By Alison Hill

You will have spotted that there are roadworks going on at the junction of Holywell Road, Parks Road, Broad Street and Catte Street by the Kings Arms.

What is happening there is the creation of a “shared space”, one that isn’t the domain of any one type of road user.

The junction will no longer have traffic lights or white lines, and will incorporate a ‘raised table’ (where the road surface is raised to pavement level, with a slope up to it from each of the entry roads) and a buff road surface where pedestrians cross.

All this will give the sense of space that is shared between cyclists, motor vehicles and pedestrians, removing the priority that drivers have to date assumed they have.

We have already been able to experience what the junction has been like without traffic lights as they have been out of action for several months.

Since the signals were covered, bike users, pedestrians, car drivers, and buses appear respectful of each other, creating a better experience for all.

However, both drivers and cyclists are unclear at present what to do at the junction and approach it faster than they should, so the addition of the buff road markings and the raised table will make them more aware that the junction is shared by all road users.

You might think that creating a junction that has no lines on it or any signage is a recipe for collisions. But actually it isn’t and here’s why.

For most of the 20th century planners have worked on the principle that motor vehicles should be segregated from other road users.

A Dutch road engineer called Hans Monderman started questioning this. He felt that lots of traffic lights, road signs and road markings treated road users as if they couldn’t think for themselves and needed guidance and regulation.

And indeed, drivers saw all those lights and instructions as giving a mandate for speedy driving.

Monderman based his approaches on the assumption that road users are intelligent and thoughtful citizens. He tested this out in the northern Dutch town of Drachten, where he started on a systematic process of minimising traffic lights and road signs. He removed traffic lights, no-parking signs, speed-limit signs, road humps, and the road markings.

He wanted road spaces to generate a little bit of confusion and ambiguity, so that the users of the space were more cautious, and more aware.

He invented the term “shared space” to convey his concept. The result in Drachten was fewer serious collisions, and less traffic delays, and a much more pleasant street scene.

It is this sense of “shared space” with the removal of road signs and white lines, creating a visually better, less cluttered urban space, that is beginning to happen, albeit tentatively, in Oxford, with New Inn Hall Street, Frideswide Square, and now at the Parks Road Broad Street junction.

Improvements at this junction have been long awaited, and we anticipate a much better experience for all of us road users.