Shared Space


Shared space is a streets planning concept, pioneered by the late Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, that promotes the reduction of barriers between pedestrians and vehicles, and the elimination of traffic signs and signals. According to shared space advocates, this lack of vehicle direction makes drivers more aware of their surroundings; rather than speeding through a neighborhood, drivers are forced to slow down and be conscious of other vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians.

As Ben Hamilton-Baillie, a shared space advocate and English traffic engineer explains[1],

If you’re faced with a traffic signal, you don’t have to think anymore. Whether you go depends on whether the light is red or green. In the absence of such things, we’re perfectly capable of reading and understanding the situation so that if grandma’s in the road ahead of you, you don’t run her over.

First Europe, Then the UK


Monderman spent much of his later career implementing shared space schemes in small Dutch towns such as the city of Drachten . This approach was found to reduce crashes and injuries in many locations. The shared space concept has now been used in the small German town of Bohmte, in Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom.

Hamilton-Bailie, of the UK, has shown that shared space principles can work on roads with 20,000 vehicles/day – a moderately large arterial street. More recently, it has been successfully applied to Kensington High Street in the Borough of Kensington, with a traffic volume exceeding 40,000 vehicles/day [2].

Shared Spaces Cross the Pond

In the U.S., shared spaces are being implemented in Seattle, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, and Santa Monica in the west, and Cambridge, New York City, and other places in the east[3]. Applications have also occurred in the new urbanism communities of New Town at Saint Charles, Missouri, and the South Main development in Buena Vista, Colorado.

The City of Santa Monica, California, is working with consultants and residents to design what it calls a “living street.” The 40-foot wide surface of Longfellow Street will be transformed to a single, two-way lane just 14 feet wide. Vehicles approaching each other will need to squeeze carefully past at very low speeds. A parking lane on either side will be surfaced with water-permeable pavers, and a 5-foot landscaped area will provide the street edge. There are no sidewalks, so pedestrians will share the street with drivers and bicyclists. Decorative, colored concrete will be placed in intersections to indicate the unique character of the street to motorists.

Accommodating Visually Impaired Pedestrians

Since the shared space concept usually involves removing curbs and placing the sidewalk at the same grade as the street, engineers are required to come up with new ways to signal to provide tactile cues to visually impaired pedestrians entering the street. This can be done using edge treatments such as differently textured paving materials or stamped asphalt that provides a warning when walked on or swiped with a cane.

Despite the many challenges involved, Patrick Siegman of Nelson/Nygaard, one of the designers of Longfellow Street, argues that the U.S. should be able to adapt readily to shared spaces. He argues we in the U.S. already have considerable experience with shared spaces in the form of large parking lots at malls, grocery stores, and many other places. He says a similar arrangement on a street is not all that different.



Each source is referred to by the same number every time it is cited. Please keep citation style consistent.
[1] James, Kyle. "German Town's Traffic Plan: Remove Signs, Curbs." National Public Rado. January 19, 2008.
[2] Hamilton-Bailie, Ben. 2008. Shared space: reconciling people, places, and traffic. Built Environment, v. 34, no. 2.
[3] Langdon, Philip. 'Shared-space' streets cross the Atlantic, New Urban News, October-November 2008.


Pictures are cited in the order they appear above. Please keep citation style consistent.
[1] Hans Monderman in Holland. Photo by Sociate via Flickr.
[2] Shared space street, Drachten, Holland. Photo by Sociate via Flickr.



home zones, traffic calming, naked streets, traffic controls, signs, placemaking, street design, living streets, livable streets, textured paving