Not Good at Sharing

Development of shared space in Kimbrose Way, 2011

Development of shared space in Kimbrose Way, 2011

The Gloucester Citizen has been banging on for some time about the ‘shared space’ at Kimbrose Triangle, and last month they set up a petition calling on Gloucestershire County Council to “end the danger and install a proper pedestrian crossing before it is too late”.

Earlier this week it triumphantly announced that the council has given its support to the campaign.

I seem to be in the minority in disagreeing with the proposal.

The area in question is a short but often busy piece of road that links Commercial Road with Southgate Street. It is a major pedestrian thoroughfare linking the Docks and the city centre.

The problem is that when it was redeveloped a while ago it was decided that it should be a ‘shared space’. This means that neither motorists nor pedestrians have a right of way, but they must share the space, giving way as necessary.

Basically, everyone is expected to behave like responsible adults and reasonable human beings.

Perhaps that’s where the problem lies.

A quick Google search (other search engines are available) reveals that shared space schemes are generally unloved.

But surely they should be a good thing. This is the sort of behaviour we should be encouraging. Also, this approach seems so much more efficient. Let’s compare:

If you have a formal pedestrian crossing, such as a pelican crossing or zebra crossing, the pedestrian approaches the curb and stops. If it is a signal controlled crossing, they press the button and wait for the green man; otherwise they wait for the traffic in both directions to stop for them, which in the case of the zebra crossing they expect to happen pretty much immediately.

The pedestrian has had to stop and the vehicles in both directions have also had to stop, regardless of the number of pedestrians or density of traffic. The traffic has to remain stationary until the pedestrian is safely on the other side of the road or, in the case of a signal-controlled crossing, the lights turn green, which is generally a much longer period.

Everyone gets frustrated – especially if, as is often the case, the pedestrian who pushed the button has long since crossed the road without waiting for the lights to change and disappeared.

In the case of a shared space, vehicles move through at a slow pace. Pedestrians approach, judge the traffic speed and density and move through the slow moving vehicles with no need to stop or wait. No-one is inconvenienced beyond all having to slow down a bit.

Of course I recognise that this is an ideal that people generally fail to live up to. Car drivers often fail to behave like reasonable human beings and take the ‘might is right’ approach and refuse to slow down or give way to pedestrians.

Pedestrians, for their part, often fail to act like responsible adults and get all worked up if cars don’t pull to a stop and wait patiently for them to cross, as they have become accustomed to.

Okay, so it is different for the very young, very old or infirm, but that is where you really have to rely on drivers behaving like reasonable human beings.

This system works less well than it should partly because people are unreasonable, but mostly because people aren’t used to the concept of shared spaces. Although the concept has been around since 1991 they are not all that common.

There are two solutions to that: one is that we give up and go back to the old ways; the other is that we persevere until people do get accustomed to it.

If you have ever travelled to places like India or Egypt you’ll find that that is how everybody crosses everywhere, even on the busiest roads. To us it looks suicidal, but it works because everyone is used to it.

I think that anything that forces people to behave like reasonable human beings should be encouraged: surely it is worth persevering rather than resorting to painting ugly black and white stripes across the area and/ or installing yet more traffic lights.


About Darrel Kirby

I am what I am.
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5 Responses to Not Good at Sharing

  1. Personally I think the problem with this area is that no one knows where the road actually is. For drivers entering this area for this time the road just disappears and new pedestrians suddenly find themselves in the middle of traffic.

    • Darrel Kirby says:

      I agree that more signage would be useful, especially for visitors. I also couldn’t find any mention of shared spaces in the Highway Code – some guidance there would also possibly help.

  2. Mark Barnes says:

    I remember reading something quite a few years back where somebody had done research and found that the number of traffic accidents in city centres was greatly reduced if you had shared spaces and removed all signage. The assumption was that drivers would pass through at a snail’s pace and be ultra-cautious of pedestrians.
    I have noticed when driving through myself that I’m being very careful to stick to the 20mph speed limit, but cars ahead of me are pulling away from me. It seems like most people are still trying to drive at 30mph.

    • Darrel Kirby says:

      Unfortunately that is the ‘reasonable human beings’ problem: let loose behind the wheel of a car far too few people are. Not sure what we should do about it, but accepting it as an unalterable fact and living with it feels wrong.

  3. Pingback: So that was September 2014… | Darrel Kirby's Blog

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