Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Let’s discuss Shared Space

with 14 comments

The need for this post stems from the use of twitter. In 140 characters you can be witty, snappy, concise – though a lot of people aren’t. And the back and forth can look like a debate, or sometimes just a trading a fixed positions. This one started because Gordon Price tweets the posts on his blog – just as I do mine. But instead of there being a debate under the blog post, this one took – or rather – is taking place – on twitter. And it needs a bit more ventilation than that.

It started with A Radical Old Idea for the intersection of Burrard and Cornwall. “Essentially it would square up the intersection, making it much more like a typical part of the classic Vancouver grid, adding some green space while retaining the number of lanes and capacity.” I suggested that more could be achieved if it was given a more radical treatment. And Richard Campbell responded that shared space is less safe for cyclists and pedestrians – especially  pedestrians with disabilities.

This has now cropped up again with the release of a new video about the reconstruction of a major intersection at Poynton in Cheshire, UK. While a lot of shared spaces treatments have been successful in residential areas (“Woonerfs” for instance) their use on urban arterials is still controversial

Exhibition Road in Kensington London is another example of shared space treatment of a very busy combined arterial road and urban shopping street. I am pointing to a discussion of that scheme as opposed to a diatribe – or even a peer reviewed learned journal article, because I think there is indeed need for an exchange of views. As opposed to trading blows between preconceived positions.

One thing does need to be stated at the outset, and that is that places are – and should be – different, and local people need to be consulted about what they want to see happen in the places where they live. Even a peer reviewed paper can be distracting when the “before” situation looks a lot more like shared space already (compared to typical Vancouver arterial intersections) – and the objectives seem to be a lot less clear than Poynton.

Obviously Burrard and Cornwall is not directly comparable to Poynton. There is much less retail activity in the immediate vicinity, for instance. And the only thing that the current City proposal seems to want to achieve is keep the intersection working as it does now, but get some more green space. Poynton’s objectives were much grander – lets try and rescue our village from economic oblivion. I also found it very encouraging that there are now more cyclists there than less- and that vulnerable pedestrians (a mum with a stroller and toddler, a lady in a wheel chair, blind people with and without guides) all find the new arrangements preferable. There is also a sort of chorus, from locals who were at least skeptical if not outrightly hostile but  who now support the scheme.

It is indeed possible to find other examples that were less successful, but that does not damn the whole approach. It simply illustrates that these things need to be designed carefully, and you may well need to go back and redo some things in the light of experience. What is clear is that our present obsession with concentrating on keeping the cars moving quickly is not working from the perspective of other road users. Furthermore, the conventional road safety approach of adding barriers, signs, signals and hard landscaping not only proves unsatisfactory in terms of improving overall safety – but fails in terms of place making. Because what Poynton wanted to do was create a place where people would want to linger. If they spend more time there, they might well spend more money. They might actually enjoy visiting Poynton, and go there more often, instead of the out of town superstores and big box centres.

But what is also clear is that when humans are enclosed in steel safety cages, and look at the world through a screen, they miss all the signals that we are so good at sending each other – nonverbally. Which is why pedestrians tend not to collide with each other very much. Unlike motor vehicles. And when motor vehicles collide with pedestrians and cyclists it is not the driver of the vehicle that gets hurt. Taking cars out of the mix works – but only by creating more car only streets. Places where people who are not driving are forbidden – and speeds are increased. Collisions are fewer but of much more frightening intensity. Cities evolved long before motor vehicles were invented, and the experience of getting cars – and car drivers – to behave better within cities has always required them to slow down and pay attention to other road users.

Shared space does seem to me to more productive of overall urbanity than an all out war on the car, and one that is likely to be much more successful – on a whole range of measures, including collision numbers and severities.


Written by Stephen Rees

February 14, 2013 at 6:00 pm

14 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Well, for starters, this example really is not shared space. There are separate well defined spaces for pedestrians and motorists as well as crosswalks. There is way too much traffic for pedestrians to walk on the road nor would vehicles be welcome on the sidewalk. A much better term would be slow space.

    While it creates nice separated space for cars and peds, there is nothing for all ages cycling. The few cyclists in the video were mostly MAMILS dressed up like Christmas trees in florescent vests. Clearly a sign that while improved a bit, it is not a welcoming place to ride a bike.

    An easily solution would have been to create separated bike lanes so peds, bikes and cars would all have there own safe space.

    Bikes and peds certainly don’t mix well. Shared paths have much higher injury rates than bike only paths. People walking, especially seniors, don’t like cyclists whizzing by.

    If you want to see what it would be like to cycle on the road, just try any of the high car traffic sections of bikeways in Vancouver during rush hour; 10th between Cambie and Oak, Cypress by Cornwall, etc. Then imagine 5 times the number of cars. Not great for brace adults and certainly not appropriate for children.

    Now for Burrard and Cornwall, traffic levels are around twice as high as in Poynton so one lane would not likely work. Two lanes in one direction are simply too dangerous to cross without signals.

    Now the non roundabout roundabouts might work nicely along Cornwall at intersections like Cypress. They could enable the road to work fine with one lane in each direction thus leaving plenty of space for separated bike lanes.


    February 15, 2013 at 12:21 am

  2. I do not think we need argue about definitions. I think the important point is that they managed to slow traffic down without uses of signs, speed cameras and so on, and achieved safe space for pedestrians to both walk and linger as well as cross the street without lots of fences and so on. They also managed to create a far better urban environment while enhancing what was there.

    “there is nothing for all ages cycling” is quite an extraordinary statement. The area is a great deal safer for cycling than it was before, because the traffic has been slowed, and the drivers are now much more aware of other road users, as evidenced by the video. Middle Aged Men In Lycra may just be the leading edge of cycling – the first to dare venture into the street after its redesign, the others sure to follow once they realize it is no longer a death trap.

    “Bikes and peds certainly don’t mix well.” Not here they don’t. Mainly because of the people who treat cycling as a work out as opposed to transportation. And poor design of (most of) the infrastructure – like much of the south side of False Creek, for instance. They can mix well – and can be seen doing so in other cities. And the only time I have had a collision on my bicycle was on the BC Parkway and as a result of a very poorly designed path (since rectified) and a younger superfit cyclist trying to break some speed record by cutting corners.

    Poynton had two lanes of traffic in each direction, and lots of traffic signals. So it is indeed similar to plenty of shopping streets in Greater Vancouver. And it now moves the same volume of traffic but in only one lane in each direction – leaving more space for people.

    There are indeed elements from the design that could be used in Kits. For instance, the idea of a gateway – a clear indication to the motorist that from this point on you are not on a highway. Heading south on Burrard Bridge, and sweeping around that wide turn into Cornwall, the transition to shopping street is at the intersection with Cypress. Traffic needs to be slowed before that not least to improve crossing opportunities for pedestrians.

    There is also a great deal of unused space underneath the bridge. Poynton does not use grade separation.
    Maybe there is a need to construct a new bike route from the end of the bridge that takes through cyclists over to Creelman (the only parallel route to Cornwall) and then though the park. It seems to me that there is enough room to do that but something like the Copenhagen snake might be considered.

    I suspect the cost and visual impact of overhead bike routes might take a while to become acceptable here, so perhaps it could be worthwhile recalling the old adage “the best is the enemy of the good”. I would not say that Poynton is perfect. It is indeed also possible that in an objective analysis, the needs of cyclists do not in fact always trump those of every other road user. And that physically separated bike lanes are not the only solution that has to be imposed everywhere.

    “for Burrard and Cornwall, traffic levels are around twice as high as in Poynton” – perhaps you could provide a source for that. Some figures do get mentioned in the video – but I have not yet managed to find an article to supplement the video. It must be buried in the later pages of my Google search. I assume that data on traffic here is from the current consultation process?

    And I assume that “brace adults” is a typo for “brave”

    Stephen Rees

    February 15, 2013 at 9:24 am

  3. Adding separated bike lanes to Poynton would not have really any negative impacts on the public space or pedestrians. Really puzzling that they were not concidered.

    Wheel vehicles like bikes, cars, etc are much less manuverable than pedestrians and really require lanes. Pedestrians like to walk side by side and often take up the full width of a path. Pedestrians especially children, often make sudden movements darting in the paths of cyclists. Mixing anything more than small volumes is frustrating, stressful and not safe unless the space is really really wide (10 metre or more probably) where cyclists can plot a path staying far away from meandering peds. Shared space with very low car volumes for example.


    February 15, 2013 at 9:56 am

  4. From

    The intersection had 26,000 vehicles per day. Burrard and Cornwall has between 50,000 and 70,000 per day (all bridge traffic passes through the intersection).

    Poynton was considered the very upper limit to such schemes. It is hard to think there would be much chance of one lane of traffic working.

    Lastly, the name is important. The space is not designed to be shared so it should not be called shared space. They introduced colour and texture differences to solve the challenges that the visually inpaired and others have with shared space.

    They successfully slowed speed, which is a great result. That should be celebrated. Mixing this up with spaces that are really shared spaces just creates confusion.


    February 15, 2013 at 10:15 am

  5. The sad truth of the matter is the only time Burrard & Cornwall works for pedestrians is immediately following fireworks when the sheer number of jaywalkers forces traffic to come to a complete halt.

    The rest of the time it’s a seemingly endless series of delays waiting for one segment of the traffic to stop and then another. It can be faster to walk all the way to Cypress, cross there and walk back than try to go straight across. Closing half the bridge to pedestrians also increased the number of people forced to cross Burrard. The proposed re-design at least simplifies life for pedestrians even if it achieves little else.

    Re-directing cyclists to parallel routes, and their refusal to be forced to take the “long way around” is one of the reasons for this whole thing. Proposing new bypass routes for cyclists seems like more of the same and likely to suffer the same fate.

    I’m not sure any grade separation is feasible or even possible. The bridge is considered a heritage structure and there would be much gnashing of teeth if any visible changes were proposed. There has also been a change in land ownership recently. First Nations now control the land under and immediately adjacent to the bridge. New ramps for cyclists are unlikely to be a high priority for a group looking to maximize land usage.

    Further reducing capacity on the bridge by removing another lane (and thus restoring both sidewalks for pedestrians) would re-direct some traffic to the under-utilized Granville bridge, but like cyclists most drivers would rather queue for the direct route than go a few blocks out of their way. It’s the “I own the road” mentality that’s really to blame here and it will take something radical to shift attitudes even one tiny bit.


    February 15, 2013 at 1:39 pm

  6. Richard, thought you express a cyclist viewpoint, all your reasoning is the one held by motorist in the 70’s, this of course for the good of pedestrian and all other vulnerable user: you want a separate an exclusive path for your favorite mode of transportation. fair enough, but it is a lobbyist viewpoint,

    It could be a good option, in some case, but, in many others it is conductive of very inefficient use of space. Since here is the point which has favoured the “re”- introduction of share space:

    In Europe, more than anywhere else, streetspace is at premium (10m is a wide street in Europe) and have separate lane per transportation mode is simply a too inefficient allocation of space, and in practice can’t be achieved (getting rid of all non pedestrian traffic, the approach of the 70’s -80’s has also its limit, since people/goods need to access the shop, and walking is good 10mn, not much more – so extension of pedestrian realm in Europe, as known today, could have not be possible without the shared space concept ).

    At the end, as mentioned by Stephen, this fordist approach of segregating movement per mode, is sterile and very anti-urban.
    The natural way for a street to thrive is to allow a certain amount of entropy on it, that is what Janes Jacobs observe, a “complete street”, and this is the organic way successfull street work – that is the “shared space” concept is the default way street has always worked up to the advent of the motor car. and don’t make mistake, before the car street were populated by more impressive horses hauling cart with very poor breaking capabilities.

    Yes, that could involve that cyclist can’t go as fast as they want, as well as many other user, mainly transit, so we have to find the right equation to keep the city moving but having an ideological approach on it is not the best way to ove forward.

    True Poynton was considered the very upper limit to such schemes. but since it works, may be it is not the upper limit.
    Notice also it relies on double mini roundabout, something Brits are very used at. So eventually, it works well because in UK, traffic calming measure are not a novelties anymore, and road user are familiar at what to do – Clearly any British roundabout is much better designed than anything similar you could find here.

    That could be a problem of local traffic engineer education and belief. Shared space, are naked concept, and work well because of it, “naked space”, which then demand higher level of awareness from the rmotorist. The concept is counter intuitive enough that some traffic engineer, want provide sense of safety to the car (or cyclist), what make the space dangerous for pedestrian: those examples are cherry picked by opponent of the philosophy to explain it is dangerous.


    February 15, 2013 at 9:41 pm

  7. Three points I haven’t seen made

    1. The thin-ness of the car approach is important, both to slow-by-squeezing the cars but also to shorten the pedestrian crossing distance. You’d be hard pressed to get more than two or three lanes traffic down to one, I’d imagine.

    2. New Pacific Boulevard, the viaduct replacement road, has something like Poynton’s traffic numbers (2000 / h at peak, lets say 12h peak to be generous = 24 000 per day vs Poynton’s 26 000). Maybe, Stephen, this is the battle to fight?

    3. Playing Devil’s advocate, because I want to hear the defence, the video shows a long line-up entering the intersection. The defences I presume would be a) it moves slowly constantly, so clears the intersection in a similar time to start-stop signals; b) it spreads the idling fumes and noise over the street, rather than clustering them at the intersection, so meeting the placemaking goals. I’d love some stats on at least the former though.

    neil21 (@neil21)

    February 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm

  8. @voony

    Please don’t say what others do or don’t think. Speak just for yourself.

    Don’t call people lobbyist either. Stick to the facts and evidence.

    Don’t create straw men either. My comments are just to this and other similar situations.

    I have stated several times that shared space can work for all ages cycling where vehicle volumes are very low.

    This not the case in Poynton.

    It is really no excuse why they could have not provided separate space for cycling. Parents certainly would not let their children “share” the road with trucks.

    While adult cyclists probably don’t want to be stuck on the road behind vehicles breathing fumes from vehicles. It is really not healthily. People will likely cycle in the ped space which is not great for cyclists or peds.

    The bottom line is that there is overwhelming evidence that forcing cyclists to “sharing” space with anything but small volumes of cars will result in very low levels of cycling.

    With pedestrians, large spaces are required for sharing with cyclists to work. The sidewalks are probably not big enough for successful sharing.

    Bottom line is that decisions should be based on evidence of what works in what situations and what does not. Don’t treat anything including shared space as a magic bullet. It is one tool of many. Sometimes it works, sometimes it won’t.


    February 16, 2013 at 12:25 am

  9. So basically you are not happy that Poynton is described as “shared space” yet what you really object to is that fact that cyclists are expected to share space with other slow moving traffic. And that is because of traffic volume not speed.

    We can agree that your data shows that the Poynton case and Burrard at Cornwall are not comparable – and I accept that.

    It also seems to me that the issue on Cornwall is not too much traffic – but traffic that moves much too quickly. There is not enough space provided for either pedestrians or cyclists. There is also a great deal of on street parking.

    Traffic coming off Burrard Bridge southbound – cars and cyclists alike – is sped up by the slope downwards. In order to provide better crossing opportunities, those speeds must be reduced and clearly the fast right turn lane is part of that problem. Putting in a 90º right turn will help at redesigned signals. But the main benefit the city claims at this intersection is simply green space – and I do not accept that as Good Enough. The only reason roundabouts do not work well for peds and cyclists is insisting on them crossing at the intersection. Fortunately there is, as I said, a great deal of space available and a much better set of solutions can thus be explored. The “jug handle” turn for cyclists (south to eastbound) could be eliminated too.

    Along Cornwall there is room for both wider sidewalks and bike lanes. I would get that space by taking out parking. By using the narrower lane for slower traffic it should be possible to put the bike lanes inside the parked cars. Which I think we can all agree is a better place for a bike lane when possible.

    Poynton is not so much an example as a happy coincidence. And it is not so much their design elements we need as the design approach. And calling that “shared space” is entirely appropriate because the reason it works is that it reminds drivers that they are not the only – or the most important – road users, and there has to be give and take. Right now the approach we are using here simply reinforces the current “cars first” mindset. And that is what I want to challenge here.

    Stephen Rees

    February 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm

  10. I’m not entirely convinced about ‘Shared Space’. In our village we have ‘Shared Space’ on some residential streets, but cars don’t share: they tend to use their bulk and speed to intimidate pedestrians into getting out of the way.

    In the example above it seems cars are driving slower because they see a risk of accidents with other vehicles. If there isn’t another vehicle coming from another direction they seemed to be driving faster.

    That said, it doesn’t matter why the cars are slower: slower moving vehicles are safer for pedestrians either way, and the extra space is a good thing, but from experience I think that drivers speed up on a straight road if it a shared space street or not.

    I can also attest that if many drivers get very stroppy if I ‘slow them down’ by riding on a shared space street where they can’t pass. After two gegerations of having more and more space given to them, drivers don’t seem to be able to share space with anyone else.

    Andy in Germany

    February 16, 2013 at 12:34 pm

  11. I have seen countless of “Shared Space” in Japan since my first trip in the mid-90s. They weren’t planned but are a result of the narrowness of many streets in older districts where there is a mix of homes and stores.
    These streets don’t have a sidewalk, only a painted line about 1 metre from the outside walls of houses and businesses.
    That painted line delineate a path shared by pedestrians, bikes and the odd delivery car or special delivery trucks (that are quite narrow and short)

    Whenever a car or truck is parked on that path, 2/3 of it is actually on the pedestrians, bikes and other cars have to negotiate the space…
    It works just fine, not because Japanese are saintly, which some of them are definitely not, but because there isn’t a car driver that isn’t also a pedestrian and a bike user.

    Many urban Japanese, for example, do not use their car to go to work. They leave it during working hours in the special off-street parking near their home that they rent or own, and use a (cheap) bike to go to the nearest rapid transit station. They may have another bike at their arrival station.
    As in Europe a bike is used by most people for short trips in their neighbourhood, including to the rail station. They don’t go fast and wear normal city clothes(men in business suits, ladies with skirts and high heels. If it rains both sexes wear a hat and ride the bike holding an umbrella with one hand).

    One amusing detail is that homeowners and business owners in older residential streets where lots are just a bit bigger than the building on it, use a sliver of land in front of their home or business as a “garden” made of dozens of flower pots. Car drivers manage to park inches away of these pots…

    Red frog

    February 16, 2013 at 11:57 pm

  12. […] Let’s discuss Shared Space […]

  13. […] most of the discussion of this innovation has occurred on crunchy-leaning urban design blogs, and is uniformly uncritical. On some forums you can find a few skeptical comments from cyclists […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: