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  • If I showed you two big intersectionsone with a bunch of signs, traffic lights, and

  • boundaries, and one with no markings or apparent rules at allwhich one would look safer

  • to you?

  • Towns all over Europe are starting to experiment with streets like this: where cars, bikes,

  • buses, and people can travel freely in the same space.

  • I think this looks like an accident waiting to happen.

  • But I know someone who would know a lot more about this than I do.

  • I'm Roman Mars from 99 Percent Invisible.

  • And that's what urban planners often refer to as a “shared spacedesign strategy.

  • It seems counterintuitive, but there's evidence that getting rid of all signs and barriers

  • might make our streets a lot safer.

  • Sohow does it work?

  • There's a spot in Google street view where you can witness a town undergoing this exact

  • transformation.

  • This is Poynton, Englandabout 20 minutes away from Manchester.

  • Here's the city center in May 2011: there's a mess of signs and lights, a few small sidewalks,

  • and some haphazard guardrails to keep pedestrians safe.

  • And here it is in July 2015.

  • Traffic lights, road signs, curbsall gone.

  • Something very strange is happening on the streets of Britain — I don't know

  • if you've noticed, but in some places, pavements and roads have been blurring into one with

  • cars, buses, and pedestrians all sharing the same space.”

  • The town spent 4 million pounds to expand sidewalk space and strip the city center of

  • traditional demarcations.

  • Now, the only marker left is this little sign: Poynton shared space village.

  • The concept is that the absence of separation will make everyone more cautiousso commuters

  • slow down, make eye contact, and negotiate.

  • Watch what happens when a boy in Poynton is encouraged to cross the street without waiting

  • for the cars to clear the intersection.

  • Because cars don't spend time waiting at traffic lights, it takes less time on average

  • for them to get through the crossing.

  • Even when bikers and pedestrians are absent, cars drive slow due to a concept callededge

  • friction.”

  • It's the idea that nearby vertical elements in a driver's peripheral visionlike

  • trees or lamps, create a visual cue for how fast they're going.

  • On a highway, those are often totally absent, so the sidelines blur.

  • In a shared space, those lines play an important mental trick to slow down drivers.

  • In theory, shared space works well for pedestrians, allowing them to follow their desired path

  • while walking.

  • Instead of being limited to a strict path, they can walk exactly in the direction they

  • want to go.

  • n In practice, that doesn't always seem to

  • be the case.

  • Video footage of a shared space at Elwick Square in Ashford, England shows that pedestrians'

  • mostly still stick to crosswalks, or where a crosswalk would be.

  • That's largely because these layouts are stressful: The majority of a survey group

  • asked about crossing Elwick Square reported feeling anxious about it.

  • And those pedestrians frequently report that they prefer things the way they used to be.

  • But theway things used to beis relative.

  • If you look at old footage of city streets in the early 1900s, cars mixed freely with

  • pedestrians, bicyclists, and streetcars.

  • Vehicles couldn't go very fast back then, so there wasn't a huge concern about separating

  • them from walkers and bikers.

  • With plenty of city streets, that's still the case without any intentional urban planning.

  • But the big question is whether these deliberately stripped-down designs actually make people

  • safer.

  • It seems that in many cases, they do.

  • For one thing, we know that the number of accidents drops after shared spaces are installed.

  • In Ipswich, rates of accidents involving injuries fell from 23 over three years to just one

  • per year.

  • In London's Kensington High Street, the number of pedestrians injured dropped by nearly

  • 60 percent.

  • And in Drachten in the Netherlands, accidents at one intersection fell from 36 in four years

  • to two in two years.

  • We also know that shared spaces are quantifiably more free-flowing based on analysis of traffic

  • conflicts.

  • With video footage like this from Exhibition Road in London, analysts can rate the severity

  • of a traffic conflict based on participants' speed and change of course.

  • Before the shared space renovation, one pedestrian had to step back onto the sidewalk to avoid

  • a departing car.

  • Another broke out into a sprint to avoid getting hit by an oncoming van.

  • After the shared space installation, traffic conflicts were less frequent and less severe on

  • averagelike this, where pedestrians wait for a cab to cross before continuing.

  • Or this one, where a cyclist changes course to avoid pedestrians.

  • But that doesn't mean these designs work for everyone.

  • “I think it's the most ludicrous idea I've ever heard.

  • What about blind people?

  • Children?”

  • From the beginning, shared space designs have been under fire for providing insufficient

  • protections for disabled pedestrians, especially the visually impaired.

  • The family of a pensioner who died a month after being hit by a bus have called for traffic

  • lights to be reinstalled at the junction.”

  • Traffic lights here were recently removed to make way for a so-called shared space, but it's

  • a move that has angered David's family

  • “I'm sure if the traffic lights were there,

  • this wouldn't have happened

  • A 2015 House of Lords report called for a temporary ban on shared space designs.

  • And in August 2016 a select committee of the House of Commons launched an inquiry into

  • the accessibility of such environments.

  • Their final report in April 2017 asked the government to put all shared space schemes

  • on hold until they improved the process of consulting disabled communities.

  • Preliminary designs like these by the Danish Building Research Institute give us an idea

  • of what that balance might look like.

  • They include both the mixed traffic of shared space and the raised street textures and button-activated

  • crosswalks that disabled users are used to.

  • Shared spaces can be effective, but for this kind of plan to work across communities, it

  • will require a lot more research to determine what will work in different places and what will serve

  • the needs of all the people sharing the streets.

If I showed you two big intersectionsone with a bunch of signs, traffic lights, and

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B1 US Vox shared space traffic disabled safer

Road signs suck. What if we got rid of them all?

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/18
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