Shared space is a type of roadway that is common in Europe, found in a few places in the United States, and so far as I know, only one place in Sacramento. The concept is that pedestrians, bicyclist, and motor vehicles can mix without having to have set-aside areas defined by curbs and painted bike lanes.
In Sacramento, Liestal Row, an alley between L Street and Capitol Avenue, and 17th Street and 18th Street, is the example. The alley was reconstructed with sidewalk areas defined by smooth concrete and roadway areas defined by bricks, however, there are no curbs in between and no limitations that keep the modes separate. The two businesses in the alley, Edible Pedal and Old Soul, spill out into the alley, and people often stand around in conversation. Often vehicles (including bicycles) have to thread their way between other users. What makes the alley work is that motor vehicle drivers are moving at a very slow speed, and do not have priority over other users. I’ve seen the uncertainty in the eyes of drivers negotiating the space, and that is exactly what makes it safe for everyone, the uncertainty that leads to paying attention instead of making assumptions or driving distracted.
The contrast with adjacent L Street could not be more stark. On L Street there are bicycle lanes, but few bicyclists, as most are uncomfortable being alongside motor vehicles moving at 35+ mph (the posted speed limit is 25 mph, but only during congested times is it moving that slowly). There are three lanes of one-way traffic, the definition of a traffic sewer, rather than one or two lanes. Pedestrians are few and far between, except on days when the church offers meals, not because the sidewalks are unpleasant, but because it is almost impossible to cross L Street. Drivers will not stop for pedestrians, whether they are waiting on the curb or have stepped into the street. So walkers avoid the area, and the businesses on the street. Liestal Row on the other hand, welcomes walkers and bicyclists to its businesses.
K Street in Sacramento could have been a shared space, when it was converted from a pedestrian mall back into a roadway, and has some of the elements such as brick surfaces to slow traffic, but the city decided to make cars the dominant mode. The street has always been a challenge for bicyclists due to the tracks that have to be avoided or crossed at a high angle, but the city made no accommodation for bicyclists. Garish strips of yellow detectable warnings were installed to separate motor vehicles from pedestrians, necessary because the posted speed limit, and the physical characteristics which control speed, were not reduced. Lane widths were not reduced. The city, knowing that they had failed to control drivers, even felt it necessary to install a full traffic control signal at 11th Street, the pedestrian walkway that extends from L Street north towards J St, just so that pedestrians could cross there. The clear message in the design is that pedestrians may only cross at the pedestrian signals, and are not welcome to cross anywhere else. I’ve been yelled at by the yellow-shirt Downtown Partnership people for crossing at other places, and I’ve heard but can’t confirm that people have been ticketed for crossing in between. At the signalized intersections, there a “beg buttons” that must be pushed rather than the pedestrian signal coming automatically with every signal cycle. The message on K Street is “pedestrians welcome, but stay out of the way of cars, which are the most important mode.” It could have been otherwise.
The sketch plans for the upcoming reconstruction of R Street between 16th and 18th Streets seem to indicate that it may be a shared space, but the drawings are too fuzzy to be sure. Time will tell.
Streetsblog has always had posted on shared streets in Europe and the United States, but there have been some recent and apropos posts as well, including Shared Space: The Case for a Little Healthy Chaos on City Streets. You can find more Streetsblog posts by searching for shared-space, and more on the Internet by searching for “shared space” (the quotes being necessary to narrow the search).
Just to state the extreme case, as I’m wont to do, I think all streets in downtown/midtown should be shared streets, with motor vehicles few and far between, and moving at a speed of no more than 10 mph. Downtown/midtown should be a place people live rather than drive through on their way somewhere else. More Liestal Row, less traffic sewers!
Some additional photos of Liestal Row.