Shared Space Design: History, Philosophy, Challenges, and Implementation in the United States

Matthew L. Steenhoek

UAP 5424: Urban Transport Policy and Planning Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Urban Affairs and Planning, Alexandria Center Professor Ralph Buehler Fall 2010

Can the introduction of ambiguity, intrigue, and even perceived danger make our roads safer for all users? Can we reclaim the use of the streets as public spaces without adversely impacting the vehicular function of the city? Can we successfully adopt an urban design plan geared toward pedestrians in an auto-oriented American society? These questions are at the core of the shared space movement. The shared space movement has its roots in the Dutch practice of creating “woonerfs,” which is roughly translated as “yards for living” (Hamilton-Baillie 2008, 167). These woonerf designs were originally introduced in the municipality of Emmen in the Netherlands in the late 1960’s by urban designer Niek De Boer to take back the street as a social space and provide a safe play environment for children (Shared Space project 2008a, 7-10). This approach was applied to low-volume residential streets. It involved the removal of standard road signage, the introduction of shared curbless surfaces, and a physical layout that reinforced spatial ambiguity. The design focused on providing for the people before providing for the automobile. Initially the design gained significant enthusiastic acceptance in Denmark and France. However, after the woonerf was recognized by the Dutch government in 1976 as a separate road type with specific signage and guidelines, the movement began to lose some of the experimental appeal that made it attractive. The movement was again picked up in Britain in the late 1990’s through the Home Zone program (Hamilton-Baillie 2008). Despite the waning and waxing in popularity, the woonerf concept has advanced and evolved. Many residential neighborhoods in Europe still are designed as woonerfs; and intriguing elements of this movement, such as trees planted in the middle of the road and children's swing-sets in parking spaces, can be seen today. Today, key concepts from the woonerf philosophy have been adopted by two proponents of the modern shared space movement. A well-known pioneer for shared space design is Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic engineer, who shaped this movement for more than two decades before his death in 2008. He was widely recognized as the “shared space guru” and made his

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name by successfully incorporating shared space designs at busy intersections to lower travel speeds and reduce accidents (Lyall 2005). Since Monderman’s death, British architect Ben Hamilton-Baillie has become the preeminent voice in the shared space movement. Hamilton-Baillie has written voluminously, and he has worked extensively designing shared spaces in Britain and other nearby countries. Through his writing and his appearances on BBC and Fox Business Network, Hamilton-Baillie has helped bring the philosophy to the attention of the public on both sides of the Atlantic (Hamilton-Baillie Associates 2010). Where woonerfs were solely designed for residential streets, shared space designs also have the flexibility to be implemented on busier shopping corridors and interchanges. The general philosophy behind shared space is to rely on the human ability to interact and negotiate with others instead of relying on overly-engineered channelized systems to create an environment of mutual safety, movement, and efficiency on our streets. The notion of shared spaces requires the elimination of some of the standard rules and demarcations that dictate road etiquette, the use of non-verbal negotiation, and a level of civility and common courtesy between all users. By removing both the physical and implied barriers and relying on “mental speed bumps” over actual ones, shared space designs reinforce the notion that streets are for people and that expansion of public space takes precedence over space for high-speed automobile movement. In short, the traffic code is replaced by the social code. This approach of creating “mental speed bumps” is also known as second generation traffic-calming. Second generation traffic-calming differs from traditional traffic-calming measures by using ambiguity and intrigue to compel motorists to proceed at lower, more safe speeds, whereas the latter measures rely on the creation of physical barriers such as speed humps, raised intersections, neckdowns, and chicanes (TrafficCalming.org 2008). The “intrigue and uncertainty” factor, as described by shared space Australian author David Engwicht , is created by bringing life back on to the streets, by creating visually complex streets that read as public

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spaces where the car is a guest and not as corridors for high-speed travel, by developing a unique and ever-evolving character for the streetscape, and by deliberately designing in ambiguity through the elimination of traditional traffic devices, standardized road markings, and dedicated grade-separated pedestrian zones (Engwicht 2010). Much of the shared space argument rests on the apparent paradox that, in order to make a road safer for all users, you have to make it feel dangerous. The philosophy is that, when the apparent risk of a situation is highest, users of the space will react accordingly by taking particular care and by proceeding with caution--thereby creating a space that is actually safer. In traditional channelized street design, users of the thoroughfare may be lulled into a false sense of security because they expect that all users of the street will unquestionably behave in accordance with the highly-engineered street environment. Shared space designs are created to minimize drivers’ false sense of security by increasing their understanding and awareness of potential road risks. Creating an environment that minimizes users’ blind confidence in their safety can be controversial and unsettling; however, data indicates that users’ loss of feeling of subjective safety comes with improvement in actual safety (Methorst et al. 2007). One key requirement in the success of a shared space design is that the second-generation traffic-calming approaches employed must reduce vehicular speed to 30 kilometers per hour, approximately 18 mph, or below. At this ideal speed, research has shown that the risk of a pedestrian being seriously injured or killed in an accident is significantly lower and that it rises exponentially above 30 kph (Baker 2004). Further, this is the maximum speed at which eye contact and non-verbal negotiations can take place. This relationship is believed to be linked to the maximum human running speed and our mental evolutionary capacity to communicate at this velocity (Shared Space project 2008b). Both of the reduced risk of serious injury and ability to engage in non-verbal negotiations are critical to maintaining a safe shared space environment. There are also benefits to the requirement of lower speed that go beyond safety. Lower speeds can actually have the effect of improving traffic flow and reducing congestion. While

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this, much like the improvement in safety through increasing the perceived risk, seems counterintuitive, Hamilton-Baillie describes the phenomenon by saying that the reason for this is that “your speed of journey, the ability of traffic to move smoothly through the built environment, depends on performance of your intersection, not on your speed of flow between intersections. At 30 miles per hour, you frequently need control systems like traffic signals, which themselves mean that the intersection is not in use for significant periods of time. Whereas at slower speeds, vehicles can move more closely together and drivers can use eye contract to engage and make decisions. So you get much higher capacity” (Baker 2004). Of course, this is not a wholesale call for a reduction in speed limits across a city. In order for the entire traffic system to work, a need remains for more conventional roadway structures that allow for increased mobility through higher vehicle speeds (Barter 2009). Streets not identified as key traffic mobility arteries are the ones that create an urban fabric designed for local access. The success of this “slow” network relies on the maintenance of a corresponding “fast” network to manage the non-local mobility oriented traffic (Shared Space Project 2005). It is on these slow roads that the shared space designs can be implemented without impeding the orderly flow of local access vehicular traffic. When this model is followed, it will yield a “public space dividend” without the expense of vehicular access or mobility (Barter 2009). One goal of the shared space proponents is to create public spaces that will increase accessibility for the most vulnerable of the road user groups. For those with impaired mobility this is done by eliminating unnecessary curbs and grade changes which can be challenging or impossible to navigate. Cyclists benefit from the lower motorist speeds, making mixing with cars less intimidating; and children benefit from the expanded play area that is achieved through shared space street reclamation. Successful shared space designs incorporate common features, but the core of their success comes from the individual site-specific interpretations that are created. Engwicht suggests six design principles used in creating a successful shared space (Engwicht 2010). First, he

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identifies the need to focus on creating streetscapes that read as rooms rather than as corridors. These rooms become “outdoor living rooms” and facilitate those who need to pass through as well as those who wish to comfortably linger. One of the key elements used in creating the outdoor rooms is a careful treatment of the ground plane. For example, special pavers or intricate patterns and borders can help define the space and will reinforce the transition of motorists into a new and special space. This transition can be further reinforced though the creation of a highly visible entryway, using vertical or overhead elements spaced close together to create intimacy. Further intimacy can be created in an outdoor room through the use of an implied ceiling plane, such as tree canopies, banners, flags, and catenary lights. Finally, the introduction of public furniture and art is critical to establish the room as a space that feels lived in and to provide enhanced visual interest while giving people places to socialize. A second design principle suggested by Engwicht is a reduction in “traffic-oriented” devices devises. Standard road design elements and signage function by dictating a set of strict rules about what is and is not acceptable. By minimizing these prescriptive elements, shared space designs require that acceptable rules of etiquette be negotiated--not dictated. Since the use of standardized signage and devices can also create a space that is impersonal and robotic, the third principle principal involves the evolution of a unique personality for each street. This is done by involving the immediate community in the design process so that the actual stakeholders help create a shared space that is unique to their locale. In order to maintain the unique nature of the shared space and to keep high levels of intrigue for motorists who become comfortably numb to roadway risks, the fourth principle endorsed by Engwicht is to create ever-changing streetscapes. This can be accomplished with design elements, continually moved and reinvented, that encourage high levels of human activity. Examples of these elements could include flexible seating elements, dynamic public art, or movable landscaping elements.

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Engwicht’s final two principles are that shared space designs should build ambiguity and legibility while also eschewing the traditional master plan in favor of a more organic “blank canvas” design process that evolves fully after the space is constructed. The deliberate creation of ambiguity can include the elimination of grade-separated walk and vehicular paths. Legibility on these curbless streets can be constructed through the arrangement of street furniture and other design elements such as paving bands and planting beds. The blank canvas design process starts with minimal interventions and can grow naturally with the input of community members. Understandably, the shared space movement has come under criticism from groups representing vulnerable road users; the most vocal are groups representing the blind and partiallysighted. The British-based Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (Guide Dogs) published a report Shared Space - Safe Space: Meeting the requirements of blind and partially-sighted people in shared space which identifies some of the key concerns of their constituency related to shared space design. Traditional street elements such as grade-separated curbs, curb ramps, and tactile paving bands are the primary physical clues that the blind and partially-sighted use for orientation. These elements are particularly critical for them to differentiate between a safe pedestrian area, a designated road crossing, and a vehicular lane; but these are often eliminated in shared space designs. The Guide Dogs reported that blind and partially-sighted people are overwhelmingly opposed to shared surface areas regardless of the vehicular traffic volume. Familiarity with a particular shared space does not detract from their feeling of discomfort and danger. The Guide Dogs report noted several common elements in shared space designs that are the cause of such angst amongst the blind and partially-sighted. These include the lack of clear demarcation between the safe sidewalk areas and unsafe vehicular or shared areas, the removal of signalcontrolled intersections causing difficulty in locating and utilizing designated cross-points, and the use of materials which make orientation difficult.

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The design suggestions proposed by Guide Dogs include the creation of a “safe space” in shared space schemes. This safe space would provide a protected haven for those who do not feel comfortable in a shared space environment but would not prevent the remainder of the area from being shared by those who do. The use of contrasting flush curb lines has been proposed to provide visual differentiation for the partially-sighted; and addition of low profile curbs, tactile paving with truncated domes, or starkly-differentiated surface treatment for the shared space area has also been suggested as design supplements for a more legible built environment for the blind and partially-sighted. The challenge remains of how to clearly delineate the safe space without the use of a traditional curb and without building a blatantly channelized design that fails to achieve the reduced traffic speeds associated with the creation of spatial ambiguity. The borough of Ipswich in Suffolk County, UK engaged the Guide Dogs group for consultation in the development of a shared space scheme. Many of the same tactics for reducing the negative impact on the blind and partially-sighted were proposed for Ipswich. John Pitchford from the Suffolk County Council wrote about the experience, stating that “we must listen to these important groups and recognize the issues that they raise,” that all decisions on how to proceed should involve a “balanced assessment of all the issues necessary to achieve the scheme objectives,” and finally, that despite concerns that are raised in the process, “we shouldn’t reject the whole principle, particularly if it has been agreed by the wider community” (Shared Space project 2008a, 29-31). This last point of compromise over outright rejection must be adopted by those who wish to responsibly introduce shared space designs into their community. Addressing the needs of the disabled will require a deviation from strict shared space design principles, but the total idea need not be rejected. In addition to representing the concerns of the blind and partially-sighted, the Guide Dogs report included input from other disability groups. The report indicated that representatives for the elderly and physically disabled have concerns regarding the shared space design, most especially in the feelings of vulnerability that are associated with being unable to navigate the

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shared space deftly. Further, the Guide Dogs report contained a note from The Royal National Institute for Deaf People that identifies concerns with the shared space designs related to the inability of deaf and hearing-impaired people to hear vehicles approaching and to their need to focus more on their companions than on their surroundings. This reduced level of environmental cognizance could put the deaf or hearing-impaired at particular risk in a shared space design. Further, in the paper Shared Space: Safe or Dangerous? A contribution to objectification of a popular design philosophy, Drs. Rob Methorst et al. from the Netherlands and Denmark provided a criticism of the underlying assumptions of shared space previously mentioned. They found that “making it safe by making it seem dangerous” relies on the false assumptions that all road users are adequately able to detect risks, recognize danger, and successfully use non-verbal negotiation and that they will act in a socially conscientious manner--opting for deference to the more vulnerable party instead of exerting their will upon them.. Additionally, they find that a system designed around the abilities and mental facilities of the strongest party has an ethical implication that “smells as the law of the jungle.” (Methorst et al. 2007). Methorst et al. found that, for the above mentioned reasons, children, the elderly, and people with handicaps bare the brunt of the negative impact of shared space designs. This vulnerable group, by their accounting, includes 25% of the population. They also noted that bicyclists in some towns with shared space designs are involved in s proportionally high numbers of accidents and the vast majority of people prefer that the bicycle was given a clear choice on its position in the network instead fluctuating in a shared middle ground. Ironically, these groups are exactly the vulnerable segment of society that the shared space designs seek to accommodate and protect by slowing traffic, removing physical barriers, and fostering a culture of mutual responsibility amongst all road users. In the United States the concept of shared space may face additional challenges due to our regulatory environment and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the notoriously litigious nature of our society, and the long time history of the car as king. Despite these apparent

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challenges, a number of significant shared streets concepts have been recently employed in the United States. Also, there are some cases where local regulations are being rewritten to address the issue directly to avoid any potential ambiguity. Portland, Oregon’s Festival Streets are a good example of how the European shared space design ideals can be instituted in an American framework. The Festival Streets are two singleblock-long curbless streets in the Chinatown neighborhood completed in 2006. These streets are not “true” shared spaces because they provide a dedicated walkway area on both sides of the shared space, yet they contain shared street principles such as decorative paving patterns, a grand entrance that denotes entry into a special zone, and the use of unique decorative street furniture. Festival Streets get their name because they are designed to be closed down periodically to vehicular traffic to be used as an area for festivals, markets, and other celebrations. The Festival Streets designs also include several items that address accessibility concerns and federal accessibility regulations. Elements such as tactile detectable warning strips in the line of travel at road crossings and the use of tightly-set smooth pavers in the ‘through pedestrian zone’ have been employed to aid accessibility. While these elements address some of the concerns that were raised by the blind and partially-sighted community, the pedestrian access route is separated from the parallel vehicular route only by a line of parked cars and large bollards that are set eleven feet on center without any detectable warning elements. These elements were intentionally not installed because the specific ABA-ADA guidelines under which the project was designed do not require them1. Testing of the street by representatives from the Oregon Commission for the Blind indicates that it would be possible for a blind person to “veer into the street without detecting material change, bollard, parked car, or other obstacle, especially guided by an inexperienced dog” (Vanderslice 2007).

Vanderslice notes that “the new draft Guidelines for Accessible Public Rights-of-Way issued November 2005 don’t discuss the need for detectable warning or a separation when the pedestrian access route is parallel to a vehicular way”

1

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In nearby Seattle, Washington a different interpretation of the shared street concept was utilized on Terry Avenue North. Terry Avenue North is a six-block-long street in the South Lake Union neighborhood that has been designated as “heart location,” which means it should play a central role in defining the neighborhood character as a gathering place, flush with pedestrian amenities. For the Terry design, ADA regulations required a 36-inch wide tactile warning strip along the areas where pedestrians move into the hazardous vehicular zone without a traditional sized curb2 [2]. An alternative approach the City of Seattle chose to implement was the use of a two-inch curb along Terry with a 70% contrast to adjacent materials. This approach, while a deviation from the tenets of pure shared space and shared surface designs, has proven to be an effective alternative means of compliance with accessibility regulations (Seattle DOT 2005). Another unique aspect of Terry is that the street incorporates streetcar lines. While cycling on Terry is not banned, the City has designed attractive bike facilities along the streets that parallel Terry to encourage cycling there in lieu of on Terry with the risks inherent to cycling along streetcar lines. In this case, the addition of another transportation mode to the shared space mix has caused planners to want to limit the use of the space by bicyclists. While the importance of streetcars should not be discounted, their impact on other users and the function of the street should be considered when selecting final alignments. The city of San Francisco, California has taken measures to incorporate specific shared spaces regulations into their municipal guidelines, the recently published Better Streets Plan, which outlines best practices for changes to the public right-of-way. These guidelines suggest that shared rights-of-way greater than 15 feet wide should include visual/tactile clues to delineate the edges of the pedestrian-only and shared zones. These shared zones are not considered hazardous vehicular areas3 and are not bound to the same code which would otherwise require

2

This requirement can be found in section 4.29.5 of Pt. 36, App. A in Title III ADA regulation of 1991 which remains in effect until March 14th, 2011.

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Hazardous vehicular areas are defined as public right-of-way, vehicular street or alley with a 15 mile per hour or greater speed limit. M. Steenhoek 10 of 11

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36-inch continuous detectable warning strips. Because of this designation, shared spaces have latitude to incorporate such visual/tactile options as change in material texture, change in material color, landscaping, street furniture, or bollards. Shared rights-of-way less than 15 feet in width do not need special differentiation (San Francisco 2010). Cambridge, Massachusetts has a similar provision incorporated into their regulations that requires vehicular speeds of less than 10 miles per hour in areas designed as Shared Streets; however, the regulations do not speak to the need for warning devices of any kind, and many of the shared spaces in Cambridge are without designated safe spaces for pedestrians (City of Cambridge 2009, 23). While the exact relationship between local regulations and potentially-conflicting federal ADA regulations must be carefully determined, the creation and acknowledgement of shared space regulations with sufficient latitude to permit design flexibility is certainly encouraging. There are a number of changes to ADA regulations that have recently been enacted by the Department of Justice, and the full implications of these changes must be carefully evaluated by any jurisdiction looking to implement a shared space program. According to the planners associated with each of the American examples listed above, none have been legally challenged by accessibility groups or as the result an accident in the shared space zone. All indications also are that the spaces are well-accepted by the neighborhoods in which they were placed and that they are functioning as intended. As one planner from Seattle said, “they are working great, everyone is crossing all willy-nilly.” These factors indicate that our reputation for litigation and deference to the automobile do not preclude the successful use of shared space in America. The criticisms raised in Europe should be given great weight when considering the implementation of a shared space design in the US. Most of the American examples included already have taken significant measure through the inclusions of deliberate accessible design elements and protected paths to create spaces that are safe and legible for all users of the street. New designs should focus on creating an environment of safety and civility while still allowing the public realm to take back the street for use by people instead of solely by motorists.

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Bibliography
Baker, Linda. 2004. “Why don’t we do it in the road?” Salon.com, May 20. Retrieved from: http://www.salon.com/technology/feature/2004/05/20/traffic_design Barter, Paul. 2009. “Earning a Public space Dividend in the Streets.” Journeys, May 2009
City of Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2009. “Traffic, Parking and Transportation Regulations” Original October 2007, Revised August 2009 Engwicht, David. 2010. “Intrigue & Uncertainty: Towards New Traffic Taming Tools – Version 2.1”. Brisbane, Austrailia: Creative communities International.

http://www.lesstraffic.com/Articles/Traffic/Intrigue.pdf
Hamilton-Baillie, Ben. 2008. “Shared Space: Reconciling People, Places and Traffic” Built Environment Vol 34 No 2: 161-181 Hamilton-Baillie Associates. 2010. “Publications and Media.” Accessed November 22.

http://www.hamilton-baillie.co.uk
Lyall, Sarah. 2005. “A Path to Road Safety With No Signposts” The New York Times. January 22. Retrieved from:www.nytimes.com/2005/01/22/international/

europe/22monderman.html Methorst, Rob, Jurgen Gerlach, Dirk Boenke, and Jens Leven. 2007. “Shared Space: Safe or Dangerous? A contribution to objectification of a popular design philosophy.” Paper presented at the WALK21 conference, Toronto, Canada, October 1-3 San Francisco Planning Department. 2010. “San Francisco Better Streets Plan: Policies and Guidelines for the Pedestrian Realm” Final Draft, July 2010. Seattle Department of Transportation. 2005. “Terry Avenue North: Street Design Guidelines” Shared Space project. 2005. “Room for Everyone: A new vision for public spaces.” Report of the European Union Itrreg IIIB project ‘Shared Space’. Available via http://www.shared-space.org Shared Space project. 2008a. “Partner publication.” Report of the European Union Itrreg IIIB project ‘Shared Space’. Available via http://www.shared-space.org Shared Space project. 2008b. “Final Evaluation and Results.” Report of the European Union Itrreg IIIB project ‘Shared Space’. Available via http://www.sharedspace.org

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Thomas, Carol. 2007. Shared Space – Safe Space; Meeting the requirements of blind and partially sighted people in a shared space. Report for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association UK. TrafficCalming.org. 2008. “Types of Traffic Calming Measures…” http://www.trafficcalming.org/measures2.html Vanderslice, Ellen. 2007. “Portland’s Chinatown Festival Streets.” Provided to the author via email from Vanderslice.

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