Shared Space: Safe or Dangerous?

from Shared Space: Safe or Dangerous?Township Council recently adopted the shared space concept as fundamental to the lawsuit settlement with InterCap over the new Princeton Junction Transit Village. Under this concept, motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians share the roadway as peers. But is it safe?

Four European experts reported results of their studies of the shared space experience in the Netherlands in 2007 at the Walk21 Conference held in Toronto. Shared space was implemented several locations between 1998 and 2001, with studies published between 2003 and 2007.

Overall, “reported accidents have decreased substantially.” In one location, however, minor injury collisions persisted, and “bicyclists were overrepresented”.  Significantly, “police report only a (minor) part of the accidents. Particularly bicycle and pedestrian accidents are often not reported to the police. This means that reliable and valid conclusions regarding the safety of cyclists and pedestrians cannot be made.”

What makes shared space work? “At low speeds people have more time for communication and the interpretation of verbal and non-verbal utterances.”

What keeps it from working? “Children and people with a visual or mental handicap cannot be expected to comply. Also, the elderly are not always able to anticipate and react in time, especially not when it is crowded and many things happen in a short period. This group (in total 25% percent of the population!) runs a substantially raised risk.”

How do people feel about shared space? “Most respondents do not think the situations are safe. Both car drivers and bicyclists and pedestrians are critical about it. In Haren remarkably many people (90%) demand a clear choice regarding the position of the bicycle: either on a bicycle lane or on the carriageway. The experts prefer the bicyclist on the carriageway; the public prefers a separate recognizable lane.”

The WWBPA supports the shared space concept, but recognizes that to work, all roadway users must be provided with subtle guidance as to the preferred positioning within the space. Bicyclists must be encouraged to stay out of the way of opening car doors (the “door zone”), such as through the use of a special color or pattern of pavement to guide where they ride.

The current (pre-settlement) language in the redevelopment ordinance calls for buffered bike lanes to achieve this goal. This goal can be achieved in the shared space concept, but the language regarding bike lanes is proposed to be removed. Please contact our public officials with your questions or concerns regarding the safety of our proposed new shared space.

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3 Responses to “Shared Space: Safe or Dangerous?”

  1. […] Princeton Junction Redeveloment Plan, although they are replaced in the Transit Village area by the Shared Space concept, which mix bicycle and motor vehicle travel […]

  2. Jerry says:

    Agreed the concept can work if the details are done right. The studies (click through the link) reported observed “law of the jungle” behavior in the shared spaces, and there is a good discussion of at what point does enforcement become necessary.

    I believe guidance should be provided to bicyclists as to their preferred positioning, even (or especially) if that means the special color or pattern of pavement leads right down the middle of the roadway. This in my view encourages bicyclists to travel outside the door zone, legitimizes bicyclists’ right (and encourages children or timid bicyclists) to be there, and minimizes the “get out of the road” attitude that is common among drivers today.

    Jerry

  3. As long as the roadway to become a shared space (or woonerf) is not a major through-street and that the shared space IS NOT paved with regular asphalt, then I don’t think you should have any problems.

    Using signage or some kind of iconography to try to guide or even segregate different users is likely to be self-defeating because it would create a hierarchy of users where drivers would likely try to exert their dominance.

    The examples of shared spaces I’ve seen in German villages worked amazingly well. There were no lines, markers, bollards or anything in the shared space to designate users. The shared spaces were paved with either cobbles or some sort of fancy pavement material right up to the exterior walls of private homes and commercial buildings. Regular asphalt was NEVER used. Items like benches, trees and even water fountains were placed directly in the shared spaced without the use of bollards or curbing to designate a special pedestrian area. This lack of order and hierarchy is what makes shared spaces work!

    These shared spaces were also never implemented on roads that were through-streets in the villages. I think the problem arises when this concept is used on streets that must carry a fair amount of motor vehicle through traffic, common in larger urban areas and cities.

    Still, it is extremely admirable that West Windsor and the developer are willing to try this concept to make this TOD project work. However, the only way to get the shared space to work correctly is to get the details right, which will require a large and committed leap of faith, something I fear that the traffic engineer might not be willing to do.

    Since this is an exciting project on a statewide level I will try and put out a detailed photo essay on shared spaces from my trips to Germany on WalkBikeJersey within the week.

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