How to Reimagine Our Streets Around the Concept of Shared Space

CNU22 featured speakers from all over the world, from Bogotá to Toronto to Brighton. One plenary speaker from Bristol moved the audience with an idea called Shared Space that was beautifully simple and innovative, yet entirely new to most of the crowd.

Ben Hamilton-Baillie is a British urban designer, “recovering” architect and self-taught in the area of transportation planning. His presentation focused on explaining Shared Space as an urban design technique that can alleviate the frequently problematic interface between pedestrians, cyclists, automobiles and the public realm.

As the name would suggest, Shared Space advances the idea that streets themselves can be a seamless part of public space that is shared by all users. The method came from the Netherlands, where Hamilton-Baillie studied under transportation engineer Hans Monderman and Joost Váhl, who developed the Dutch woonerfs where pedestrians and cyclists have priority on roadways.

The concept also integrates a thoughtful assessment of human psychology as it relates to driving. “It’s essential to understand the changing view of the nature of risk,” Hamilton-Baillie explained. “Hazards keep us aware of our environment and allow us to adapt our behavior.”

This seems counter-intuitive, but it was effectively explained through an example of two cities in the Tel Aviv region of Israel.

Bnei-Brak, located east of Tel Aviv, is composed of largely low-income, ultra-conservative Jews. Ramat-Gan, also located east of Tel Aviv, is home to a more moderate, middle-income Jewish population. Hamilton-Baillie explained that the people of Bnei-Brak are known throughout the region as being unruly pedestrians. Adults and children cross streets with disregard for traffic. Locals know that they must be vigilant when driving there.

Conversely, the residents of Ramat-Gan respect pedestrian rules, crosswalks, and jaywalk less frequently. Drivers are more at ease in Ramat-Gan.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, there is a higher instance of pedestrian fatality in Ramat-Gan. Drivers in Bnei-Brak tend to cautiously drive at lower speeds, aware that there is a greater risk of a pedestrian appearing in the road. One can see in this example that increased risk makes for more attentive drivers.

Shared Space utilizes risk in the form of mixing cyclists, pedestrians and motorists on streets, and relies on the idea that removing lines and signaling allows for social protocols to take over more strongly than signs. This, Hamilton-Baillie said, is called “friction”, or natural cues that guide a driver’s speed. There is already an increasing awareness in North America that things like narrow streets, street trees and buildings built to the right-of-way naturally induce drivers to reduce speed without a speed-limit.

One might think that this friction would create delays, but evidence from project implementation has found the opposite, as did Hans Monderman’s projects in the Netherlands. And post-project evaluations, like in Poynton, UK, have confirmed the efficacy of Shared Space designs.

Poynton is a city southeast of Manchester. It is a throughway for traffic between the two larger cities of Macclesfield and Stockport. In this instance, vehicles were found to be passing on the main thoroughfare at a rate of 26,000 per day, many of which were trucks. The initial approach to relieve congestion was the construction of additional lanes of traffic.

Shared Space, however, was applied as part of a regeneration scheme in Poynton. The first task for Hamilton-Baillie’s consultancy was to “remove every trace of traffic engineering.”

Three lanes of cars were reduced to one, signaling was removed, additional on-street parking was introduced, and sidewalks were widened. There was increased edge friction through vertical elements within the driver’s line of vision.

Even after the removal of two lanes and signals, traffic flow stayed the same and pedestrian traffic increased five-fold. Before the project, 16 of 32 shops in town were boarded up; but within one to two years after project completion, all shop spaces in the business district were occupied.

Streets were able to concurrently be part of Poynton public space and serve through traffic – the change in aesthetics was remarkable.

It is certain that freight and car movement is critical to the healthy functioning of any economy. This fact is not contested. But since civilizations started building cities, they have been venues for people to roam – sometimes at odds with our economic necessity to move people and goods through them quickly.

Fast big things and slow small things do not mix well.

Shared Space demonstrates that these seemingly incompatible users actually function better when mixed within the city fabric – cars move more fluidly when drivers are forced to react to their surroundings instead of their actions being dictated to them. People are safer, too.

The outcome is that streets become a different kind of public space, where mobility means interacting with one’s surroundings.

When asked if he thought famously impatient North American drivers could adapt to the concept, he paused for a moment and said, “Everywhere Shared Space has been applied, I was told that the drivers in the locale couldn’t adapt. In every case they did.”

Dayton Secures $1M in Capital Funding to Launch Bike Share System in Spring 2015

Dayton Bike Share MapThe City of Dayton, in collaboration with Bike Miami Valley, Downtown Dayton Partnership and the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission (MVRPC), plans to start a bike share program in the spring of 2015.

The system will operate similarly to Cincinnati’s planned bike share system announced this past February. The main difference between the two, however, is that Dayton has secured $1 million in capital funding to build out the initial system of more than 200 bikes and 22 stations located throughout Dayton’s center city.

According to city officials, the bulk of the capital funding will come from a grant from the Federal Highway Administration Surface Transportation Program. The City of Dayton will then provide an additional $250,000 funding for capital costs and initial operations.

The accomplishment of securing the capital funding was one not lost on those at the press conference. Scott Murphy, director of business development at the Downtown Dayton Partnership, emphasized that Dayton is the second city in Ohio to secure the capital for a bike share program.

Even though Cincinnati officials have yet to secure the capital funding for their planned bike share system, they remain optimistic they can do so and start operations in 2014 – ahead of Dayton’s planned launch early next year.

Also unlike Cincinnati where a non-profit entity will manage the system, the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority will take the lead in managing the program, and in selecting an operator. According to Executive Director Mark Donaghy, a request for proposals will be issued in the next three months, and an operating contract will be awarded this summer.

Dayton officials estimate that the infrastructure will be delivered this coming winter, with the program becoming operational in the months thereafter. Bike Miami Valley, a local cycling advocacy group, spurred the whole effort to bring bike share to Dayton with the preparation of a feasibility study.

Findings of the study indicated that Dayton has a higher level of suitability for a program than some similarly sized cities that already have bike share, such as San Antonio, Chattanooga and Madison, WI. The study also estimated that Dayton’s system would handle approximately 50,000 to 70,000 annual bike share trips.

Local leaders are giving the program enthusiastic support.

“Bike share is a natural extension of our transit system,” stated Donaghy, who went on to say that the RTA was the first transit system in Ohio to equip its full fleet of buses with bicycle racks.

Such efforts to embrace bicycling have made Dayton a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community, as rated by the League of American Bicyclists. Community leaders in Dayton, however, intend to become reach the platinum rating by 2020.

Brian Martin, Executive Director of MVRPC, stated that the program will expand and enhance existing services of the Regional Transit Authority, while also helping reduce auto dependency. In part due to the study conducted by Bike Miami Valley, and the tangible changes taking place in Dayton’s center city, local leaders say they knew this was the right decision.

“The number of housing units in downtown Dayton has doubled in the last 10 years,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley told UrbanCincy. “We know this is what people want.”

Why hasn’t Cincinnati embraced bike share yet?

Small cities across the United States are finding success with bike sharing – the urban planning transportation fix du jour. Places like Madison, WI, Boulder, CO, Salt Lake City and even Chattanooga, TN are all reaping the benefits from their systems. While these smaller and less densely populated communities are able to make bike sharing work, why hasn’t Cincinnati been able to get a system of its own up and running in Ohio (Columbus has Ohio’s only bike share system)? More from Momentum Magazine:

But why have small cities taken to bike share? Well, largely because bike share is a low-cost solution for smaller cities to attract young talent and enhance their transportation network.

Being small certainly has its drawbacks when it comes to things like obtaining sponsorship and having a limited number of potential users, but it also has its advantages. Madison, Boulder, and Chattanooga were able to quickly harness community support, build strong ties with city officials and local institutions, and launch successful programs. Small is efficient; small is beautiful.