No sweat, we have not lost it by asking the question in the dead of winter and no one has to be in their birthday suits to use these streets.
Its just a term the Dutch, who don’t mince words, coined and which the Tory party in the UK hinted at, to refer to streets that are almost stripped bear of all traffic engineering gizmos such as bike paths, barriers, traffic signals and signs.
The European Shared Space research project
The concept was the basis of the European Shared Space project from 2004 to 2008, comprising seven project partners from the five North Sea countries of The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Although its original plan was to address traffic safety and efficiency issues in urban areas and rural highways, it expanded to include themes like economic regeneration, public engagement, livability, sustainability, social inclusion and community capacity.
There was a major shift of principles from the decades-old segregation traffic engineering to visionary solutions that were all-inclusive of the public realm.
Pilot participant: Municipality of Haren, The Netherlands
Among the participants was the Dutch municipality of Haren, a main southern access route to the city of Groningen, and, which cater to daily traffic volumes of 9,000 motor vehicles and 4,000 bicyclists on a 500 meter stretch.
Prior to that in the mid 1980’s, its high street, Rijksstraatweg, had already undergone an experimental traffic safety project to improve quality of life, traffic safety and traffic flow. Even though bike paths, splitter islands, ornamental fixtures etc were used as part of the solution, it turned out sub-optimal for its user groups.
That was all up for a revamp when their municipality joined the Shared Space pilot project. The emphasis turned from engineering solutions to residential-focused ones. In effect, their high street became a leveled public space — with almost no traffic signals, signs or barriers – open to all traffic participants. Radical as it sounds, it was based on the research of across-the-board professionals with input from participating authorities.
Two of their key findings were:
- speeds beyond 30 kph (19 mph) seriously “affect our ability to communicate via gestures and eye contact” and are a critical component to the development of “woonerfs” (home zones);
- the decreased dependence on traffic signals and controls improves capacity and movement of all user modes.
The final evaluation showed their annual number of accident victims fall from 1.6 right down to naught.
Why not as novel as it at first seems
This blog about the “History of Transportation in North America” includes a fascinating video that covers the 1905 – 2009 period. Take a close look at San Francisco’s 1905 street scenes and you will notice aspects of “Naked Streets” or “Shared Space” between all traffic modes, moving at mostly leisurely paces. It turns out way back then, we were doing it right, that is right until our expanded appetite for speed got the upper hand.
Nevertheless, the concept of Naked Streets may not be a best fit for all but it certainly shows the sky is the limit when we re-think our urban spaces in a focused, all-inclusive and thorough fashion.