Imagine a road without lanes, without stop lights, without a bunch of signs. You back out of your driveway, close your garage door behind you, and drive at a slow but steady pace, alert to the fact that bicyclists and pedestrians have the same right of way as you. You don’t speed along, only slowing down because a sign up ahead notifies you that there’s a pedestrian crossing zone because everywhere is a pedestrian zone. You are more alert, more cautious, more conscientious of the road you share. Sounds farfetched, doesn’t it?
The truth is, it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. A newly remodeled stretch of Exhibition Road in downtown London is such a road, forcing those behind the wheel to share the roadway with bicyclists and pedestrians, thus taking more responsibility for their driving actions. The active road has eliminated sidewalks, crosswalks, curbs, signs, railings, and lane markings. In place of these typical roadway features, the long road consists of large black and white granite crosshatchings, meant to encourage pedestrians to freely cross back and forth to the three museums and university campus, which contribute to the street’s culture.
Sharing Space is Safer
Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman developed this concept of sharing the road. Shared Space, as this concept is called, involves a new and different way of looking at roads by removing the customary segregation of motor vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. The typical road signs instructing drivers and other road users are removed, instead fostering an integrated environment that is people-oriented; activities such as walking, bicycling, shopping, and driving cars are converted into integrated activities.
Monderman discovered that when roadways are stripped of the usual traffic controls, drivers start paying closer attention to pedestrians and cyclists, taking their cues from looking at them rather than signs. Traffic slows down, and the rate of accidents dramatically declines.
Although some might think that removing traffic controls and safety barriers would be counter-intuitive, as well as counter-productive, London officials have discovered that when guard railings, which are in place to supposedly prevent pedestrians from running out into the middle of traffic, are removed, accidents decreased by a whopping 60 percent.
Shared space literally forces drivers to slow down and be alert to their surroundings, rather than speeding along oblivious to any pedestrians or cyclists. Those behind the wheel who choose to travel down Exhibition Road must proceed cautiously at 20 mph. The pedestrian “section” of the road takes up a total of two-thirds of the road.
Roads were originally conceived of as a convenient way for people to travel, becoming dominated by cars as the motor vehicle exploded in popularity. Shared space returns the roads back into what they were originally intended to be — a path from point A to point B that all can share. In the not so far-off future, perhaps more roads will be following suit, and motor vehicles will no longer dominate the roadways nor pollute the environment.
Join in the discussion in the comments below and/or share this piece.Shared space sign via quisnovus