Think of navigating your way down a street with no lanes, no signs and no traffic lights. This sound dangerous, right? Well, maybe it’s safer than you think.
Co.Exist recently published a piece on the concept of shared streets: roadways that don’t give preference to drivers, cyclists or even pedestrians. These streets are being praised for their safety and success in reducing accidents because they promote serious concentration on everyone’s part.
The concept comes from the Dutch term woonerf, meaning living street. Many European cities have integrated these shared space designs into their streetscapes, hoping to slow people down and encourage recreational activity. Now, some U.S. cities like Seattle, Pittsburgh and (surprise) Buffalo, are catching on and transforming blocks of their downtowns into shared streets.
The streets are complete – or should I say, incomplete – with zebra crossings instead of lanes, minimal signage and maybe a stop sign or two direct people through the space. Flush curbs allow the entire street to be on these same grade from building to building. These streets encourage commuters to rely on their basic instincts rather than technology to give them the green light go-ahead.
Not ever street in the country can be turned into a shared street. But good examples of this design concept are popping up in small spaces nearby.
The city of Chicago is implementing a new 4-block shared street that calls for a speed limit of 15 mph for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike. It’s Argyle Streetscape Project, which has gotten a lot of buzz, is set to be completed next year. On a closer note, our neighbor Buffalo is transforming Allen Street into a new shared space as well. Maybe we should take a trip to feel it out once complete.
Shared streets give new meaning to public space. As multimodal throughways, they serve as part of both the transportation and destination cultures. People walk, talk, drive, ride, stop and sit on these streets. Some cities even call them “naked streets” since they give no distinction between sidewalks and the actual drivable street.
With so much going on yet so little direction, a significant amount of concentration and nonverbal communication is required to navigate these spaces. It’s also a lesson in respecting your neighbors, paying attention to detail and practicing eye contact. No more looking down at your cell phone during red lights. Alertness is key!
This innovative urban design idea is slowly breaking through pockets of cities in the U.S. You can easily see how they benefit both those on wheels and on heels. To learn more, check out this comprehensive article on the history, policy and benefits of shared streets by Project for Public Spaces, Where the Sidewalk Doesn’t End: What Shared Space has to Share.
Are you convinced that Syracuse could brave a shared street?