Demarcating Multi-use Spaces

As living space becomes a scarce and crowded commodity, it will have to work harder. Both indoors and outdoors, the spaces we share will be designed to serve multiple functions, for different types of user.

As living space becomes a scarce and crowded commodity, it will have to work harder. Both indoors and outdoors, the spaces we share will be designed to serve multiple functions for different types of user.

We looked at shared streets: where traffic, cyclists and pedestrians have equal priority - and where road-markings are replaced by a visual 'map' of textures and colours.

What we said in 2016

"Although it may at first appear counterintuitive, the advantages to this approach are many... multiple use of space is a crucial key to the final re-evaluation of the city in all its diversity!"

"The aim is to change the way that streets are used and to improve quality of life, by making them places for people and not just for traffic."

Well-considered landscaping is vital to Home Zones' effectiveness. These areas need clear gateways to define them, and a tactile and visual language to delineate uses. Shared spaces are complex, particularly in terms of choice of materials.... we're having to reassess the use of materials, to have something that has a visual flow, but is safe."

Looking back

Whilst the principle of shared/multi-use spaces seems like a practical solution to optimising shared spaces, there were early questions around potential clarity, complexity and counterintuitivity of removing established, commonly understood street navigation cues.

With just three years' hindsight we now see how, in the surge to redefine how our shared spaces function, urban landscape practitioners may have overlooked the practicalities of not only changing the way we 'read' our streets, but also how different users rely on commonly understood cues to ensure their safety.

This has raised a great deal of debate between pro- and anti-shared space campaigners.

Where we are now

The debate at the heart of the shared-spaces issue is: 'Does the idea behind making streets more inclusive for all users actually render them less inclusive for some members of society?'

Antipathy towards the concept has become amplified in the last 12 months, following an accident on the UK's multi-award-winning flagship shared-space Exhibition Road in Central London, where a taxi-driver struck a group of people leaving nine hospitalised.

Despite DfT guidance that shared spaces were intended "... to change the way streets operate by reducing the dominance of motor vehicles, through lower speeds and encouraging drivers to behave more accommodatingly towards pedestrians...", campaigners including the Royal National Institute for the Blind say that the lack of kerbs, no specifically indicated crossing points and a reliance on eye contact has turned some city centres into "no go areas2 for vulnerable pedestrians.

Conversely, Cheshire East Councillor Howard Murray says that the shared space scheme in Poynton had been "... almost an unqualified success" since its introduction in 2012. He went on: "I accept some people find the uncertainty disconcerting, but it makes it safer,"

What's changing?

In July 2018, the UK DfT imposed a moratorium on the roll-out of shared-space schemes while they re-evaluate Government advice on the issue. Their 'Inclusive Mobility Strategy' states: "We recommend that Local Authorities pause the development of shared-space schemes which incorporate a level surface while we review and update guidance."

Whilst the future of shared spaced in the UK remains under scrutiny, the USA's parallel 'shared-streets' programme is seen as a positive move in the regeneration of city spaces and continues to '...emerge as a growing trend in the United States'. Meanwhile, in the home of the shared space, Dutch streets saw 40 percent fewer collisions after becoming 'woonerfs' (shared-spaces). Indeed, in the Netherlands two million people live in 6,000 shared-space streets, proving that maybe pedestrians, cars and cyclists can occupy a space on equal - and safe - terms.

Our research tells us that there is a growing number of shared spaces worldwide in countries as diverse as Japan, Canada and Israel - so we think that the principle of sharing a space on equal terms works - as long as every user knows the rules.

Whether the UK becomes the exception remains to be seen, but we think that this remains a growing global theme worthy of continued observation.

How the story has developed