that.

Shared Space has become a deception which everyone needs to counter. It's not good for blind people or those with difficulty in moving, not good for people who are aged, not good for pedestrians and not good for cyclists. It's not even particularly great for car drivers who feel pushed into making strange manoeuvres.

People with disabilities can benefit from cycling infrastructure
While Shared Space creates problems for people with disabilities, good road and cycle path design can make conditions better for people with disabilities. Campaigners for cycling and for disabled rights should be allies. Read more about this subject.


Architectonic said...

What are the speed limits in these spaces? "Shared zones" in Australia have a limit of 10kph, though I guess there is no guarantee that motor vehicles will actually be traveling at this speed.

David Hembrow said...

Andrew: The speed limit in these places is normally 30 km/h. Naturally, drivers don't stick to the speed limit unless conditions make them. I've cycled in Shared Space areas at 40 km/h to try to keep up and found myself being overtaken by most cars.

robbob said...

I spoke to someone in Kensington and Chelsea highways department who informed me that Exhibition Road was not shared space, but "single surface". This means that priority rules are no different to other roads, and that pedestrians must give way to vehicles when crossing.

Martin Pion said...

I was recently directed to your blog and found it of interest. As an on-road cyclist for over 40 years, first in the England and now in the US, the last 17 years as a bicycle instructor, I'm interested in promoting bicycling transportation on-road.
I haven't finished reading this blog but I noticed your criticism of Hans Monderman's "Shared Space" concept, of which I first learned several years ago.
I don't understand the reason for your criticism, given that Monderman demonstrated the safety of his Drachten "squareabout" to visiting reporters by walking backwards from the edge to its center! Drivers simply steered around him. I can't think of any conventional roundabout where that could be done with confidence. I suspect that limiting the access roads to one lane was also an important integral part of the design.

David Hembrow said...

Martin: Thanks for your contribution. Unfortunately, you've believed the hype around Shared Space but not looked at the actual statistics.

The truth about the "squareabout" in the small town of Drachten is that this single small junction has caused more injuries to cyclists over the last five years than all 21 of Assen's roundabouts, built to a much safer design, put together.

Performing a stunt for reporters is not the same as proving real safety over time. In reality, Hans would have had a very good chance of surviving walking backwards across any small low speed junction of any design. Almost all drivers will of course steer to avoid someone who is doing such a thing. However, now that time has passed and we have actual data we should use this to decide whether the "squareabout" is safe.

What's more, we have no way of knowing how well the safety of a planner accompanied by the press walking backwards into a junction translates into actual safety for everyday users walking or cycling across the junction, in all weather conditions and all times of day.

Luckily, we have no need to guess about the relative safety because statistics are now available to show that the Dracthen junction is very unsafe in comparison with a design which leads to far fewer cyclist injuries.

Matthew said...

As a pedestrian advocate who also works a little bit with visually impaired folks I'm on the look out for issues like this. But I'm in the United States, which seems to have different laws, and perhaps stronger protection for the disabled.

When I viewed this video, I observed many, many cars violating what we call over here the "Crosswalk Law" that requires automobiles to yield to pedestrians in an unsignalized crosswalk. I do not know if Britain has such a law, it does not appear to be the case.

Now it is true that the Crosswalk Law is often flouted by drivers over here. But many crosswalks are constructed with poor markings and visibility. The crosswalks that I observed in the video are all raised crosswalks with high visibility and good markings. Those style of crosswalks tend to induce good behavior from drivers in Massachusetts for the most part. But apparently not so in Britain.

My takeaway from the video is that there is no such thing as a safe, unsignalized crosswalk for the blind in Britain. That isn't even about Shared Space anymore. Unsignalized crosswalks have been around since streets were taken away from pedestrians and given over to drivers.

If you cannot make an unsignalized crosswalk safe for the blind, then all junctions that depend upon them cannot work. That includes roundabouts, 4-way stop signs, and mid-block crossings to name a few.

Is there something I am missing here? Are you advocating against roundabouts and other unsignalized junction design too?

David Hembrow said...

Matthew: I certainly am not advocating against roundabouts or other unsignalized junctions. At the end of this reply I'll include links to what I see as good designs.

Legislation isn't enough to ensure safety. The US may have the law which you refer to and you may have other laws too which we do not, but you'll no doubt be aware that the rate of death and injury on US roads is extraordinarily higher than the rate of deaths and injuries in most European countries, including the UK and the Netherlands.

In order to be safe, all junctions of any type need to be self explanatory and easy to use. If they are made otherwise then we rely too much on drivers (it is primarily drivers who bring the danger to any junction) to behave perfectly. Under stressful conditions (e.g. bad weather, in a hurry, lots of traffic) it is inevitable that errors will be made. Rather than expecting legislation to make people behave, it is far more reliable to design such that errors do not result in injuries.

So now for the good designs.

Roundabouts are safe when built like this.

Crossings are safe when built like this.

Matthew said...

David: I understand and appreciate all your work on promoting safe junction design. However, according to the video you posted, even your preferred designs are not safe for the visually impaired.

In the video, I watched as blind people were disrespected by drivers even as they attempted to cross very well marked crosswalks.

Your preferred junction designs also rely upon the use of well marked crosswalks. But if drivers will not respect those crosswalks, then how is it safe?

You are right that legislation is not enough to stop dangerous driving. But it is a necessary precondition in order to have enforcement, and it is a necessary precondition to enable engineers to build designs that calm traffic innately.

What I saw in the video was drivers disrespecting crosswalks. That also happens in the United States. But technically such an act is breaking the law of the land here. Whether it is enforced or not is a separate discussion.

This is the key question that I would like to have answered: Are drivers required to yield to pedestrians using unsignalized crosswalks in Britain?

Otherwise, it seems that all attempts at unsignalized junction design will ultimately fail, and the notion of Shared Space is quite irrelevant.

David Hembrow said...


I think you're a little confused about what you're looking at. Much is lost in translation between different countries.

In the UK, as in most countries, drivers are required to give-way to pedestrians who are using formal unsignalized crossings.

There are problems with crossings as they exist. For instance, driver behaviour in recent years has moved away from actually respecting these crossings and there has always been a problem that some crossings were in locations where drivers' attention was distracted by other road features so that they did not necessarily notice pedestrians using the crossings. However, the law is clear. Unsignalized pedestrian crossings with priority for pedestrians in the UK are marked as zebra crossings and in order to be legally compliant, all zebra crossings in the UK must be equipped with Belisha beacons.

In Shared Space areas, crossings are being built which do not meet the legal requirements for unsignalized pedestrian crossigns in the UK. Pedestrian rights are eroded in Shared Spaces by this as well as other features. You'll note that in the video (at 5:20) the narrator talks about how the safety features have been "taken away". The crossings shown on screen which you seem to think are "very well marked crosswalks" are not well marked at all. They are not so easily visible as proper zebra crossings and they do not look like the crossings which drivers have been trained to recognize, both because these crossings do not meet the standards for formal pedestrian crossings in the UK with which people are familiar. Not only do drivers ignore these crossings because they not recognize them, but because they do not meet the standards for crossings there is no legal requirement for drivers to stop at such crossings, for other drivers not to overtake a car which has stopped at them or for drivers not to do such things as park on top of the crossings.

What's more, in Shared Space areas the textured paving and kerbs used for navigation by blind people and by guide dogs does not exist, further increasing the problems which people have walking along the street or crossing the road.

For pedestrian crossings to be safe, they must meet the minimum legal requirements to make them into actual pedestrian crossings. Those which are discussed in the video fall well short of these standards.

Shared Space is eroding the rights of pedestrians, cyclists and particularly the most vulnerable members of our society who have disabilities. That is why Shared Space is very relevant. This dogma about road design is hurting people.

Mike Brink said...

In most of North america drivers are expected to yield to pedestrians at all crossings, whether marked or not, and not just after the pedestrian has entered the carriageway, and in my experience they do fairly well, at least on narrower streets. That British drivers have become conditioned to yield only where there are stripes and flashing lights should be expected to have an impact on how well they behave in a shared space, single surface or simply low-signage location. We should expect the exact same design to have better results north America than in England. That's not to say that a wide-open, heavily trafficked shared space like poynton won't be miserable for pedestrians and especially the visually impaired no matter where it's built, but a low-marking street should be much easier to navigate in a place where drivers are more ready to yield.

David Hembrow said...

Mike: You claim that US drivers are "more ready to yield" but this is based on pure opinion, not fact. That you support your argument by telling me that US drivers behave "fairly well ... at least on narrower streets" suggests that actually their behaviour is far from faultless.

I also happen to know that the US road casualty rate is one of the worst amongst developed countries. i.e. in reality, your roads combined with your drivers are three times so dangerous as British roads and British drivers.

I'm not sold on the concept that US drivers are more skilled or less dangerous than those of the UK. I'm also not convinced that making crossings vary in design can ever make them more easily recognizable. Drivers have to make split second decisions. The Dutch learnt many years ago that consistency and reduction of conflict are cornerstones of road safety.

Shared Space advocates continue to claim that this style of road design is safer, but these claims are unfortunately made on the basis of no evidence at all. Studies based on long term results from real road junctions consistently show that Shared Spaces have a far less good safety record in comparison with more advanced junction designs.

Frankly, I don't even understand why we're having this conversation. Why are you, and why is anyone else, interested in trying out something which has been demonstrated time and time again not to work. Wouldn't your efforts be better spent in trying to adopt ideas which have been demonstrated to work very well ?

If you are determined to try ideas from the Netherlands which don't work well, don't limit your horizons to Shared Space. The Dutch have made many other mistakes.

crzwdjk said...

In most of North america drivers are expected to yield to pedestrians at all crossings, whether marked or not, and not just after the pedestrian has entered the carriageway, and in my experience they do fairly well
LOLOLOLOL really? In my experience, a good fraction of the time, nobody stops at all until you're standing right next to the edge of the lane, and then they grudgingly screech to a halt, at which point hopefully one of the drivers going the other way decides that it's probably best to stop. Of course, once they do that, you still have to watch out for someone "clever" trying to zoom around them on the outside. Oh, and half the time they'll be on their phones too, good luck getting them to notice you.

As for shared space in general, we have LOADS of examples of shared space, in North America and every other place that has cars: parking lots. And the success of those is definitely mixed, and if you look closely, the larger ones will have their main access in the form of a proper separated road (generally with a proper separated sidewalk too), because shared space just doesn't work great at higher volumes of traffic.

j said...

For anybody interested in statistics and drivers stopping at crosswalks in America: