Shared space programs work by tearing up the sidewalks, removing curbs and erasing street markers as part of a radical plan to abandon nearly all traffic regulations and force people to rely on common sense and courtesy instead.
“Generally speaking, what we want is for people to be confused,” said Willi Ladner, a deputy mayor in Bohmte. “When they’re confused, they’ll be more alert and drive more carefully.”
The new pavement is a reddish-brick color, intended to send a subtle signal to drivers that they are entering a special zone. Only two traffic rules remain. Drivers cannot go more than 30 mph, the German speed limit for city driving. And everyone has to yield to the right, regardless of whether it’s a car, a bike or a baby carriage.
In Haren, the Netherlands, for example, the number of accidents at one intersection dropped by 95 percent, from 200 a year to about 10.
The program is designed only for public spaces where pedestrians and cyclists share routes with cars. Traffic engineers say it could lead to gridlock if introduced in high-traffic areas, such as large cities.
Practically speaking, the shared space concept works only at intersections that attract fewer than 15,000 vehicles a day, said Juergen Gerlach, a professor at the Center of Traffic and Transport at the University of Wuppertal. The approach can backfire if it covers more than a half-mile of road at a time, he said. Otherwise, drivers would get too frustrated with the slow pace and bypass the area.
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