Ben Hamilton-Baillie, the Bristol-based “urban movement” specialist who, along with Hans Monderman, is a central figure in Chapter Five of the book, has a new paper out, “Shared Space: Reconciling People, Places and Traffic,” in the journal Built Environment (PDF available here, along with Ben’s other writings), that fully articulates the theory behind, and application of, “shared space,” a movement that is often reduced to quick soundbites along the lines of “let’s rip out all the traffic signs.”
Beginning with the simple example of a skating rink — a place where “informal social protocols serve to keep skaters moving in a roughly consistent direction” — Hamilton-Baillie moves through the historical evolution of segregated streams of movement in cities (grade-separated tunnels and bridges), before moving on to the first experiments, by Joost Vahl and others, towards the “deliberate integration of traffic into social space.”
One of Hamilton-Baillie’s favorite examples of this, in an ad hoc way, is the Seven Dials crossing, in London’s Covent Garden neighborhood (I now try to visit the Dials whenever I find myself in London — and that’s me sitting there above — as it’s a fascinating place to sit with a coffee and watch people go by). Some Londoners even think, mistakenly, that the Dials is a pedestrian-only space, when in reality, there is a quite steady stream of cars passing by, often within feet of people sitting on the central island. In the 16 years since its renovation, the Dials has seen no serious injuries.
Hamilton-Baillie goes on to show that he implicit lesson of Seven Dials — that people and cars can seemingly coexist in a largely unregulated system (as long as the cars are driven appropriately) — is now being tested in a number of other environments. This would include the famous roundabout in Drachten, but there a number of others as well, such as the Skvallertorget (Gossip Square) in the Swedish town of Norrkoping. There, all traditional traffic markings, and “suggestion of priorities or linear emphasis,” have been stripped from the plaza (which sees some 13,000 vehicles per day), and instead a “distinctive paving pattern reinforces the spatial qualities.” Now, most pedestrians seem to walk directly through the square, mingling with vehicles (whose speeds have reduced), without any accompanying increase in crashes or congestion.
In any case, the paper is an authoritative, fascinating look at what its author terms “a radically different vision for the streets of towns and cities for the future.”