Mark Armstrong attended the IPENZ Transportation Meeting on July 16th, where Pieter de Hann from the University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden, Holland, gave a presentation on the philosophy and history of the urban design approach known as ‘Shared Space’.

The concept, first proposed in 1991, employs people’s natural ability to negotiate spaces and obstacles and perceive movement, along with a natural inclination to employ good manners, to reduce the dominance of vehicles, their speeds, and road casualty rates in spaces shared by vehicles and pedestrians.

Typically, it is used on narrower streets within the urban core and as part of living streets within residential areas. It is achieved by minimising demarcations between vehicle traffic and pedestrians, often by removing features such as curbs, road surface markings, traffic signs and other obvious regulations, creating a greater sense of uncertainty. By making it unclear who has the right of way, respect between all road users is achieved.

De Hann showed the psychological impact of the Shared Space approach makes drivers feel like intruders or guests on the road, instead owners. Street furniture near the curb, wider pavements and defused road/pavement delineation all give drivers the impression they are travelling fast and should slow down. Drivers also become more attentive and are more aware of other users.

De Hann gave, as an example, an intersection at the centre of ?? in England, where Engineers replaced traffic lights with two “roundels” that drivers must negotiate without the guidance of signs. Pavements of varying colours and textures are the only signal as to which type of road user belongs where. “It has a very calming effect,” says one resident, “and I think we’re all being kinder to one another; motorists and pedestrians alike.” You can watch a very good video about it here.

In Auckland, several streets have been turned into shared spaces, including Elliot and Darby Streets, Lorne Street, the Fort street area, and Federal Street by the Sky Tower. Auckland’s first shared space is Wairepo Swamp Walk, completed mid-2010. This was one of a number of transport infrastructure projects improving transport services around Eden Park as part of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.