The concept which is originates from Holland, is based on the idea that a lack of obvious rules around priority instils a sense of citizenship and ‘other awareness’.
In theory, this does make sense—we are, in today’s society of regulations, control and applied safety measures, less vigilant of potential dangers through our expectation that there is a structure or process which will protect us if we choose to wander off mentally.
Shared spaces do not work for everyone, as those with a sight or hearing impairment or learning difficulty may be unable to rely on their senses or thinking processes in the way that shared spaces require one to. To account for this, some Local Authorities who have developed shared spaces in their town centres are offering training to disabled people who may be at risk in a shared space environment. However, as shared spaces are themselves more of an ‘approach’ rather than a set structure, training is considered by many to be inadequate to ensure safe passage for disabled people in a shared space zone.
Through research that has been undertaken over the last decade, where shared spaces have been trialled, it has been found that they can work for low traffic areas, where people and drivers have enough time to consider the needs of others and anticipate the movements of those in their sight. In low traffic areas, drivers are more likely to reduce their speed, and without the anonymity of being in a large queue of cars, individual drivers sense increased accountability for their place on a shared space. They have not, however, been found to be as safe or effective in busy city centres or other high traffic areas, and this is particularly the case for hearing and visually impaired individuals who can find the lack of defined walking or priority crossing areas confusing and disorienting.
Looking forward, perhaps we must go back to the place where the concept of shared spaces originally emerged. In Holland, many of the Shared Spaces zones have been removed, transformed back into clearly defined pedestrian and vehicular areas. Whilst some have been found to work – an example of a fully fledged shared space working well can be found in Makkinga in the Netherlands, there is clearly a long way to go to build trust, function and accessibility into a concept which relies on self and other awareness to succeed.
Accidents by design – Holmes report on Shared Spaces in the United Kingdom