Road Safety News

Shared spaces cause ‘confusion, chaos and catastrophe’

Wednesday 8th July 2015

A new report describes the concept of ‘shared space’ as a “planning folly” and calls for “an immediate moratorium on all shared space schemes until thorough impact assessments can be conducted”. 

The report, Accidents by Design, has been prepared by Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE. It is based on an online survey conducted during March-April 2015 which attracted 852 responses and 614 completed questionnaires.

The report says 63% of respondents reported a negative experience of shared space, and 35% said they actively avoided shared space.

Lord Holmes said: “That’s over a third of people planned out of their local community, their local shops, their local support services. This type of totalitarian planning would make even an old style Soviet feel some shame.” 

Comments from respondents include “lethally dangerous” (from a pedestrian), an “absolute nightmare that I avoid if I can” (from a driver), and “shared space is a false promise with poor delivery” (from a cyclist).

The report also says the research also “indicated a significant under reporting of accidents in these shared spaces”.

Lord Holmes continued: “The findings are stark, the solution clear, an immediate moratorium on all shared space schemes until thorough impact assessments can be conducted. 

“This must be combined with a central record of accident data including ‘courtesy crossings’ which must be defined and monitored. 

“There is also a need for updated DfT guidance to enable local authorities to fully understand their obligations, not least in relation to the Equality Act. 

“Has so called ‘shared space’ achieved an inclusive experience for all? No, it most certainly has not.  Has it opened up our high streets, increased safety and usability? Again, no it has not.

“Shared space is not a safe place nor a pleasant place, it has turned high streets into traffic free for alls, it has caused confusion, chaos and catastrophe."

Lord Holmes of Richmond
Chris Holmes is Britain’s most successful Paralympic swimmer with a tally of 9 golds, 5 silvers and 1 bronze. He was also LOCOG’s Director of Paralympic Integration, responsible for the organisation of the 2012 Paralympic Games. A lifelong campaigner for equality and inclusion, he was appointed to the House of Lords in 2013 as the Lord Holmes of Richmond. Lord Holmes also serves as non-executive director for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Improving the equality and human rights legislative framework in the UK remains an important priority.



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A traffic light junction that isn't working has been mentioned. In those circumstance I believe that the junction should act like a roundabout and traffic should give way to other traffic coming from the right. That's what I do. however it appears that others use the first come first served and I am bigger than you style of driving. This is where a problem begins and if a driver has no idea what to do he will inevitably do something wrong or follow someone else in the perhaps mistaken belief that the other driver knows what he is doing. Or barge his way through in the hope that no one gets in his way. The blind leading the blind so to speak. In the middle of this the poor pedestrian and indeed poorer disabled person wonders where is safe? In front? To the side? Behind? Turn round? Commit? Wait? And so on.
Bob Craven Lancs....Space is Safe Campaigner

Agree (3) | Disagree (1)

When such shared spaces resemble pedestrian thoroughfares, and many appear to, the lack of clear delineation between a safe walking place and a carriageway for vehicles will inevitably lead to confusion between all road users. Is this an idea that has not been thought through? When traffic signals fail at road junctions, vehicles naturally slow down, take greater care, and more empathy between road users becomes apparent. But the act of leveling pavements to roads takes it a step too far, it encourages pedestrians to walk in the carriageway. Would the average pedestrian feel comfortable with vehicles driving on the pavement?

There needs to be a clear demarcation for safety's sake. I am amazed these projects have got beyond the planning stage.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

Agree (16) | Disagree (7)

Shared spaces are enormous fun so long as you understand the unwritten rules for usage that emerge from them. Of course to understand how these rules emerge requires a complete understanding of what people are actually doing when they enter a shared space or indeed any other space for that matter. The fundamental indeed only task that every driver, rider and pedestrian does is to predict 'what happens next?' From the flow of sensory information they have to predict with some accuracy the course and future position of every object in their field of view and then predict what their own course will be through those objects to reach the future position they want to achieve.

The more predictable the movements of these various objects the easier and more straightforward it is for a driver or pedestrian to work out a suitable course that will achieve a succesful outcome without any risk of collision. As predictability reduces, the risk of collision increases to the point that movements become entirley random and unpredictable and the number of collisions exceeds the number of safe passages. When movements become entirely predictable however the collision risk reaches its lowest possible value (never zero).

In a shared space the level of predictability of the objects will naturally be far lower than might be found in a more regulated space hence the risk of collision will be commensurately high. The promotors of shared spaces think that because of the unpredictability the users of the space will take more care in order to avoid any collision. Sadly though it doesn't matter how much care anybody takes because the collision risk is linked to the unpredictability of the entire space not just to the actions of any individual user within it.

To counter this problem shared space users begin to subconsciously agree on a set of common, but emergent rules that bring about a higher level of predictability and hence reduce the risk of collision. A user entering a shared space for the first time will of course be entirley unaware of these emergent rules and as soon as they enter the space the entire system is thrown back into an unpredictable state.

His Lordship is perfectly correct in his understanding of the shared space problem, but it's a shame that the various people that promoted them never bothered to find out how they actually work and the many problems they suffer from.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

Agree (8) | Disagree (10)

There is much to think about in this report. Taken at face value it would appear there have been some very poor design principles and optimistic assessments used but these can be addressed. What is more difficult to gauge is whether any shared space scheme can offer the likelihood of safety, particularly to disabled users, than a more regulated arrangement can. I wonder how other countries can make this work, as I understand they have. Are we simply getting the principles wrong, or is there a more cultural issue underlying our response as road users to such places?

My recent observations of shared space are that most users will respond to appropriate visual clues about where to drive/ride/walk but getting vehicle users to give way is harder if they feel an instinctive priority. And this must be of concern to pedestrians, even though the alternative might be a more frustrating wait for a signal crossing to change.

It seems to me we can take less regulation but may not be ready for no regulation. Going back to a previous discussion about playing in the streets, I fear that the same concerns would apply there.
Tim Philpot, Wolverhampton

Agree (22) | Disagree (0)

I take it then that an anything goes attitude to road safety is one of throw them all together and let's see if there is any reduction in terms of collisions, injuries and deaths. A bit too late if it happens isn't it? Who would be to blame not the LA as they would argue that they had full consultations done before any change was made and therefore they cannot be held responsible for what subsequently happens. Nice one. Already there are some L.A.s being threatened with court action. I understand from this thatfuture Woonersf have been put on hold pending the outcome of these litigations.

You say that elderly and disabled persons would be more affected ie. disadvantaged by such a construction then it would merely under those circumstances be considered a cause for possible prosecutions.
Bob Craven Lancs....Space is Safe Campaigner

Agree (5) | Disagree (10)

You said it yourself Bob, "..vehicles, cyclists, HGVs, taxis, buses and pedestrians wondering what anyone and everyone else is going to do". I would hope that they do. Not a bad thing when we all share the highway. If one is partially sighted or otherwise disadvantaged I can see that it may be more difficult, however informal, unsegregated layouts should make the driver more aware and cautious than they would do in conventional layouts.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (9) | Disagree (10)

You can't compare some of the shared spaces that have been manufactured over the last 5 years with the regulated car parks at supermarkets that have been around for at least 15 if not 20 years or more. They look like roads, they have white lines and junctions, pavements or designated walking spaces and everyone knows what is basically going on. A far cry from a wide open space with no signage or lanes and vehicles, cyclists, HGVs, taxis, buses and pedestrians wondering what anyone and everyone else is going to do.
Bob Craven Lancs. .... Space is Safe Campiagner

Agree (15) | Disagree (4)

But the complainants are presumably happy to go in their droves to the large supermarkets, retail parks etc. where the car parks allow vehicles and pedestrians to mingle informally all the time with very little demarcation and control. It relies on the self-discipline of the users and more importantly, the very slow speeds of the motorists.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (5) | Disagree (17)