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.
Just before posting “doubting protected bikeways” yesterday, I’d been reading Momentum Magazine, one of my favorites. After posting, I turned the page, and there was a 14 page article entitled “The Rise of the North American Protected Bike Lane” by Angie Schmitt (not yet posted to their website, so you’ll have to read the paper or digital copy). The article is a classic defense of protected bikeways, with the standard criticism of vehicular cycling.
The heart of the article is the “by the numbers” graphic which shows the increase in bicycling in seven different cities that occurred after installation of protected lanes. The increases are impressive. The text talks about Portland research on types of bicyclists, positing that such facilities are necessary to get the “interested and concerned” 60% onto bicycles. Though safety is mentioned several times, it is clear the greatest benefit proposed is an increase in bicycling mode share. I’m not in disagreement with any of this. What I am in disagreement with is the focus on increasing bicycle share as the most important goal of changes we make to our streets.
Bicycling mode share in the U.S. ranges from below 1% in some places to as high as 6% in a few cities. Andy Clarke of The League of American Bicyclists is quoted as saying we could increase this to 10% or even 15% with the use of protected facilities. Sounds great. The problem is that it leaves a whole lot of motor vehicles on the road, making our cities unlivable and threatening the lives of pedestrians.