New Idea For Sharing Urban Roads? Sidewalks Removed on Busy London Street Forces Drivers to Slow

road sharingBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

It's a revolutionary change in traffic thinking. Sidewalks have been eliminated on a newly reconstructed stretch of Exhibition Road, in downtown London. The busy thoroughfare has been changed from the traditional sidewalk-and-road arrangement into a continuous smooth surface that is shared by pedestrians, bikers and drivers.

There are no crosswalks, lane markings, sidewalks, curbs, signs or railings. What you see (above) is what you get: a long road with large black and white granite cross-hatching. It's a perfect place for a pedestrianized route because three huge museums and a university front onto it and there are 11.5 million visitors a year to the area.

The concept for this "shared space" derives from a Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman. It is a different way of looking at roads: Shared space removes the traditional segregation of motor vehicles, pedestrians and other road users. All the usual roads signs and signs are replaced with an integrated, people-oriented way of looking at streets where walking, cycling, shopping and driving cars become integrated activities.

road sharingBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

Monderman found that when the road is stripped of traffic controls, drivers begin to take their cues from looking at people instead of signs. Although it seems counter-intuitive, in fact traffic moves more slowly and major accidents decline drastically. Local authorities in London have already found that when guard railings, supposedly preventing people from darting out into the traffic, were removed accidents dropped by 60%. The drivers on Exhibition Road are forced to proceed at a cautious 20 mph instead of tearing along.

road sharingBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

The pedestrian part of London's Exhibition Road occupies two-thirds of the road's width. The idea behind the cross-hatching was to subliminally encourage people to cross from one museum and building to another. In fact, now people can be seen crossing diagonally, which gives a much more casual and welcoming feel to the area.

road sharingBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

Disability groups were concerned that the blind would not be able to tell where the sidewalk ended and road began. In response "corduroy profiled tactile paving" was introduced to delineate the areas.

Although it has only been open for a few weeks, already there are more people walking on the streets instead of the underground tunnel, sitting on benches and enjoying the view.

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