Since the 1970s, the Netherlands has strived to introduce shared road space initiatives between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians in city limit zones. One of these concepts, the Woonerf, is a traffic calming initiative that sees a road converted to a paved road with no pavements.
Pedestrians are given priority with cars being allowed to use the paved road but given a speed limit that recognises the danger that pedestrians and cyclists may be using the same road space.
The responsibility on a Woonerf is on both drivers and cyclists to avoid being in an accident with a pedestrian. In any accident with a pedestrian or cyclist, a driver is held responsible in these zones.
You do see the odd “Woonerf” in the UK, but they do not seem to be priority for many local authorities. But there does seem to be some support for introducing the Woonerf concept here in the UK.
According to a poll by road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists, just under half of the 4,000 respondents it surveyed on the Woonerf concept, thought it was a good idea that had some use in the UK, although 27% said the idea was a bad one. When asked where these “Woonerf” type pedestrian zones should be sited, 36% said in shopping areas, and similar areas with high pedestrian traffic. Thirty three per cent thought they would be of the most use in some residential areas where a particular need was identified, while 16% think they should be used on all residential roads.
The biggest benefit of the system according to the respondents was the removal of street clutter including kerbs, signs and railings. Improved pedestrian and cyclist safety was also popular at 49% and 43% respectively, and only a quarter believed there would be no benefit at all. Opinion on whether the respondents themselves would want to live in such a zone was split, at 39% each.
Responsibility on drivers
Generally, the majority of those polled thought drivers should be held legally responsible for accidents between cars and cyclists/pedestrians in pedestrian-priority zones.
IAM director of policy and research Neil Greig said: “Our poll reveals a surprisingly positive attitude towards better protection of cyclists and pedestrians, both in road layout and legal responsibility. On the continent, attractive street design is used to make it clear where pedestrians have priority but this approach is in its infancy in the UK.”