A recent flight offered me the time to read ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking by Eran Ben-Joseph, Ph.D.  (The Parking Professional cover story, May 2012. [PDF]) One concept that caught my attention was that of shared space designs for streets and parking lots.

Shared space involves the redesign of streets/land areas to blur distinctions between drivers and other users by removing clear-cut rules, signage, and traffic lights that should prompt caution, low speeds, and a negotiated approach to the right-of-way. In other words, removing the typical safety boundaries in a street or parking area creates an intentional unsafe environment. Creating an unsafe and unfamiliar environment causes drivers and users to be extra cautious.

Sound ridiculous?

Shared spaces has been widely used over the past 20 years in cities such as Delft, Netherlands; Bohmte, Germany; and Brighton City, U.K. Designers of a shared space plan in the Delft state, “Separating traffic flows blinkers people and causes an increase in speed. Because everyone has their one lane, people take less account of other road users.”[1]

This is an example of why more pedestrians are killed crossing the street at marked crosswalks than unmarked crosswalks. Pedestrians compensate for the “safe” environment of a marked crossing by being less cautious about the oncoming traffic.  The book, Target Risk, by Gerald J.S. Wilde discusses Sweden’s efforts to change from driving on the left-hand side of the road to driving on the right. People compensated for the new traffic changes by driving more carefully. During the next year, traffic fatalities dropped 17 percent, before eventually returning gradually to their previous levels.

Of course, a concept as radical as this does not come without its complaints. Coventry City, U.K., recently implemented several shared space designs in several of its town junctions in part of redevelopment plan for the upcoming Olympic Games. Many city residents are not happy with this plan, leading to a petition with more than 700 town signatures to put an end to such designs, as well as a Facebook page entitled “End Coventry’s ‘Shared Spaces’ Experiment.”

I am not advocating parking professionals take down all their parking and traffic flow signage and open up their parking lots to be used as public free-for-alls, but this concept is definitely worth looking into in more detail.