Shared Space: Safe or Dangerous?

A contribution to objectification of a popular design philosophy

Shared Space is a compelling concept, there is no doubt about that. The main return from the projects is a substantial improvement of spatial quality. Shared Space is a reaction to the ugliness that resulted from an exaggerated problem solving oriented approach of traffic and transport engineering.

All showcases relate to situations where the road has both a sojourn and a traffic function and where it proved to be impossible to limit the quantity of car traffic. Here Shared Space offers a compromise, but the toll is paid by pedestrians and bicyclists.

There appears to be a large discrepancy between the theoretical philosophy of Shared space and its actual practise. Due to participation of the population and commercial interests in practise the principle of sharing space is — fortunately — not implemented so rigorously as the concept name suggests. Thus compensation is offered for the weak points in the vision, caused by flaws in the assumptions made.

In general one can conclude that in all show cases objective traffic safety indeed has improved. With regard to road safety Shared Space is favourable compared to the old situation, but probably a Sustainable Safety principles based design, also taking into account spatial quality, can produce even better results.

There are a number of questions that need to be dealt with, namely:

  • Improvement by creating danger?
  • Can the approach be implemented successfully on traffic arteries? What about the barrier effects?
  • Can the approach be implemented in metropoles, where traffic is more hectic and social relations more anonymous?

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