Shared space on streets and roads

Perceptions of safe walking and cycling routes relate more to visual separation than physical barriers. Bushes provide little, if any, protection for pedestrians and cyclists, but they are sufficient to give a sense of safety. That was a finding in a new report from Germany. So the issues related to shared space on streets and roads is more about the sense of separation not provided by road markings.

Shared space on streets and roads is often contested space. In urban settings, shared space also includes sharing with buildings, street furniture, kiosks, trees and other vegetation.

A cycle-way divided by yellow bollards with a man on an e-scooter and a man on bicycle travelling in opposite directions. Pedestrians are visible on the separated footway.

Many pedestrians avoid shared paths due to the likelihood of cyclists approaching suddenly or silently. It makes them feel unsafe. Cyclists find they need to concentrate more when sharing space with pedestrians. So it seems the shared pathway experiment needs a serious review. What better way than to ask pedestrians and cyclists?

A total of 408 participants took part in a study on this topic. Four options were provided to participants using 3D virtual presentations followed by a survey. The four options for dividing shared space were, bollards, stones, bushes and no treatment. Both pedestrians and cyclists put bushes as their first preference and no treatment as their last preference. Visual separation in the form of lines or road and path marking are considered an insufficient solution.

The study also shows the importance of involving street and road users in design decision processes.

While the researchers challenged the concept of user integration, they do not recommend eliminating the shared space concept. Rather, they propose we re-think the shared space concept for all street and road users, particularly pedestrians who are the most vulnerable.

The title of the article is, Reimagining shared (space) street design: Segregating to better integrate?


The shared space concept proposes to reduce traffic control to integrate road users. Yet, defining boundaries to create a pedestrian safe zone is particularly relevant for a successful implementation. Therefore, to determine if road users also expect a protective barrier delimiting the safe zone, this paper presents part of the results of an online survey that evaluated the preferences of pedestrians and cyclists.

A total of 408 participants completed the survey and ranked the alternatives (i.e. none, bollards, bushes, and stones) according to their preferences. Approaches suitable for ranking data were then applied to further understand the results, which indicated that only providing a safe zone with visual separation is not necessarily preferred when compared to the provision of additional physical barriers.

Both pedestrians and cyclists prefer bushes over the presented alternatives. As bushes objectively provide less physical protection than bollards and stones, it can be assumed that the sense of segregation, rather than the physical protection itself, should be considered in shared space design.

By challenging the concept of user integration, this paper suggests reinterpreting the shared space design to combine physical barriers in an attempt to better accommodate vulnerable road users.

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