The first implemented Shared Space project in an Austrian city - opened in October 2011.
The general refurbishment of Graz's Sonnenfelsplatz was an urgent necessary. A frequency of 15 000 cars per day, 3 400 pedestrians in peak period and 640 cyclists per hour used this area.
The planning of the first Shared Space square in Graz was performed by means of an innovative planning and participation procedure, a 'Charrette' - a team-based concentrated, interdisciplinary planning process with active public participation. A team of planners consisting of architects, civil engineers and sociologists drew up a harmonised draft plan with citizens, stakeholders, politicians, transport companies and local authorities.
In order to conduct the process, premises were rented nearby the planning area so that the planning team was able to work on this project on site. This active, transparent co-operation very quickly led to a draft plan for redeveloping Sonnenfelsplatz in one week that met with broad consensus among citizens and stakeholders. The procedure demonstrated that it is possible to shorten the draft planning stage considerably and, at the same time, achieve optimum participation of the public and key stakeholders.
With a public participation process it is not possible to reach all road users. The 'square' must speak for itself and influence the behaviour of all road users, including also those unfamiliar with Shared Space. For the innovative Charrette planning process the City of Graz and the planning team was awarded with an ÖGUT prize 2011 for participation and civic society’s involvement.
Shared Space and mobility-impaired people
Shared Space can sometimes be problematic, particularly for people with disabilities, specifically visually impaired people and blind people, because Shared Space is based upon interaction and eye-contact. This problem can be remedied with the aid of a tactile guide system and high-contrast surfaces integrated into the plan. The production of tactile plans available for each visual impaired person and trainings with mobile trainers are essential.
Special mention should be made of the extremely positive opinion of visually impaired people regarding the draft. Wheelchair users, for their part, welcome the new concept doing away with kerbs, as they usually have to make lengthy detours to avoid them. All of these interests and needs must be taken into account from the outset in the integrated planning process.
It is assumed that people respond better to suggestions regarding space than to prohibitions. By removing the clear-cut division of traffic space, the aim is to give rise to a new sense of space that takes different aspects of urban planning into account. This will lead to new possibilities with regard to interaction between people, for example. Not regulating the space by means of separate traffic areas, ground markings and traffic signs provokes a subjective uncertainty in the road user, resulting in increased attention and perception and more social behaviour. Uncertainty leads to slower, appropriate driving speeds and, at the same time, to improved accident statistics (no serious accidents). The non-car-oriented design of the space and the greater mix and seating facilities lead to an improvement of spatial and social qualities and to longer dwell-time, which means greater quality of life. The newly created space offers room for cafés, invites people to stroll, and offers an attractive shopping environment for the retail trade.
The Shared Space project in Graz is part-financed by the European Union under the INTERREG IVC Programme - PIMMS transfer
Photo: Heike Falk