Is it possible to build community through transportation? Bjarne Winterberg, an architect and urban planner from Copenhagen, has brought road design and the goal of creating places together in ways that may be unmatched by anyone practicing in this field today.   He will share his views at PPS’ upcoming Conference on Sustainability and Placemaking in Norway this September.

Gary Toth, PPS' Senior Director of Transportation Initiatives, feels so comfortable on this shared street in the Netherlands that he sets up a chair.

The simple idea behind his work is that for a street to become a place, it needs to be designed to support the uses and activities that occur there. Bjarne uses street and road design to affect the behavior of motorists and pedestrians by increasing the possibility for interaction- what he terms “interpersonal activities”- thus transforming streets into places that enhance urban life.

Bjarne believes that a road’s “environmental context” can have a larger influence on a drivers’ behavior than legislation, rules and signs.  The goal is to create a situation in which as people reach the intersection, they move slowly enough to make eye contact with each other. For example, in the town of Christiansfeld in Denmark, Bjarne and the engineering firm Rambøll tackled the high casualty rate on the town’s central traffic intersection by designing the road in a way that encourages drivers to slow down to consider how they relate to other “users” (pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers of transit vehicles etc) of the space.

Bjarne Winterberg

Bjarne, like Hans Monderman, is an innovator of the shared space concept from the Netherlands. Instead of using the traditional traffic engineering methods of controlling the movement and behavior of cars (warning signs, road markings, traffic signals, etc.), he removes these elements from the roads at key intersections. David Engwicht, too, writes about similar concepts in his book “Mental Speed Bumps: The Smarter Way to Tame Traffic.

Physical changes to the intersection – the surface treatment, lighting and the modifications to the corners of the pavement- help drivers to slow down. The result is a change in not only how people use the intersection but how they perceive it. In other words, the changes help to create a “place” for people at the center of the community.  The result has been improved capacity for traffic and fewer delays than traffic signal control systems.

Can Eye Contact Enhance Road Safety and a Sense of Place? was last modified: March 6th, 2012 by Project for Public Spaces