Dutch shared streets emerge as growing trend in the United States

Successful communities are born from quality shared spaces. As city planning turns to creating more community spaces, one answer has already been in use for 50 years.

In the late 1960’s, city planners in the Netherlands were rethinking urban development. Dutchman Hans Monderman had a novel idea: create a space where people and bicycles can coexist with cars. This was the beginning of woonerfs, or shared streets, an urban design tool that soon spread across Europe, enjoying particular success in Scandinavia and Germany.

What makes a street?

The word woonerf means “living street” in Dutch, referring to the community-centered design of these thoroughfares. They’re designed to transform streets from car-centric places into spaces where all transportation is valued equally, a valuation reflected in the street design. Woonerfs permit less space for cars, slowing traffic and allowing bicyclists and pedestrians the space and safety that regular streets often do not.

Although shared streets often vary in appearance and design features, they share a few common characteristics. Almost all remove visible traffic signs, lane markers and curbs. Pavement is laid on an even grade, signaling that cars are entering a pedestrian space and must show respect. Presented with a more meandering path, drivers are inclined to use caution and slow down. Curves added to these roads encourage slower speeds. 

When there is less marking and delineation on a road, drivers must rely on eye contact and face-to-face interaction to navigate, making streets safer for both pedestrians and bicyclists. In the Netherlands, streets saw 40 percent fewer collisions after becoming woonerfs.

Beyond road logistics, shared streets create communal spaces. Seating and shade often give pedestrians a place to enjoy the area, and landscaping gives the street a greener, less urban feeling. Finally, artwork provides a sense of creativity and individuality. Art can range from permanent gateway installations signaling the entryway onto the shared street to street art and murals. Artwork is often created by local artists and reflects the surrounding community.

The Midtown Community Works Partnership and Midtown Greenway Coalition are currently working to create a temporary shared street demonstration on 29th Street South, alongside the Midtown Greenway. 

 

This will be the third shared street in the Twin Cities.

Planning for the project has recently begun, with multilingual community meetings taking place at various locations in the Midtown Phillips neighborhood. These meetings are being held to gather ideas from the community. The design of the shared street will be determined by the community itself, including features that would be widely agreed upon and helpful to the community.

Project architect Ward Joyce attended the first planning meeting. Read more here.

Shared streets in the United States

This urban development trend has since spread beyond Europe and into North America. Shared streets can be found from Montreal, Quebec, to Montpelier, Vermont, to Seattle, Washington. The United States now has over 400 cities that have or are planning some type of shared street. 

Two such shared streets are found in Minneapolis. The first is located near the Mill City Quarter housing development adjacent to South 2nd Street. It fits the definition of a shared street more loosely, functioning as a public-private space that is gated at night. This area has been transformed into a curved, green space with seating, a big change from its previous life as a run-down parking lot next to old railway tracks.

The Mill City Quarter shared street features business parking during the day, with public paid parking available on weekends and evenings. Along with seating, the shared street displays a history of the rail district within which it resides. It will eventually serve as a pathway to trails and home to a visitor center along the Mississippi River that is scheduled to open in 2019. 

Minneapolis’ second shared street is located on West 29th Street along a two block stretch from Lyndale Avenue to Bryant Avenue. Construction was completed in late 2016, and the grand opening will come in mid-2017, following landscaping and installation of artwork. 


Midtown explores shared street with temporary demonstration

The Midtown Greenway – Lake Street Corridor will explore a second “shared street” along part of 29th Street this summer, thanks to the Midtown Greenway Coalition, Midtown Community Works Partnership and private foundation funding. Elements of a shared street will be temporarily installed along 29th Street South, between Bloomington Avenue and 17th Avenue South. Goals for this installation include slowing traffic, prioritizing bicyclists and pedestrians, installing lighting, installing parklets and engaging the community through programming. This demonstration will incorporate many of these elements during summer 2017.

Located in the East Phillips neighborhood, near the offices of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, the 29th Street Shared Street Demonstration Project will cover three blocks of 29th Street adjacent to the Greenway. Included in this area is the 18th Avenue Greenway entrance ramp and the 17th Ave South bike boulevard that connects the Greenway to Lake Street. Support for this project was spurred by positive community reaction to a 2015 Active Places demonstration woonerf on 29th Street between Hennepin and Lyndale that is now being transformed into a permanent shared street.


Shared streets in the United States and abroad


Making us smile

“I am really excited about this opportunity to create a better public space in the neighborhood,” noted Tim Springer, resident of East Phillips, project steering committee member, and former executive director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition. 

“This small grant can get us started to explore with neighbors and others what we want to see along 29th Street adjacent to the greenway. Hopefully we will come up with ideas that improve safety and access as well as brighten up our lives with functional art works that make us smile each day.”

Designing the demonstration

Ward Joyce, a Minneapolis-born and -educated architect specializing in public space design, is leading the planning and creation of the 29th Street Shared Street Demonstration Project. Joyce, principal architect of Ward Joyce Design, has won several awards for his pocket parks and shared streets in Montpelier, Vermont.

Joyce advocates “tactical urbanism,” employing low-cost, quick urban renewal projects that are implemented by citizens without government sanctioning to improve and invigorate community spaces. “We want community spaces to be equitable,” Joyce said. “Good public spaces are the sign of a strong democracy.”

Focusing on community needs

Existing fence along 29th Street

Existing fence along 29th Street

The stretch of 29th Street between 17th and Bloomington Avenues is an important opportunity for a more equitable and welcoming public space. The area is currently facing issues of safety and a palpable disconnect exists between East Phillips residents and the Midtown Greenway. These issues and others are highlighted in a report that was released last spring, “Making the Connection: Midtown Greenway to Lake Street”.

The report is the result of collaboration between Hennepin County, the Midtown Greenway Coalition, the Lake Street Council, the City of Minneapolis, and the Midtown Community Works Partnership. The report sought research, community feedback and recommendations on the role of the Greenway in Minneapolis, and implemented temporary demonstration projects throughout the Corridor to ascertain best long-term practices and design.

It was this report that highlighted Bloomington and 18th Avenues as sites where improvements could be made. Both streets have entrances to the Greenway that are hidden, and they lack the proper signage and bike lanes to connect the Greenway to the 17th Avenue bike boulevard and Lake Street. Greenway users reported not knowing where Lake Street and businesses directly adjacent to the Greenway were while biking or walking in the trench. Making effective bikeway connections would further connect Greenway users to the surrounding areas.

Connecting residents

This report also highlighted the disconnect of the community to the Midtown Greenway. This stretch of 29th Street is comprised of diverse residents, 35% Hispanic, 38% African American, 15% White, 11% Asian, 9% American Indian, and 2% multiracial. Almost 50% of residents are bilingual. Connecting residents of the surrounding area to the Greenway can aid in creating local health equity.

In focus groups with community members, people of color reported not using, feeling welcome, or knowing about the Greenway, despite its proximity and the high number of zero-car households in the 29th Street area. The 29th Street Shared Street Demonstration Project aims to change this. The project is engaging with the neighborhood to explore what it could mean to create a shared community space along this stretch of 29th Street.

The shared street will explore safer pedestrian and bike paths, stronger connections to neighbors in the area and on Lake Street, and better access and visibility to the Greenway. This temporary installation will help residents and partners to explore what long-term, permanent solutions might be right for the community. Organizers know that it will be important to hear from the people who will be directly impacted because they live right here or come through this stretch of 29th Street regularly.

Gathering ideas and suggestions

Initial plans and ideas for the space range, but all include community programming and engagement. The use of community leaders to spread the word about events taking place in the shared street can help promote the demonstration space and its limited time offerings. Initial ideas for programming include a National Night Out event, chalk art for kids, lemonade stands, and pop-up bike repair stations.

The design of the space is also integral to its success. The design will include the essentials of a woonerf—landscaping, seating and shade—and also, hopefully, elements aimed at children. Some possibilities are climbing structures and musical percussion parks.

Community art is another potential tool of engagement and design. In the “Making the Connection” study, artistic elements with specific cultural references were highlighted as one approach to making local residents feel more welcome in the Greenway. Suggestions include a gallery to showcase artists in the community, or a temporary physical gateway arch, perhaps constructed by the community using Native American art, signaling the entrance to the space.

Planning for the 29th Street demonstration shared street will continue into the summer, using feedback and input from the community to build an engaging shared space that will welcome and reflect the community through summer 2017, and potentially beyond.