Woonerfs – A New Concept For Complete Streets


Complete Streets policies for cities are increasingly popular with the goal of improved access and safety for all transportation modes.  Almost all projects now include pedestrian improvements, bulb outs, 15286831079_6ff8726018_bbicycle accommodations, transit planning or other Complete Street elements.  However, residential pavement width designs not impacted by bicycle master plans, remain largely unchanged.

A woonerf, pronounced [vōōnerf], is a shared space concept from the Netherlands that challenges our American perception of a Complete Street.  Woonerf is a Dutch word that translates as “living yard.”  Traffic in this shared space is restricted to walking pace, typically well below 12mph.  As the blue street sign illustrates, cars, pedestrians, and children get equal use of the pavement.

Contrast this concept and signage to the American mindset of 25mph residential speeds (20mph adjacent to schools).  The popular “Keep Kids Alive Drive 25” slogan is a completely foreign concept to a
well-designed woonerf.  2000px-Hinweiszeichen_9c

BHC RHODES recently presented a woonerf alternative option for a narrow one block residential street.  The rendering illustrates how two-way traffic, pedestrians and on-street parking may share the same space and fit within existing pavement edges.  Sidewalks are not required helping property owners keep their trees and maintain driveways.  Public awareness and perception will be a hurdle, but as the image and rendering provided by RDG Planning and Design indicate slower speeds and reduced property impacts are clear.

Incorporating multi-functional streets in our neighborhoods is a vital trend that should have been initiated decades ago.  According to Smart Growth America, half of all trips in metropolitan areas are three miles or less, and 30 percent of all trips in rural areas are two miles or less.  The majority are by automobile.  While the European woonerf has yet to catch on here, it has traveled across the pond to Toronto and New image 3Zealand.  As you think about the next subdivision layout or neighborhood street redesign in your community, contact us to discuss the benefits of a woonerf.

Mark Sherfy

Mark Sherfy, P.E., PTOE Public Works Group Leader

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