Welcome to the PPS/Mobycon Shared Space Resource

Old Town in Wichita, Kansas is an excellent example of how Shared Space principles help to create vibrant, thriving districts. Image: Sam Goater

For thousands of years, streets functioned as the most important public spaces in human civilization. Not only were they places through which people transported themselves, they were places in which to see and be seen, to trade, to play. Priority to street space was not given to to people dependent on how they were traveling through the space; streets were public spaces for everyone, they were shared spaces.

Over the last century, in an attempt to accommodate vehicular traffic, many streets have lost their sense of place. Cities and communities are struggling to balance the demands of ever-increasing traffic volumes, without harming the urban fabric that made them successful places to begin with.

As today’s local businesses compete with online retailers and big box stores, it is becoming ever more important that our Main Streets and neighborhoods create a welcoming environment that encourages people to go and spend time there.

Designing our streets to accommodate peak hour traffic has left many places with a lack of inviting public space in their centers. Image: Fairfield CT, Sam Goater

Many streets we see today are a product of a deeply entrenched “wider, faster, straighter” mantra of 20th Century Traffic Engineering. Streets have been designed to move as many vehicles through as quickly as possible. Widened roads, added lanes, and one-way street systems have led to a general lack of good public space and a disappearance of the ‘street’ as we knew it.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way! All over the world, communities, towns, cities, states and countries are rethinking how street space is allocated, and realizing the untapped potential of their streets. As we will see, neighborhood streets are becoming safe play zones for children, rural intersections reclaiming their place as important centers of communities, neglected downtown streets returning to major cultural destinations, and busy intersections are becoming great places in their own right. What is somewhat counter-intuitive, maybe, is that these changes can happen without making life difficult for drivers. Rather, the Shared Space concept is about creating a place, one that is welcoming for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike.

Shared space is a central component PPS’s Streets as Places vision, and together with our partners at Mobycon, we are developing this web-based resource to provide information to help communities incorporate shared space principles into their own transportation infrastructure. We will be initially releasing the resource in monthly installments, and migrating it to the PPS online resource library as it becomes more complete.

Many medieval European cities have retained their sense of place through the automobile age. Image: Dick van Veen

Join us next month, when we will be delving deeper into an explanation of Shared Space.

In the meantime, perhaps the best primer on the subject of Shared Space is this video from England, where a typical congested intersection in Poynton, Cheshire was redesigned as a human-scaled place, with startling, seemingly incompatible improvements in the quality of place, and traffic flow.

PPS/Mobycon Services

For over 40 years, PPS has been helping communities and local governments to reimagine their streets as vibrant, human scale places. For this resource, and for our future shared space projects, we have partnered with Mobycon, a Dutch — Canadian consultancy group headquartered in Delft, the Netherlands, who have over 30 years experience working on shared space projects across Europe, including collaborations with the late Shared Space pioneer Hans Monderman. Together, we offer design concept guidance to help communities work with transportation and planning agencies to apply shared space concepts on their streets. For more information, please contact the PPS transportation team or the Mobycon design team.