Shared Streets? What Do You Think?

The following video shows a shared street project in Utrecht, Netherlands.  The street is Mariaplaats (St. Mary’s Place). It is a through street used to access a parking garage. The city removed most vehicle parking and it dramatically changed the nature of the street and how it is used.  Original plans called for leaving some parking, but business owners asked that it all be taken out.  Holland is different than the US and many other countries in this respect.

From my perspective, shared streets like this are critical for cyclists.  I think they are more attractive than protected bike lanes or sidepaths because they compel the drivers of motor vehicles to slow down.  They also give all users equal access to the entire roadway.  That sends a powerful message when compared to a tiny protected bike lane or sidepath squeezed in wherever there’s a little extra room.  I’d feel very comfortable cycling on such a street.

As a practical matter, the new and improved Mariaplaats actually discourages driving a motor vehicle and encourages cycling.    There are fewer places to park.  Automobile traffic must slow to accommodate other road users.  In spite of this, there’s no traffic back up.  People are moving along quite well.  Nobody seems stressed out.

This is not what the Dutch call a Woonerf or, in English, a living street. I only know this because I asked the original poster.  He explained to me that a  Woonerf is not a through street.  It dead ends and is typically residential in nature.  By comparison, this is a commercial through street that leads right into the city center.  In other respects, Woonerfs and shared streets are similar.

Shared street, Malmö, Sweden.

Shared street, Malmö, Sweden.

So what do you think?  If you had streets like the new Mariaplaats in your community would you feel safe using them to cycle?   Would you prefer them to protected bike lanes with cars whizzing by on the other side of a thin barrier?  Please let me know by commenting below.


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