These zones can be found all over Europe and even in the US. NYC is experimenting with 20mph zones and is slowly rolling them out. Article on the progress in NYC from Streetsblog Here. England has been rolling them out for a number of years under the "20 is plenty [for us]."
However, the undeniable champion and proponent of these low speed streets has been the Netherlands and their Woonerf (Living Street, or Home Zone). I will pass you over to David at "A view from the cycle path" and his article about these zones so you can read up a bit more on them. A second article from "A view".
These zones are typically connected with 20mph (18kph in metric countries) roads which are clearly marked as such and designate entry (there is no mistake or I didn't see the sign here). In The Netherlands these are residential areas and very limited access, but usually provide quick connections for bikes and folks walking.
These are great and need to be implemented here but it is typically harder since the roads in these "Home Zones" need to be designed for "walking speed" and I am pretty sure that would blow the head off many engineers and planners on this side of the Atlantic.
The point of all this is not just to let you know about these areas and there benefits (of which there are tons!) but to showcase an example in Spain. I visited my girlfriend as she was teaching in northern Spain back last April. This is Santoña, a small village to the east of Santander. She worked at a school here back in 2010. This was installed between the time I visited here in 2010 and when I came back in 2011. Their main commercial area had already been pedestrianized with limited access but this was new, I will have more on their commercial center in the near future.
|Sign roughly translated: "Shared/coexist zone with preference given to pedestrians"|
Here is a raised crossing of a different surface with clear "give way" lines in red and white. I love the sign the most though, basically I translate that to "attention, kids playing in the street" 12mph max and pedestrians(people) have the right of way.
This is a one way section that use to be two way and was converted as part of the redesign. You can visit it on Google Maps Here (warning: bad imagery and no streetview so not so useful)
We need to implement 20mph zones in the US, every community across the country can benefit from these. However, we also need to do more since implementing a 20mph zone does not really cut it or equal what the Europeans are typically doing. We need "Living Streets" areas that are designed for walking speed where kids are free to play and separation by mode is not needed. Areas that provide pleasant connections for residents as well as others walking and bicycling through. Safe areas for everybody.
Yes we need to get good pedestrians and bicycle infrastructure on the main roads that is critical, but quite a bit can be done by focusing on these "living streets" that can get people out and moving.
At the end of the day that is what is critical, getting people outside going places under their own power; safely.
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