Advice: How to create vibrant shared space schemes

Getting the best out of shared space schemes means improving the surroundings as well as removing segregation between the road and pedestrians, finds Ben Kochan.

The shared space in New Street, Brighton, is used by pedestrians, cafes and a few cars (PIC Gehl Architects)
The shared space in New Street, Brighton, is used by pedestrians, cafes and a few cars (PIC Gehl Architects)

Approaches on shared space schemes, which remove segregation between cars and pedestrians, are evolving. Until recently, there was a focus on carriageway modifications, removing the hardware that divided them, and resurfacing the street to create shared space, says Lindsey Whitelaw, a freelance landscape architect. "More recently there has been a greater focus on creating whole spaces, bringing new uses on to and around the streets," she adds. Peter Heath, public realm director at planning consultancy Atkins, concurs, pointing out that: "Successful shared space schemes involve both changes to the road and improvements to their surroundings".

Here are five considerations when designing roads and their surroundings to create shared space.

1. Slow down and smooth the traffic flow

A key requirement for shared space is to slow traffic down to below 20mph and smooth the flow, says urban designer Ben Hamilton-Baillie, of traffic consultant Hamilton-Baillie Associates. He says that, in order to create shared space, the road markings, street clutter, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings should be removed. "This makes drivers slow down because they are disorientated and engage with the environment outside their car," he explains.

2. Create interesting places

An important element of a shared space scheme is to create interesting places that drivers can engage with, says Hamilton-Baillie. He suggests that, when entering a shared space, drivers have to feel that they are entering somewhere special, and features and landmarks help to slow the traffic.  

Atkins’ Heath says that regenerating buildings along the road and creating activity along the street should be an important part of any shared space programme, to encourage pedestrian use. John Dales, director at transport planning consultant Urban Movement, cites the example of New Road in Brighton, which was redesigned as a shared space with generous allocations of outdoor private and public seating. "This allowed the bars and restaurants along the street to put out tables and chairs and the whole space is used for public events, he says. He points out that the number of cars using the road has also reduced. Whitelaw describes her scheme in Ashford, Kent, where kerbs, formal crossings and four sets of traffic lights were removed from a 1.1 kilometre section of the ring road. A new square was created in the town centre with development planned around it. "Instead of turning away from the road, the new Debenhams department store now opens on to it," she says.

3. Work with pedestrians to identify shared space locations

Many local authorities are adopting shared space uncritically, says Dales. "Councils need to look at their roads and pavements – and understand what the users, the pedestrians, want," he says. "Some road environments are so hostile to pedestrians that creating shared space would not work." Heath suggests that in some locations, "the traffic is such that you should consider diverting cars away from the street instead of turning it into shared space."

4. Involve users

Heath says that shared space schemes have largely proved popular and reduced the number of road accidents. But he acknowledges that they have come in for criticism from organisations representing the visually impaired, which have brought several legal actions. Dales says that it is important that local groups representing the visually impaired are involved in schemes from outset through to implementation. Shared spaces, he points out, do not have conventional features, like kerbs, which visually impaired people and guide dogs use to cross streets. He suggests that urban designers work with local groups to identify routes through the shared space. "Low kerbs may be required in some places," he says. He suggests that once the scheme is complete, it is useful to walk through the street with representatives from the groups.

5. Adapt the scheme to the location

There are some environments where pedestrian crossings are required, even if the space is shared, says Whitelaw. She says that, in her scheme in Ashford, "there are still a couple of courtesy crossings to help pedestrians cross the street".

Heath points to Exhibition Road in London’s South Kensington, where an 800 metre long space was given over to shared space. He says that bollards were used to designate areas for residents to park their cars and lighting columns to designate "refuges for pedestrians to get out of the flow of other pedestrians and cars".

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