Sharing Spaces in Our Towns

Shared space

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Shared space is an urban design concept aimed at integrated use of public spaces. It encourages traffic engineers, urban planners and experts from other fields to consult with users of public space when planning and designing streets and squares in both built and non-built environments.

Shared space removes the traditional segregation of motor vehicles, pedestrians and other road users. Conventional road priority management systems and devices such as kerbs, lines, signs and signals are replaced with an integrated, people-oriented understanding of public space, such that walking, cycling, shopping and driving cars become integrated activities.

The term ‘shared space’ was coined by Ben Hamilton-Baillie while preparing a European co-operation project in 2003.[1] The idea itself was pioneered and promoted by Hans Monderman,[2] based on the observation that individuals’ behaviour in traffic is more positively affected by the built environment of the public space than it is by conventional traffic control devices and regulations.[1] The goal of shared space is an improvement in road safety, encouraging negotiation of shared areas at appropriate speeds and with due consideration for the other users, using simple rules like giving way to the right.

This European Shared Space project (part of the Interreg IIIB-North Sea programme) between 2004 and 2008 developed new policies and methods for the design of public spaces with streets. Hans Monderman was the head of the project’s “expert team” prior to his death in 2008.[3]




Safety, congestion, economic vitality and community severance can be effectively tackled in streets and other public spaces if they are designed and managed to allow traffic to be fully integrated with other human activity, not separated from it. A major characteristic of a street designed to this philosophy is the absence of traditional road markings, signs, traffic signals and the distinction between “road” and “pavement“. User behaviour becomes influenced and controlled by natural human interactions rather than by artificial regulation.[3]

One of the principles behind the scheme, which is mentioned in an article about the increasing interest in such schemes in Europe, from the German magazine Der Spiegel, is that road rules strip motorists of the ability to be considerate. Monderman is quoted as saying: “We’re losing our capacity for socially responsible behaviour, …The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people’s sense of personal responsibility dwindles.” [4] Another source attributes the following to Monderman: “When you don’t exactly know who has right of way, you tend to seek eye contact with other road users… You automatically reduce your speed, you have contact with other people and you take greater care.”[5] In the same report the mayor of Bohmte, a town implementing such a scheme, is quoted as saying “We don’t want the cars alone to have precedence, we want to try and make the area pleasant for everybody.”

The shared space philosophy distinguishes between the fine-meshed slow network, and the larger-meshed fast network. The slow network, which is the subject of the shared space treatment, is characterised as the street network which make public space vital and accessible. On the slow network motor traffic is welcomed as a guest, but has to adapt to certain social norms of behaviour. The layout of the road must make this clear. The fast or supra traffic network, which allows traffic to reach destinations quickly, and which is designed using traditional traffic engineering methodologies, is essential if the slow network is to function properly.[6]

A reason for the apparent paradox that reduced regulation leads to safer roads may be found by studying the risk compensation effect. Shared Space describe the effect:[6]

Shared Space is successful because the perception of risk may be a means or even a prerequisite for increasing objective safety. Because when a situation feels unsafe, people are more alert and there are fewer accidents.


By country

Numerous towns and cities around the world have implemented schemes with elements based on the shared space principles. Most streets in Tokyo are shared in practice, but not as a matter of scheme or principle.


Bendigo, Victoria, plans (as of October 2007) to implement shared space in its city centre.[7]


Ettenheim, Endingen, Haslach, and Wolfach in Baden (pictures).

Bohmte introduced a shared space road system in September 2007. One of project’s goals was to improve road safety in the town.[8]


There is a traffic sign at the entrance to Makkinga which reads “Verkeersbordvrij” meaning “free of traffic signs”. The town has no road markings and no stop signs or direction signs visible in the streets. Parking meters and stopping restrictions are also absent.[4] Drachten is one of the pioneer towns for such schemes. Accident figures at one junction where traffic lights were removed have dropped from thirty-six in the four years prior to the introduction of the scheme to two in the two years following it.[9] Only three of the original fifteen sets of traffic lights remain. Tailbacks (traffic jams) are now almost unheard of at the town’s main junction, which handles about 22,000 cars a day.[10] See also Woonerf

New Zealand

Plans are well progressed to turn several innercity streets in Auckland into shared spaces [11]. These include Elliot street[12], Lorne street, the Fort street area[13] and Link Rd in Mt Eden.


Since the zebra crossings and traffic signs were replaced with a spacious fountain, benches and other street furniture, the Skvallertorget square in Norrköping has experienced no accidents, mean traffic speeds have dropped from 21 to 16 km/h (13 to 10 mph) and liveability has increased.[14]

United Kingdom

In Seven Dials, London the road surface has been re-laid to remove the distinction between the roadway and the footway and kerbs have been lowered to encourage people to wander across the street.[9] A scheme implemented in London’s Kensington High Street, dubbed naked streets in the press—reflecting the fact that the road has been cleared of markings, signage and pedestrian barriers, has yielded significant and sustained reductions in injuries to pedestrians. It is reported that, based on two years of ‘before and after’ monitoring, casualties fell from 71 in the period before the street was remodelled to 40 afterwards – a drop of 43%.[15]

Brighton City Council transformed the whole of New Road, adjacent to the Royal Pavilion, into a fully shared space, with no delineation of the carriageway except for subtle changes in materials. The route for vehicles along New Road is only suggested through the location of street furniture, such as public seating and street lights. The re-opening of the street has led to a 93% reduction in motor vehicle trips (12,000 fewer per day) and lower speeds (to around 10 MPH), alongside an increase in cyclist and pedestrian usage (93% and 162%, respectively).[16][17]

In spring 2008, shared space appeared in Ashford, Kent. The award-winning scheme, delivered by lead designers Whitelaw Turkington Landscape Architects, replaced a section of Ashford’s former four lane ring road with two-way streets on which drivers, cyclists and pedestrians have equal priority. Unnecessary street furniture, road markings and traffic lights have been removed and the speed limit cut to 20 mph.[citation needed] The scheme has vastly improved safety records since it opened. As of summer 2009, there have been no reported accidents.[citation needed] The success of the Ashford scheme is evidenced by local councils across the country putting forward plans to adopt the same approach – including Southend-on-Sea, Staines, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Hereford and Edinburgh.[citation needed]

Another proposed scheme in London is the redevelopment of Exhibition Road which is home to a number of world-class institutions. The local authority say they want the area to be a comfortable and attractive place in which to live, work and visit. They plan to use shared space principles to integrate vehicle and foot traffic, whilst preserving the road’s important function as a vital transport link serving people from the whole surrounding area.[18] There have also been trials in Ipswich, with shared space being a key feature of the design of the new Ravenswood community being built on the site of the former Ipswich Airport.[19]

United States

In West Palm Beach, Florida planners are reported to have removed traffic signals and road markings and brought pedestrians into much closer contact with cars. The result has been slower traffic, fewer accidents, and shorter trip times.[20]

Road rule influences

In answer to a direct question about the role of local legislation, a member of the Shared Space Expert Team replied:[21]

To understand how shared space works, it is important to move away from reliance on “rights” and laws, and to recognize the potential for conventions and protocols.

and added:

Such conventions and protocols evolve rapidly and are very effective if the state does not intervene through regulation.

Road rules, particularly those concerned with priorities at unsigned junctions, vary in different jurisdictions (see “road rule codes of the world” and “traffic”). For instance, many European countries operate on the basis of Priority to the right, this means that in the absence of road signs, cars entering from side roads on the nearside have priority over cars on the main route. This establishes an assumption that main road traffic must keep at a speed that will allow them to yield to entering traffic coming from the nearside. In contrast, in the US, UK and Ireland main road traffic is always assumed to retain priority. Also, in contrast to most English speaking countries, where a fault liability system operates to decide who pays compensation for losses due to road traffic collisions, some Northern European countries, including the Netherlands, use a risk liability system where a conflict occurs between a motor vehicle and a vulnerable road user. Thus there is a legal assumption in some of these countries that motorists are automatically considered liable, to some extent, regardless of fault, for injuries and property damage suffered by cyclists or pedestrians.


European “Shared Space” project

The Shared Space project is sponsored by the European Commission to develop methods and policies for tackling road safety, community severance and congestion issues, and for enhancing economic vitality in streets and public spaces.[3]

Ben Hamilton-Baillie is, as was Hans Monderman before his death, involved in the project as a shared space expert.

Currently seven European partner authorities, from five countries, are sharing knowledge on shared space:


There are certain reservations about the practicality of the shared space philosophy. In a report from the Associated Press it was commented that traditionalists in town planning departments say the schemes rob the motorists of vital information, and reported that a spokesman for the Royal National Institute for the Blind criticised the removal of familiar features such as railings, kerbs and barriers.[22]

Shared surfaces, which are generally used in shared space schemes, can cause concern for the blind and partially sighted who cannot visually negotiate their way with other road users, as the lack of separation implicit in these features has also removed their safe space.[23] There have been similar concerns raised by other groups representing some of the more vulnerable members of society, including Leonard Cheshire Disability, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and Mencap, who have noted problems when negotiating a route with motor vehicle users, leading them to challenge its fundamental premise.[24]

The November 2007 issue of the Fietsersbond (Dutch Cyclists Union) newsletter [25] criticises shared space schemes as encouraging the bullying of cyclists by motorists, giving examples of people who feel less safe as a result.

Monderman has stated that these objections are more a matter of communication than design, stressing the importance of consulting such people during the design stage.[26]

See also


  1. ^ a b Ben Hamilton-Baillie. “What is Shared Space?” (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  2. ^ Damian Arnold (2007-11-15). “UK traffic engineers lack skills for shared-space“. New Civil Engineer. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  3. ^ a b cShared Space“. Shared Space Institute. “Booklets published by the EU partnership.” 
  4. ^ a b Matthias Schulz (2006-11-16). “European Cities Do Away with Traffic Signs“. Spiegel Online.,1518,448747,00.html. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  5. ^European Towns Remove Traffic Signs to Make Streets Safer“. Deutsche Welle. 2006-08-27.,2144,2143663,00.html. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  6. ^ a bShared Space: Room for everyone: A new vision for public spaces” (PDF). Shared Space (A European co-operation project). June 2005.
  7. ^Walkers first on naked streets“. The Sydney Morning Herald. 2007-10-18.
  8. ^ Catherine Bosley (2007-09-11). “Town ditches traffic lights to cut accidents“. Reuters. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  9. ^ a b Ben Webster (2007-01-22). “‘Naked’ streets are safer, say Tories: Traffic lights and signs could vanish Accidents will fall, study claims“. The Times.
  10. ^ David Millward (2006-11-04). “Is this the end of the road for traffic lights?“. The Daily Telegraph.
  11. ^ Auckland City Council
  12. ^ Auckland City Council
  13. ^ Auckland City Council
  14. ^No accidents after road conversion in Norrköpping“. Shared Space. 2007.
  15. ^Life on the open road“. The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. 2006-04-12.
  16. ^New Road City Centre Shared Space, Brighton (December 2007)“. Scheme of the Month: January 2008. Cycling England. December 2007.
  17. ^New street designs are leaving blind people with the prospect of teaching their guide dogs new tricks.“. NCE magazine. 2007-12-31. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  18. ^Exhibition Road“. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
  19. ^Planning Application 05/00285/REM, Planning Layout” (PDF). 2005-02-18. Retrieved 2007-03-04. 
  20. ^ *McNichol, Tom (December 2004). “Roads Gone Wild“. Wired (12.12). Retrieved 2006-04-26. 
  21. ^ Ben Hamilton-Baillie (2007-03-02). “Road priority conventions – reply“. Forum. Shared Space. Retrieved 2007-09-19. 
  22. ^ The Associated Press (2006-11-21). “In Europe, less is more when it comes to road signs“. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  23. ^ Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. “Shared Surfaces“. Retrieved 2008-09-27. 
  24. ^ Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. “Shared Surfaces Campaign Report – “Stop shared surfaces, keep our pavements”” (pdf). Retrieved 2008-09-27. 
  25. ^ Fietsersbond – uitgebreide fiets vraagbaak (ervaringen, tests, etc.)
  26. ^ Hamilton Baillie website. “Shared Space – the alternative approach to calming traffic” (pdf). Retrieved 2008-10-01. 


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