Projects aiming to declutter our streets have come in for a bashing but with careful planning they improve the experience of all road users
The design of our streets continues to raise heated debate. Only recently The Times reported that that shared space schemes are causing “chaos and catastrophe” for road users.
To dismiss shared space schemes out of hand, however, is to overlook the many benefits they can bring for our streetscape. Shared space projects aim to promote a more decluttered approach to public realm design, minimising street furniture, from traffic lights and kerbs to signs and road markings, to reduce the physical differentiators between road vehicles and other users.
Our public spaces have become victims of excessive clutter, home to an array of signs, road markings, barriers, street furniture, signals and lighting columns
European research projects pioneered by Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman, have shown that these public realm decluttering schemes can help to both reduce traffic congestion and accident rates.
By removing traffic controls, drivers must pay more careful attention to pedestrians and cyclists as a cue for their behaviour, encouraging them to drive more slowly and be more observant about their surroundings. Similar initiatives have now spread around the world to countries including South Africa, Australia, Japan, Brazil and Canada.
With placemaking a key concern for development projects, we should also not forget the aesthetic improvements a more streamlined approach to our streets can offer.
Our public spaces have become victims of excessive clutter, home to an array of signs, road markings, barriers, street furniture, signals and lighting columns – many of which could be amalgamated or removed to the benefit of our cities, towns and villages and the communities they serve.
The implementation of shared space schemes certainly needs careful planning and must take into account the needs of all road users, as well as thinking about how these might change over time.
However, the key to making them a success lies with road users. We need to drive behavioural change among motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. Amending the Highway Code, as proposed by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT), may be one way to do this.
Whatever the means, educating road users to help them adapt to this new approach to street design will ensure it can live up to its name; making our public realm more inclusive and sharing the benefits for all.
David Smith is development director at infrastructure services company FM Conway