This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Pullman, Washington, to check out the WSU campus with one of my daughters. A trip like that is an opportunity to compare our college town to another, but it’s also a chance to get some reading done while flying there and back.
After working my way through a few magazines, I pulled out my copy of Walkable City, by Jeff Speck, which I’ve been reading on and off for a few months now. I hit the section entitled, “Protect the Pedestrian” in which he alights upon a concept that feels pretty counter intuitive.
Speck states that one good way to create safer travel zones is to “keep it complicated.” In other words, the more motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians have to think about what they’re doing and how to do it safely, the safer everyone will be. And the easier it is to breeze through an area without really paying much attention to what’s going on, the more likely a crash will occur.
One way of doing that is through a concept called “naked streets” or (if you’d like to Google the idea without hitting a bunch of photos of naked people standing on city streets, you can look for) “shared space.” The idea is that by removing any and all directions for how people should move about (such as street signs, paint striping, curbs, etc.) you create a space that feels dangerous. Anyone traveling through the area is on alert because, without direction, anyone really could end up going anywhere. So you have to watch what you’re doing. And you have to watch what everyone else is doing.
… and really, isn’t that what we want to be happening any time anyone’s out moving around town?
It’s a concept that seems supremely counterintuitive. But in places that are putting it into practice, it’s actually working. Here’s an example of a roundabout intersection with no striping and no signs. Pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and even buses use the intersection safely. There is a small roundabout shape at center, but in this video you’ll note that not everyone even follows the “stay right as you travel around the roundabout” rule. And yet everyone makes it from one side of the intersection to the other without conflict.
This video takes place in Drachten in the Netherlands where they have seen “a 20% reduction in accident rates and shorter cross-city commute times” according to a re:Streets study on the change that was made to the intersection.
In another example that Speck gives in his book:
The British county of Wiltshire, home to Stonehenge, pulled the centerline off a narrow street, and witnessed a 35 percent drop in the number of collisions. Drivers passed oncoming cars at a 40 percent greater distance than on a striped street, even though the striped roadway was wider.
It’s important to note that these treatments didn’t just improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists but improved crash rates across the board, which means motorists benefitted as well.
It got me to wondering how such a treatment would look in Fort Collins. There’s already talk of doing something similar on Linden between Old Town Square and Jefferson. But the focus there seems to be a redesign that would easily enable blocking motor traffic and converting the street into a festival or market space. It doesn’t appear to be a plan to permanently remove signage and encourage an everyday mixed use of the space. A shared street area might also make more sense when there’s no expectation of parking.
So where might be a good location to try something like this here in Fort Collins? Do you think it would work in our more suburban parts of town or would this concept only fly in the downtown area? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
The image at top is from NACTO’s Flickr page.