Making drivers think for themselves and pay attention increases safety.
This is a pretty good overview of Shared Space. The basic principle is, as my friend Wayne says, “chaos equals caution.”
One problem I have with the application shown in the video is that the cyclists are still channeled into a segregated space. It seems to me, the system would flow better if all vehicles were integrated… then it would be more appropriate to call it “shared space.” I’ll never get the wisdom of placing human-powered vehicles in an outer ring around a traffic circle. The silliness of it is demonstrated in this little prank.
Aside from that, the primary point of the story is that making people make decisions based on the dynamic circumstances around them vs trying to control all movements with lines and signs, increases safety. That certainly makes sense.
Like any traffic design concept, it doesn’t work everywhere but it has appropriate applications. This works best in an urban center where you want to slow drivers, make them attentive* and discourage through traffic.
Opponents of shared space tend to get bogged down in ideological arguments that take the concept as a complete, unalterable package. But there’s a lot to be gained from examining the psychological components of it and how they can be applied to other elements of the street system. We can see that over-regulation increases mindless driving in other roadway situations. Local governments paint residential roads like highways with double-yellow lines, find that motorists speed on them, then haul out the speed bumps, pinch points and gratuitous stop signs. Have you ever noticed that on a road with no center line, motorists give more passing clearance? Cyclists riding in shoulders and bike lanes experience closer and faster passes than cyclists claiming the lane (or even those in wide lanes), because the white line gives the motorist permission to disregard the cyclist. The more you allow people to operate without thinking, the more careless they get. And the easier it is for them to engage in distractions.
For decades, American traffic engineers have been facilitating mindless driving in the name of traffic flow and safety. It’s time we took a look at that practice and its unintended consequences.
*except for American reporters who turn around while driving and talk to the camera in the back seat.