Monday, January 21, 2008

Shared space in traffic planning

Honestly, I'm not sure exactly how this item relates to "field notes on the web", but it seems it ought to, somehow.

A few towns in Europe and elsewhere have implemented or plan to implement "shared space" in their downtown areas. Such a scheme replace the usual assortment of sidewalks, curbs, traffic lights, zebra crossings and so forth with a plain, flat unbroken unmarked paved area.

It sounds like a recipe for chaos, but it appears to work in practice. In the absence of markings, motorists tend to slow down and look out. Instead of assuming that no one is coming since the light is green, you'll tend to make sure no one's coming and be prepared in case someone is.

Naturally, this approach is not intended for main thoroughfares reserved for fast-moving car traffic, but only for areas where motorists, pedestrians and cyclists are expected to co-exist.

There appear to be statistics to back all this up, though I tend to think it's early days yet. It seems possible, for example, that drivers will become complacent once the novelty wears off, and it's not clear how well the existing examples would transfer to, a larger urban area or to different street layouts, or how much of the effect is due (at least in some cases) to replacing traffic lights with roundabouts. There have also been concerns from the blind and from cyclists.

Conversely, I'd want to have a look at areas of the world with less traffic apparatus and see what their statistics are like. Nonetheless, it's an interesting idea, and it has a vaguely webby feel to it (at least to me), so there you go ...

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