Last edited 26 Feb 2021

Shared space in the built environment

New Road, Brighton - shared space wikipedia.jpg
Shared space scheme, New Road, Brighton. Photo source: Wikipedia

Adopted by some local authorities in the UK and in parts of continental Europe, shared space (also known as shared surfaces) is a relatively new concept which is intended to reduce or remove the physical divide between pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. The aim is to improve the urban environment and foster a sense that urban space is for everyone, not just cars, and not just the inhabitants of an area but also the people passing through it. Shared space offers a more holistic approach to planning, designing and maintaining public space that emphasises social responsibility and a sense of community. Streets become more of a place and less of a route.

It aims to change driver behaviour, the idea being that drivers will respond in a more caring manner if they know they are sharing the same space as pedestrians and cyclists. This is achieved not just through a series of traffic-calming measures but through a realisation on the part of all users that in a shared space they must behave more responsibly and accommodatingly towards each other. It is claimed that the result is a safer environment for all users.

Typically, a shared space environment is one where:

Such an environment may create a more pleasant setting that may tempt more people to walk, linger and socialise – if they feel they will be safer.

[edit] Critics

Some regard the concept of shared space as overoptimistic and suggest it goes against some of the existing evidence.

The Royal National Institution for the Blind (RNIB) says that for blind and partially sighted people, shared space design often means the removal of detectable kerbs, tactile pavement markings and signal-controlled crossings, which are very important for navigation, accessibility, inclusion and safety. Shared space may make streets safer and more accessible for some but not for blind people.

They can also create confusion amongst other users, particularly if they have not used the space before.

The Holmes Report (Accidents by Design: The Holmes Report into Shared Space, 2015) was highly critical of the shared space concept based on research and polls. It found 63% of respondents to the shared space research reported a negative experience, while 35% said they actively avoided it. The report called for “an immediate moratorium on all shared space schemes until thorough impact assessments can be conducted”.

The UK government’s guidance document LTN 1/11 (Using shared space to improve high streets for pedestrians) was withdrawn in August 2018.

NB The London Plan, published by the Mayor of London in March 2016, suggests that shared space is: ‘A concept defined in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy as one which suggests a degree of sharing of streetscape between different modes and street users, requiring everyone to consider the requirements, aspirations and needs of each other. Key to successful implementation of schemes is a reduction in dominance of motor vehicles in streets, especially where there are heavy pedestrian flows, and a degree of negotiation between road users. Each improvement must be designed in local context, be consulted on (including with blind and visually impaired groups) and be carefully monitored.’

Trees in Hard Landscapes, A Guide for Delivery, published by the Trees and Design Action Group in September 2014, defines shared space as: ‘…an urban design approach which seeks to minimise demarcations between vehicle traffic and pedestrians, often by removing features such as kerbs, road surface markings, traffic signs, and regulations.’

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