Since heavily researching investments into cycle safe cities around the world a new phrase “shared space” has propped up time and time again. So what is shared space and how can it pioneer new urban living? Shared Space is almost a blank canvas street, there are no road markings, pavements, curbs or railings, the road is effectively a flat open space between buildings. The theory behind this is to make the roads less dominated by cars. Without the demarcation of the curb there are no clear territorial boundaries between car, cyclist and pedestrian. It’s believed to create harmony for all by encouraging users to be more aware of each other, a very liberal give-way-to-all approach.
A close to home example is the transformation of Exhibition Road in 2011. As part of the mayor’s initiative to create space in the city the half mile strip underwent a 2 year project completed in December 2011.
The idea was to give responsibility back to the individual. Each motorist, cyclist and pedestrian would have to work together in a harmonised open space. Dubbed as London’s Cultural Heartland, the road attracts 11 million visitors a year, the space needed to accomodate these pedestrians and give justice to the enriched cultural spaces along it. Naturally the road had teething problems at the beginning, temporary “give way to pedestrians” signs were made permanent and two way traffic signs literally hat to be spelt out to drivers as “two way traffic drive on the left-hand side”. It may be too early to report the benefits of this scheme but the road has since won a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) award and a Community Award from the Institute of Civil Engineers.
Similarly, New Road in Brighton was originally a car dominated road with many cultural hotspots that were lacking in accessibility. The scheme to transform the road into a leisure haven for pedestrians was co-designed by local people that se the space regularly through a series of workshops. In 2009 New Road won a Civic trust Award for creating a new cultural space that’s user-friendly, sociable a welcoming to all pedestrians and motorists alike. The transformation of the road has developed a new cafe culture and nightlife.
Shared Spaces can also be seen in many residential areas such as a close, residential development and estate. but are now being extended to busy main streets.
The Shared Space concept came from a Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman. Monderman observed that people’s responsibility for safety on the roads is discoursed to the many signs and regulations we adhere to. Complying with the road codes meant there was no need to use judgement or courtesy and a battle for right of way was problematic. He suggested to remove all instructive material, strip the roads bare to a surface and allow people to use their personal responsibility and interact with each other. It’s very similar to office etiquette. You hold a door open for the person behind you, allow the hurried person towards you space to bypass in the hallway and you walk at an acceptable pace aware of others around you. A good example of this on the road is traffic light failures at major junctions, you automatically become more cautious when approaching and reduce speed to allow yourself time to observe. Although the signals are not directing your movements several cars manage to move steadily and safely through the junction without much bother. Something tells me that this wouldn’t work for Cairo as they practically are blind to any formal traffic instruction, have very few road markings or railings and have decades of experience self-judging traffic situations terribly. In this case though it works.
With the rise in street parties and social outdoor gatherings thanks to the Queen’s Jubilee and Olympics shared space streets would be a welcomed addition to the Make-London-Social campaign this country seem to be slowly embracing.