Monday, December 13

Taking Streets Back

I ride from point to point as safely as I know how, whether my route has bike lanes, paths, potholed two-lane roads or whatever. This does not mean I don’t have views on these various things, nor a vision of what might be better than what we have today. Certainly, I’m a fan of smooth pavement. You might infer that I am not an uncritical fan of bike lanes, or even MUPs. All my most spectacular owies have occurred on such things. What I have not talked about in this blog is what I think would be better. One such I ran across thanks to Bruce Rosar.

Bruce Rosar was a Bike League Director until he was killed on his bike last year. Bruce was also involved in urban travel corridors that go far beyond the bike lane/path/sidewalk/sign/barrier mania that grips us. It is called “Shared Space.”

One BIG problem with all the plethora of modern traffic controls and safety devices (including bike lanes) is that their engineering, and apparent safety, leads to reduced road user attention, which leads to yet more engineering, even less user attention, and the humanity of the transportation route gets eroded as the spiral continues. Throughput becomes an end in itself, and channeling leads to marginalizing road users other than the motor vehicle driver, whose speed and destructive potential overwhelm everything else. The “roads were built for cars” refrain becomes true, which leads to it becoming even truer. People recognize this instinctively, because anything else is inconvenient, ridiculed, or even officially discouraged. When I was growing up, there were no bike lanes or helmets, and it was expected that we would ride on the road. There were a lot less traffic lights and signs. People drove slower on the same roads they drive today, despite the addition of many engineering items intended to help. Seeing the spiral, one might wonder if this might be a case of paving the road to hell with good intentions.

Shared Space takes a different approach. Instead of reducing the driver thought necessary to get places without collisions, Shared Space recognizes that NOT being insulated and separated from other road users is not necessarily a bad thing. Shared Space removes the barriers, stop signs, and most of the channeling devices. What? That would produce a bloody chaos, you might think! And so it might, except for the same factor that makes my current riding approach safe. People don’t want to run into stuff, and they will proceed to minimize that risk in accordance with what they have learned and experienced in the past. If the Armco barriers, stop signs, traffic lights, and lane markers are gone, motorists slow down – and pay attention. Pedestrians look before they leap. The video below shows a Shared Space from a road user perspective. The particular video was shot in Bohmte, Germany, which removed most of its road signs back in 2007.

Because people have to actually pay attention to where they are going, it turns out that collisions drop. More than that, they drop DRAMATICALLY. What’s more, this has occurred in many different places. If you think about it, it isn’t so silly – you really can’t text message people when you have to pay attention. People text in situations when they think there’s nothing much that they have to worry about – like at stop lights and on boring, over engineered roads.

Certainly, Shared Space cannot be used everywhere. I-30 in North Texas or the M1 in Britain cannot be adapted readily. It works best in places where things are urban, but traffic is not so heavy that terminal gridlock would result. There are many areas in Dallas and Fort Worth Shared Space might work. Less certain would be suburban areas. Certainly, an awful lot of signs could be ripped out, and new development can take advantage of the principles, but I fear places like Colleyville and areas of Orlando might be just a bit TOO post-auto dominance.

Shared Space has been adopted in other places. In the UK, for example, Seven Dials and Kensington High Street in London have both implemented variants of Shared Space. They claim a 43% reduction in collisions when two-year reference periods are compared. Brighton High Street claims a 93% reduction, along with doubling of cycling and pedestrians. That is CERTAINLY a lot better than what has been achieved in places like Portland or Davis.

Perhaps, what we need is not more infrastructure, but less...

Bohmte, Germany. Note the Lack of Advisory Signs

Go HERE for a good, though lengthy, English video on the subject

6 comments:

Trevor Woodford said...

Very interesting post - I am very keen on shared space..!

Pondero said...

That is FASCINATING...on so many levels. Thanks for the enlightenment.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine pointed out that people would drive much more safely if seat belts were removed and sharp spikes were welded to the middle of the steering wheel...

Anonymous said...

continued from above...

... with all the enhanced safety features built into cars, the consequences of driving recklessly or inattentively are lessened so much that drivers feel almost no fear.

Steve A said...

No seatbelts and a spike in the steering wheel - that'd be a Jaguar XK120. Just to keep it fun; add marginal brakes.

PaddyAnne said...

Very interesting post. But for me, until drivers get on board with the fact that roads are for everyone, I'll be sticking in and loving the bike lanes. It may be a bit of a cop out, but I sorta like this particular life I have. I have hope for the future but I think it will take more bikes being ridden and drivers getting used to seeing more bikes out there.

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