Woonerf street construction

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Woonerf (pronounced VONE-erf, plural woonerven) is Dutch for "living yard". It is a street design philosophy intended to place cyclists, pedestrians, and automobiles on equal footing. Woonerven are generally characterized by a complete absence of signs, signals, markings, or elevations separating the automobile, bicycle, and pedestrian realms, forcing road users to rely on eye-contact and human communication to navigate the street safely. Automobiles are limited to "walking speeds" of about 4 miles per hour which are physically enforced through street design with narrow, curving streets, bulb-outs, and differential surface treatments. These types of streets are used in over 6,000 Dutch communities and 70 English/Welsh communities (called "Home Zones"). "Complete Streets" are the American cousin of the Woonerf and are implemented in approximately 400 communities. Proponents of woonerven argue that they reduce injury rates from automobile crashes[1][2] and reclaim street space for play, socializing, and community engagement[3].




Forgotten Avenue is a dead-end street one eighth of a mile long and flanked by close-built townhouses. The houses have very short setbacks and no backyards to speak of. Forgotten Ave itself allows parking on one side of the street and is still wide enough for two cars to pass. City planners opt to convert Forgotten Avenue into a woonerf, replacing the road and sidewalk with a single-grade surface and bulb-outs planted with greenery. Residents react by spending more time in the street socializing and playing. At first the residents are upset at having to drive to slowly but come to appreciate the revitalization of their street with community life and play space for children. When residents drive to or from home on the woonerf, they look forward to seeing and waving to their neighbors.



Tradeoffs of implementing this policy may include:

  1. The woonerf concept is a drastic departure from current norms, necessitating driver education and outreach.
  2. Slow automobile speeds make use of the road for through traffic infeasible, impairing automobile accessibility.
  3. Conversion of a street to a woonerf may shift through traffic onto parallel roads.
  4. Drivers unaware or dismissive of woonerf laws place cyclists and pedestrians in the street at greater risk.
  5. Woonerven rely on human communication to function, creating a risk for hostile interactions between residents and those who oppose the woonerf concept.
Compatibility Assessment

Compatibility Assessment.png

If answered yes, the following questions indicate superior conditions under which the policy is more likely to be appropriate:

  1. Does the street in question have a high density of residential or commercial destinations?
  2. Does the street currently have low speed limits, low traffic volumes, and/or traffic calming measures?
  3. Is the street an important through street in the transportation network?
  4. Do nearby homes or businesses lack outdoor public space for play, socializing, cafe seating, etc.?
  5. Do current residents or business owners prioritize bicycle and pedestrian traffic over automobile traffic?


The following questions should be considered when determining how to implement this policy:

  1. How will you teach road users what the woonerf is and about expected behavior when using it?
  2. How will road users identify the woonerf?
  3. How will you design the entrance to the woonerf to slow down cars as they enter?
  4. How will you prevent parked cars from clogging the woonerf?
  5. How will you address potential traffic impacts on other roads as a result of woonerf conversion?



  • Has adoption of: Limited. The woonerf concept is common in the Netherlands and is spreading across mainland Europe, but is less common in the United States.











  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Safety effects of 30 km/h zones in the Netherlands. Vis, A., Dijkstra, A., & Slop, M. (1992). Accident Analysis & Prevention, 75-86.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Traffic calming in Europe. Schlabbach, K. (1997). Institute of Transportation Engineers. ITE Journal, 67(7), 38-40.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Changing the Residential Street Scene: Adapting the shared street (Woonerf) Concept to the Suburban Environment. Ben-Joseph, E. (1995). Journal of the American Planning Association, 504-515.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 6 Places Where Cars, Bikes, and Pedestrians All Share the Road As Equals
  5. Woonerf in the West Suburbs Offers a Sneak Peek at Uptown Streetscapes
  6. Where ‘Share the Road’ Is Taken Literally
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