Share if You Dare

Haren Shared Space

I have found myself in conversations about Shared Space many times. I will be told how wonderful is Shared Space is, and how it will solve all our traffic problems. When I point out that it doesn't actually work, some people get quite indignant, though others have clearly heard from others (or worked out for themselves) that "it works until drivers get used to it", because they complete my sentence before me.   And "works" is rather a broad interpretation of the word. Shared Space is frequently applied to areas with high levels of motor traffic (indeed that it is what it is aimed at). That traffic doesn't go away, but drivers do initially become more cautious as they try to figure out the new, unfamiliar road scheme. But most journeys are made more than once, so the new layout wont remain unfamiliar. Then it's business as usual. This is true of any new road layout, including when a set of traffic lights fail at a busy junction.

Some Shared Space schemes do bring about an improvement, but this is not because the road layout follows the Shared Space rules. In any situation, some underlying road layouts work better than others, or differently at least. Traffic lights tend to produce stop-start traffic with high maximum speeds, so replacing traffic lights with a single-lane roundabout will reduce speed variation and make motor traffic less threatening. But it makes no difference if the roundabout is traditional or a Shared Space "roundel". However, Dutch engineers have made subtle changes to conventional roundabouts that make them work much more safely than British roundabouts and Shared Space roundels. And some Shared Space schemes have been a complete disaster; crossing Exhibition Road in London is now difficult and risky, and a Shared Space in Coventry resulted in a death.

People will have a pet Shared Space scheme, not realising it either doesn't work well, or that the same effect could have been achieved for considerably less money with conventional techniques and no consultants. This usually follows my pointing out the problems associated with a number of other Shared Space schemes. These are dismissed with "well it's obviously not a good example", or "it's not a true Shared Space scheme". There are an astonishing number of Shared Space schemes that fit those descriptions.

The photo at the top of this blog post shows a good example of a "true" Shared Space scheme (Haren high street). We know it is, because the person who invented Shared Space said so. Does it look tempting? Would you be enjoying the diesel and petrol fumes? Do you, as a pedestrian or cyclist, fancy seeing if the drivers of all those motor vehicles are willing to share the space with you, or your children? If you think they will be significantly more willing to do so than on a conventional high street, go ahead and ask the council to blow a vast amount of your (tax) money on consultants, block paving and fancy street lamps. But just ask yourself a question first. What do you think will put that commercial truck driver in a better frame of mind? Block paving, or not being delayed by the long queue of cars making a journey of under a mile because their drivers were put off cycling by the lack of protected cycle lanes? Alternatively, visit Haren, as I have done, and find out for yourself that you could have had the same experience on Kings Heath high street for a lot less cost and hassle. Yeah, Haren looks better, but the experience of being bullied by drivers is just the same, and should you be run over in Haren, I'm guessing you wont be admiring the block paving as you lie there with a crushed foot or a broken leg.

So over in our Research section myself and veteran cycling campaigner David Cox OBE have created a "web book" on Shared Space. It describes the theory, and the reality in a number of locations, including in Birmingham. I suspect I know what some of the comments will be on our Facebook page. If you plan to post a comment of the form "Have you seen X? It's supposed to be working really well.", the answer is very possibly not, but we likely know another cycling campaigner who has, and (s)he found it to have all the usual problems associated with Shared Space. Personally I've read about a lot of Shared Spaces, and seen a few, and the experience does not tempt me to waste my time travelling the country looking at more sinking block paving, artistic lamp posts, queuing cars, people struggling to cross the road, and pavement cycling.

Also in our Research section you will find "web book" chapters on what does work. Ask the council for this, not expensive bling.