A purpose designed woonerf in east Utrecht

A woonerf (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈʋoːnɛr(ə)f]) is a living street, as originally implemented in the Netherlands and in Flanders (Belgium). Techniques include shared space, traffic calming, and low speed limits.

The term woonerf has been adopted directly by some English-language publications. In the United Kingdom, these areas are called home zones.


The word, of Dutch origin, literally translates as 'living yard'[1] or 'residential grounds'.[2]


An old Dutch street turned into a woonerf

Since the invention of automobiles, cities have been predominantly constructed to accommodate the use of automobiles.[3]

The woonerf was created by residents of Delft who tore up pavement late at night to make it so cars had to drive slower to avoid the obstacles.[4] The woonerven (plural) was incorporated into the national street design standards in 1976.[4]

The entire locality of Emmen in the Netherlands was designed as a woonerf in the 1970s.[5]

In 1999 the Netherlands had over 6000 woonerven[6] and today around 2 million Dutch people are living in woonerven.[7] The benefits of the woonerf are promoted by woonERFgoed, a network of professionals and residents.[8]

In 2006 it was reported that people in Hesselterbrink, a neighborhood of Emmen, were disillusioned about how the woonerf principle had become another traffic engineering measure that "entailed precious little more than signs and uniform standards". They have now adopted the shared space principles as a way of rethinking the woonerf. They are reported to "now know that car drivers should become residents. Eye contact and human interaction are more effective means to achieve and maintain attractive and safe areas than signs and rules".[5] [9]



Traffic sign indicating the start of a woonerf (and of the more generic erf)

Belgian traffic regulation (art. 2.32)[10] defines the woonerf and the generic erf, and their traffic sign. The woonerf has a residential focus; the erf can have other primary uses like “crafts, trade, tourism, education and recreation”.

In art. 22bis,[11] the Belgian traffic regulation describes what is and what isn’t allowed in a (woon)erf:

Within erven and woonerven:

  1. Pedestrians can use the full width of the public road; and playing is also allowed.
  2. Drivers may not endanger pedestrians or hinder them; if necessary they must stop. Furthermore they need to be twice as careful regarding children. Pedestrians may not obstruct traffic unnecessarily.
  3. Speed is limited to 20 km per hour.
  4. Parking is forbidden, except where there are visual markings like different surface colors, a letter P or traffic signs allowing parking.


Under Article 44 of the Dutch traffic code, motorised traffic in a woonerf or "recreation area" is restricted to 15 km/h in the Netherlands.[12]


  1. ^ "Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee - Agenda - Wednesday, January 11, 2012" (PDF). Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. 11 January 2012. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 10, 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  2. ^ "Woonerf". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on July 22, 2013. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  3. ^ MacPhee, Ian. "Is Vancouver ready for pedestrian priority streets?". re:place Magazine. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  4. ^ a b Lydon, Mike; Garcia, Anthony (2015). Tactical urbanism: short-term action for long-term change. Urban planning & design. Washington, DC: Island Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-61091-526-7.
  5. ^ a b "Final evaluation by imma-san". Shared Space. 2006.
  6. ^ Home Zones briefing sheet, Robert Huxford, Proceedings, Institution of Civil Engineers, Transport, 135, 45-46, February, 1999
  7. ^ Sterke woonerfwijken: voorkomen is beter dan herstructureren, archived from the original on 2014-09-03
  8. ^ The woonerfgoed network
  9. ^ "Woonerf revisited – The Emmen pilot in Shared Space" (PDF). 2006.
  10. ^ "Belgian traffic regulation, article 2.32". Retrieved 1 June 2021.
  11. ^ "Belgian traffic regulation, art. 22bis". Retrieved 1 June 2021.
  12. ^ Road Traffic Signs and Regulations in the Netherlands Ministerie van Verkeer en Waterstaat, June 2006 Accessed 7 February 2007.

Further reading