The public realm is frequently characterised by clutter. Roads and streets are often dominated by ‘street furniture’ components which include anything from bins, benches, bollards, railings, lighting, signposts and cycle stands. Some of these items are introduced on grounds of ‘pedestrian improvements’, yet they stagger pedestrian crossings and impede pedestrian movement while allowing a free run for the car. Therefore, all these need careful attention. Since the promotion of walking, cycling and place making are high on the agenda, it is recognised that changing designers and local authorities approach to street design is vital to create attractive streets while giving high priority to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and users of public transport.
Tim Long gave us a presentation on a more sophisticated, smarter design approach with a particular focus on the use of innovative, multi-purpose street furniture elements to avoid clutter and make streets and public spaces more attractive environment.
As Tim explained, by implementing multi-purpose street furniture, a number of objectives can be achieved:
-Reducing visual and physical clutter in public spaces
-Less cleaning, management and maintenance
-Appreciate architectural quality
-Simplify street design
The first objective is particularly relevant in today’s security conscious urban environments, specifically where the use various design elements (bollards, planters and other form of barriers) intend to reduce vulnerability and increase security.
The presentation included a number of case studies where improvements have taken place and provided great examples of different type of street furniture such as ‘bin & bench’,(a multi-functional bench that can be also used as a bin) which was implemented in Covent Garden’s Great Queen Street.
Other solutions included anti-terrorism benches and bollards whereby the counter-terrorism function is hidden for the users. These furniture elements are impact tested to stop vehicles to carry out attacks.
The session generated a number of interesting questions and discussion points towards the end in terms of comfort, cost effectiveness, practicality, use of material and people’s experience using these new features.
This discussion was followed by looking at a range of surface materials and their correct applications as well as suitability in different urban environment. As Mark, an expert on landscape & surface materials described, there are a number of considerations which need to be taken into account when choosing surface materials for paving or road surfaces. These include for instance resistance, durability, weather condition of the country and finishing of materials. Handling should also be considered, as this have a time and cost implication on public realm and urban design projects.
Edmund Bird- Heritage and Its Role within TfL
Transport can impact on the historic environment in a number of ways, some negative but some positive. For instance, a new road may risk damaging archaeology or affect the setting of a listed building and historical character of the area. On the other hand, a sensitively designed public space free on unnecessary street clutter such as signs, guardrails and road markings can be a positive benefit to the historic area.
The focus of Edmund Bird’s presentation was on the relationship between heritage and new transport proposals of different scales from public realm improvements to major infrastructural proposal in historical settings. Looking at a wide array of case studies and examples, the presentation provided an excellent insight into sensitive issues, design considerations and possible conflicts when dealing with public transport improvements in historic environments.
A brief discussion included topics on restoration processes, historic bollards as well as other considerations such as trees and landscape protection.
Nick Blades- Legible London
Nick Blades is a programme Manager at Transport for London within the Strategy and Business Development Directorate. He is currently working on the Legible London Programme but at TfL has previously worked on a range of transport and urban realm projects including London Bridge Interchange, Greenwich Waterfront Transit , A406 Bonds Green Safety and Environmental Enhancements, A13 Renwick Road Junction Improvement. Previously, he has worked as a transport planner for a range of public sector organisations and private sector consultants.
Despite improvements in the last few years, there are a number of challenges facing London and its transport system. Public transport is crowded and roads are congested. In order to reduce overcrowding and maintain the efficiency of the transport system, further investment in transport infrastructure are planned, along with the Major’s objective to improve cycling and walking in London and provide a safe and efficient pedestrian network in the city. However, as Nick explained, there are a number of barriers to walking in the city due to lack of information, poor integration and infrastructure, people’s poor awareness about distance and lack of research in relation to pedestrian movements and how they can be improved.
In order to develop an integrated and effective pedestrian network, TfL is piloting ‘Legible London’ to tackle these issues and help both residents and visitors walk their destination quickly and easily.
As the presentation highlighted, the system aims to integrate, feed and co-ordinate a range of information, including street signs and printed maps to help people find their way. Most importantly, it seeks to be part of the wider transport network by providing consistent end to end journey information via a range of media, TfL modes and in different places.
Discussion towards the end of the session provided an opportunity to find out more about future delivery and system development, partnership working and cost implications of the scheme.
Lennox Davidson- Oxford Circus Diagonal Crossing
Nick’s presentation was followed by an extremely interesting overview about Oxford Circus’s Diagonal Crossing by Lennox Davidson from Transport for London. Claimed to be the largest of its type in Europe, the crossing has been inspired by one in the Sibuya district of Tokyo in Japan to cut congestion and overcrowding of London’s busiest retail street and devote more space to pedestrian movement.
In order to allow getting people to cross with ease, all its barriers and street clutter were removed and remodelled and footways were widened to give pedestrians the freedom to move around quickly both straight and diagonally.
As Lennox stressed, it was important to attain a deep understanding of the problems of Oxford Circus and conduct a series of analysis and predictions in relation to pedestrian movement, impact on buses and journey time for such high profile transport planning and urban design intervention.
Six months on, the project is already considered to be highly successful and has brought a number benefits, for instance:
- Improved public realm
- Reduced pedestrian congestion
- Walk time has been reduced
- However, there is a need to do more surveys on bus journeys and traffic.
After the seminar, a number of questions were raised, which generated a stimulating discussion on Accident rates since the completion of the project and the impact of removing guard rails around the site, which, as Lennox explained had no efficient function and were considered to be as part of an old design. However, terrorism and ‘design out of terrorism’ appeared to be a concern during the design process and a number of meetings had to take place with Anti-terrorism design officers to find some solutions for their concerns.