Sunday, January 23, 2005

"Shared Space" and Road Design

James Joyner at Outside the Beltway comments on a NY Times article on Hans Monderman's "shared space" traffic design experiments in the Netherlands. Instead of relying on traffic signals, Monderman removes them, which creates a more anarchic space and one where drivers slow down and are more alert due to the action and unpredictability of the urban landscape.

Joyner suggests by his title that "unregulated" roads may be better.

It is important to remember that there is no such thing as an "unregulated road." What Monderman is engaged in is establishing more sensible design practices.

Most new roads built in the US--primarily in suburban areas--are designed specifically for automobiles. They are also designed specifically to handle speeds in excess of the posted speed limits. Your typical 4 lane suburban arterial road may have a posted speed limit of 45mph, but it is engineered to accommodate speeds up to 65mph or higher.

What Monderman has done is not to do away with regulation, but, rather, has designed the roadway differently with an eye towards multiple forms of mobility. He has narrowed roads, encouraged on-street parking, and put up visual "distractions" like trees and flowers to make the landscape diverse and give drivers more reason to be aware of their surroundings. He has also resisted calls to widen roads to accommodate more traffic.

Monderman accepts a simple principle that could be useful for planners in the United States to adopt: urban space should be shared and diverse in function. In order to accomplish planning on this level, there needs to be a clear commitment to multi-modal forms of mobility in our funding and planning processes. Due to the entrenchment of an automotive mindset in the US, this will be a difficult principle to realize in practice.