Planners' nightmare may be boon for safety

 Photo by  Matt Ball

Photo by Matt Ball

The idea of introducing shared spaces to public places is intuitively obvious to most people. These spaces increase walkability, promote community building and create vibrant places for socializing and commerce.

Bring a municipal fire department, public works department, and planning department into the discussion, however, and you'll generally hear a different view.  

Perhaps counter-intuitively, evidence shows that the less orderly a place is for cars, the fewer accidents there will be and the more people will want to spend time there. If municipalities truly want to create safer, more vibrant public spaces they may be wise to plan for what they might otherwise view as chaos.

Interesting article from (amusingly) "The American Conservative" below.

"Why Shared Space Scares"

From: The American Conservative

Author:  Jonathan Coppage

"Can shared space work in the United States?

Surely not, was the response of many to my recent article describing the movement seeking to de-engineer and re-design our streets. For some reason this is the objection that immediately emerges everywhere the idea of shared space is raised: the British think ‘that may work for those upstanding Dutch, but not for us,’ Americans think ‘that may work for those nice Brits, but not us.’ Even in-country, you will often hear, ‘that may work in a small town, but not Jersey,’ ‘not Boston,’ ‘not where I’m from, have you seen these crazy people?’

I’m still sufficiently traumatized from my past experiences on Boston’s roads that I’ll bracket Beantown for the time being, but this is a very understandable, even desirable reaction. For shared space, the idea that pedestrians, bikes, cars all have equal claim to the street and should navigate the common space socially rather than hewing to the dictates of century-old traffic engineering, is intentionally scary.

Hans Monderman, the father of the shared space movement, made his name with the 2001 redesign of the Dutch town of Drachten’s town square. A town of 45,000, Monderman saw accidents fall from eight annually to one, yet was pleased to hear“that residents, despite the measurable increase in safety, perceived the place to be more dangerous. This was music to Monderman’s ears. If they had not felt less secure, he said, he ‘would have changed it immediately.’”

The rapidly growing English town of Ashford recently implemented a shared space design, so that “Without street signs, pavements, road markings or traffic lights, Ashford’s Elwick Square is confusing. Pedestrians cross from all angles, and some cars stop at the sides, while others make U-turns even though there is no roundabout.” The Financial Times reported, “In the three years before the scheme opened in November 2008, there were 17 accidents involving injury on this stretch of ring road. Since its creation, there have been just four.”

The FT also interviewed “Rebecca Skinner, a cleaner who crosses the road every day,” who said, “‘It looks nice, but I don’t feel safe at all. What makes drivers stop is making eye contact, but they might not be looking at you.’”

Ms. Skinner’s reaction is what every Monderman acolyte dreams of hearing. Under the influence of Prof. John Adams of University College, London, shared space designers recognize the influence of a “risk compensation effect,” whereby the comfort provided by a network of signs and lights relaxes the natural alertness one would carry into an environment shared with 2,000 pound steel machines. The discomfort induced by the alien shared space environment helps keep a pedestrian’s head on a swivel, and encourages active negotiation of the space, with eye contact and hand waving.

Now a few scattered projects are bringing shared space back to American shores. Chicago is implementing a near-shared space design on a four-block stretch in Uptown, with no sidewalks, stoplights, or crosswalks, and minimal signage, andFastCoExist notes that “shared streets exist in Seattle, Washington and Buffalo, New York.” It quotes Seattle Parks and Rec project manager Patrick Donoue as declaring, “Naysayers said, ‘People are going to get hit’ … Well, it just hasn’t happened.” Bombastic British car presenter Jeremy Clarkson declared about the Ashford scheme before it was built, “Someone is going to die, you idiots.”

Ben Hamilton-Baillie, Hans Monderman’s shared space heir, told me in an interview that he sees shared spaces working across the world, extending to Latin America, because the principles involved deal in human nature, not the particular hospitality customs of a few bike-happy Euro cultures. Such a claim can be overstated, but it is important to recognize that “shared spaces” were not a branded innovation but the almost unanimous state of the street across the world until the engineering interventions that accompanied the ascendancy of the car.

If we have been sharing spaces from the beginning of organized human settlements, then we may very well find latent hard-wiring ready to ease our transition in ways deeper and more complex than a traffic engineer could imagine. As Prof. John Adams says, “Road safety is not rocket science—it is much more complicated!”

This post was supported by a grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation."

CREDIT/SOURCE: The American ConservativeJonathan Coppage

Parking by-laws that threaten a downtown/village core

There is a perennial argument put forward by zoning enthusiasts that large, proximate parking lots are necessary to manage/handle car traffic to local businesses. This has led to the decimation of otherwise vibrant downtown business sectors and compounded the problem of car-centric sprawl in the suburbs. Have a look at this video. It probably won't win an Oscar, but it's a great summary of what happens when municipalities insist on each business having their own private, proximate, dedicated parking lot.

Credit to Matt Taylor:

Online shopping can't compete on 'place'

What if it turns out that bad zoning is one of the big threats to small retailers?

Recent media reports have lamented the surge in online shopping and the negative impact this is having on small local retailers. This follows years of similar stories about the threat that suburban big box stores pose to local shops.

Naturally, the debate about what to do to protect small retailers continues to focus on price competitiveness and product differentiation. But what if part of the solution lies beyond the retailers themselves? What if the design of our streets, villages and urban centres is partly to blame? What if it turns out that zoning is also a real threat?

Before zoning enthusiasts became obsessed with planning around the efficient movement of cars, our villages and downtown cores all had this thing called 'Main Street'. This was a place where people gathered, socialized, kept their finger on the pulse on their community, worked, and... shopped.

The zoning imposed segregation of our cities and towns - and the consequent segmentation of our connections with our community - has meant that we work in one corner of town, play in another, and shop in yet another. Central gathering places - places where our professional, recreational and social lives can collide - have been all but banned. This has produced many unintended consequences: not the least of which has been relegating retailers to the outer fringes of our communities.

If we don't have a community or social connection to our retailers, should it come as any surprise that we start looking for bargains online? If the only interface between us and the purveyor of our goods is a characterless suburban outlet in a sea of asphalt, is it really a big stretch to think that an increasing number of us might take to looking for internet-based bargains?

Without the social interaction, proximity to home, and the broad availability of a mix of goods, services, and entertainment that our main street used to provide, what do we have? A pretty big incentive to shop online. That's bad news for all local retail and it's bad news for anyone who thinks that community is important.

Local retailers will never be able to compete with online outlets on price. They likely can't compete on variety either. But they can compete on 'place'. Build an attractive, vibrant, multi-functional, pedestrian friendly main street and you're building a place where business can thrive and a community can prosper economically and socially.

Sean McAdam

Welcome to the LANDLAB blog

 LANDLAB - Hendrick Farm

Welcome to the start of the LANDLAB blog. We will use this space to post articles, web links, pictures and other information for those interested in land use, development trends, and the transformation of spaces into places. We'll also post periodic updates on some of the projects that we are working on. We hope you will leave your comments on any of the posts you find here and that you will come back to visit us often.