Pedestrians with reduced mobility in shared spaces and pedestrian priority environments

Author(s): Jean-François Bruneau, Catherine Morency

Slidedeck Presentation Only (no paper submitted):

6B - Bruneau


Traffic calming and new street designs gain attention in European cities. For example, U.K., Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, France and Austria tried different designs inspired from shared spaces and central refuges. These ultra-low speed zones mix all types of traffic on a unique infrastructure. In Canada, shared spaces and central refuges also get interest from architects, planners and engineers, as options for reconverting streets, especially those with high pedestrian volumes. Whilst traffic conflicts are generally handled with stop signs, traffic lights, crosswalks and cycling infrastructures in 50 km/h zones, these elements are eliminated in shared space designs. In a central refuge, crosswalks are replaced by a long stretch of protected or semi-protected area that allows crossing in a two-step sequence. These concepts work with “eye contact” instead of traffic lights and signs. They imply pedestrian priority, even in areas with high traffic volumes. Pedestrians are allowed to cross anywhere, within a section designated by entrance and exit signs. The goal is to make the road look more like a living place, but on the contrary to a pedestrian street, transit is allowed. Different experiences were successful in reducing speeds and congestion, but some insufficiently adapted for the mobility impaired.

Since there is a will to increase knowledge regarding these ultra-low speed designs in Canada, the Ministry of Transportation of Quebec asked Polytechnique Montreal to evaluate the safety outcomes and the applicability of this concept in a Canadian context, considering traffic conditions, roadway design, winter maintenance, driving culture and roadway code.

Seventeen focus-groups were held in 14 cities of various sizes. Over 300 participants were consulted, and ten percent of this sample included wheelchair or scooter users and pedestrians with hearing or vision problems. Focus was placed on shared spaces and central refuges combining high volumes of pedestrians and vehicles. Videos and photos from German and Swiss cases were shown to experts and users. Design, environment and traffic conditions were judged for their applicability.

Results show that the applicability or acceptance rate varies from 45 to 82% on a global scale, within the six case-studies. Significant differences were found according to the types of participants. Linear central refuges proved to be an interesting solution for two-lane roadways, because it reduces speeds and it forgives vulnerable users. The main flaw identified in the proposed designs was the necessity to make eye contact when crossing the road, something impossible for a person with partial or complete visual disability. Finally, the vast majority of experts and users were willing to introduce, in the Highway Safety Code, a “caution principle”, by which all users must pay attention to other users, especially the most vulnerable ones.

Most agreed that ultra-low speed zones could be introduced, but inside a pilot-project frame, since there is comprehensive fear around the concept, especially for visually impaired pedestrians.