Similar sessions on a variety of topical issues are held regularly. See the whats on and book section of our website for more information
The session started with Colin Davies showing videos of Pedestrian Priority Zones in Switzerland and discussing how their approach could work in London
The videos showed normal places, not showcase schemes. Most included an area of shared/level surface, even if just a raised crossing but some retained kerbs but worked like shared surfaces. In none was 100% of the space between buildings shared and level.
It was clear that the schemes offered choice for pedestrians and Colin explained that people who felt a little vulnerable, such as the elderly or those with children used the formal crossings and safe unshared areas while other pedestrians went almost anywhere.
Colin also showed pictures of Ashford in Kent, where he felt vulnerable people where not so well catered for due in apart to the large size of the shared spaces to cross. He sited an example where a woman picked up her 4 year old child to walk across the space as she presumably did not feel comfortable letting him walk away from a formal pavement.
Colin discussed the argument for/against kerbs – and the idea that having no kerb helps those using wheelchairs or buggies. He observed in Switzerland that wheelchair users in particular did not seem to feel ‘comfortable’ enough to travel across the wider shared areas and took the longer routes using unshared areas and formal crossings. For these people not having kerbs anywhere so they could traverse the shared areas easily would not have been particularly helpful. Level crossings at key desire lines and along the ‘safe’ route were however useful for them.
Colin suggested that 2 things were very important to success in shared surfaces:
- pedestrian comfort/confidence
- driver compliance.
Without both shared and level surfaces in the UK might be likely to fail.
Not all pedestrians feel the same level of comfort and confidence in any one place which is why choice of how to use an area is important.
Driver compliance issues led us neatly onto the second presentation
Main trunk roads with new shared areas in Grenchen, Switzerland (right) and Ashford Kent (left)
Shared Space – Emerging Evidence by Stuart Reid, MVA Consultancy with support from Gereint Killa, DfT
The DfT commissioned MVA to carry out research to better understand driver and pedestrian behaviour in shared spaces and to see how people react when users conflict.
MVA recorded behaviour, movement and conflicts at 8 different town centre streets across England, and compared these to the level of ‘sharedness’ of the street and its surface.
They found a lot of interesting results, but to sum up things briefly:
- Not having a kerb and/or bollards and/or carriageway markings and having a visually shared and level surface seems to encourage more pedestrians to inhabit the whole area and slow cars.
- There are more pedestrians in the carriageway where vehicle speeds are lower and more pedestrians in the carriageway slows vehicles down BUT there has to be enough of them to make this happen.
- Shared surfaces support pedestrians following desire lines.
- Vehicles tend to give way to pedestrians more on shared surfaces but 15mph is a an important speed threshold – below this speed more cars give way to pedestrians, above this speed pedestrians stop or get out of the way of cars more.
There are lots more interesting findings, caveats etc. but in general the research seems to be saying that YES, shared and level surfaces in town centres can help reduce car speeds and encourage more pedestrian movement – BUT, only in some circumstances and only if traffic speeds are managed alongside more encouragement for pedestrians to use the carriageways.
MVA Consultancy – effect of speed on who gives way when conflict occurs
Jim Maylor from Brighton and Hove City Council explained his research into how shared surfaces work in Brighton.
Jim had studied 3 streets in Brighton, including New Road, and assessed not only the numbers of pedestrian using the areas but how long they stayed in one place and group sizes – both good indicators of the success of public areas for more than movement. He compared these levels with street design characteristics such as the use of kerbs or delineations, but also land uses, active frontages along the street facades and where seating was positioned.
He found, that the ‘success’ of a shared space area – assuming that the reason for doing it in the first place was to get more pedestrians to use it as outdoor communal living space and to support surrounding businesses – was dependant on a lot more than if there was a kerb or not. He suggested the following as important ingredients for any successful shared space scheme:
- Seating – an important resource if you want people to dwell in the space but location is important – seating works best in vibrant places where people feel safe, comfortable and can enjoy the view/ambiance
- Active frontages around the space to bring it to life and give people a reason for going there and staying for a while.
- Food outlets – the pie shop in one of his case studies had an effect on the success of the street environment with people sitting outside to eat.
- General street ambience – it needs to be clean, comfortable, attractive, shaded/protected etc. He noted that people stayed around the benches in new street for about 15 mins maybe because of the vibrant atmosphere – not just because the bench was there.
- Business mix – giving lots of reasons for people to visit/work there and encouraging multi activity trips to the area
- Temporal formal offer – I think he meant after shop hour offers like pubs and theatres to keep the area alive for longer – although once pedestrian levels dropped cars could still use the areas of course.
- A shared surface – not necessarily an important ingredient, other factors like retail/leisure uses fronting the street seemed more important.
People who stayed in the tarea for more than 5 mins – effect of seating in new Road Brighton (Jim Maylor Brighton and Hove City council)
Summing up after these three presentations it seemed clear that in town centres/commercial areas good shared/level surfaces are about a lot more than the basic question – to kerb or not to kerb.
Pulling together the main themes form the talks we can maybe suggest some principles for these types of schemes;
- Combine wider traffic calming measures with a shared zone. We have a chicken and egg situation where more pedestrians in the carriageway will dramatically slow cars, but only if there are enough of them and you are unlikely to reach this number unless the cars are going slowly enough to start with. 15mph for traffic may be a tipping point below which pedestrians feel more able to take over the carriageway. But it is unlikely that traffic can be brought down straight away from 30 or 40mph to 15mph and you can not rely on pedestrians as traffic calming measures at higher speeds. So maybe features to create a 20mph wider area can successfully lead to sub 15mph and pedestrian priority in the shared zone.
- Only use shared space where there are enough businesses and activities around it to make it lively and generate footfall. A fancy street scheme by itself will do nothing if there is no reason for pedestrians to be in the area.
- Encourage people to dwell in the area with seating, a good ambiance, attractive environment, shelter etc. Maintenance and management as well as initial designs are vital for this.
- Make sure the space is the right size. An overly large shared area, without enough going on in it is maybe less likely to feel pedestrian friendly and work. But neither is an overly crowded area with conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists and strollers/striders etc.
- Give pedestrians choice – don’t make them all brave the shared space unless it is short and everyone will feel that their journey is safe and easy. Respect desire lines whenever you can, but also provide more traditional ‘safe’ routes and crossings for those who want to use them.
- Only remove the visual demarcation between pavement and carriageway when you are totally satisfied it is the right thing to do. Although these types of design can help to slow down cars, they will not work on their own and if you don’t follow all of the points above just removing the demarcation may not achieve a good result.
- Your scheme is never finished. Ongoing monitoring and alterations to reflect how it is working and demands is vital, as is good maintenance of course.
Residential Shared Surfaces – examples and observations from Proctor and Matthews Architects
Andrew Matthews showed pictures of residential schemes with shared streets and explained how they work in practice. For example in Millennium Village London there are separate parking buildings and cars are only allowed to park in the streets next to homes for 20 mins. These parking buildings were designed with the ability to convert into business use if parking demand drops, which it does seem to be doing in the area.
Andrew showed a lot of other examples including Newhall in Harlow and a project his firm has been working on for the Scottish Govt, called Polnoon in Eaglesham. Here the practice has been developing thinking around how shared surfaces can support the overall layout, character and performance of the neighbourhood. We were shown an impressive flythrough of the design which gave a good impression of how buildings, site lines, street configurations and planting were all designed to work together.
All the examples shown looked to be constructed and maintained to a high standard and illustrated a clear typology of UK house building which does not rely on traditional street, pavement and walled or fenced front gardens. Instead it takes aspects from the parking and amenity courts more commonly seen around flats and applies this to the whole residential area.
These shared residential zones allow for a more efficient use of land with higher building densities being achieved. They can be seen as part of the drive to optimise land use seen over the last decade.
Although shared residential surfaces rely on some of the same principles as town centre shared areas, there are some fundamental differences too. Both are using the lack of demarcation or barriers between carriageway and footpath to slow traffic and provide more space for pedestrians. But although in town centres this is normally done because of the demand for space by users, in residential developments it may be more about creating a communal character in the area.
In residential areas there is not generally the degree of either vehicle or pedestrian activity needed to alter driver behaviour changes and slow traffic. Therefore the design of the streets themselves, and their relationship to surrounding routes, is very important to keeping speeds down and pedestrians safe. Tight turns, short lines of sight, trees etc as obstacles and narrow carriageways are all common features used to achieve slower speeds.
Andrew explained some of the key problems to delivering successful residential shared surfaces. He said that they did not normally call them ‘Homezones’ as they felt that designation brought with it too many formal requirements on signage etc. Others at the event were not too sure about this, and the examples shown certainly looked like homezones but without the signs.
Andrew also explained the major problem of getting local authorities to adopt these streets. Issues relating to drainage (from private but physically integrated areas onto adopted surfaces) non standard materials and simply the unfamiliar profile of the streets could all lead to authorities refusing to adopt. This in turn could lead to the privatisation of public space, with house builders or others having control over who can use and cross the areas and potentially a lack of certainty over long term maintenance.
There was a feeling in the room that in London it was the inability to enforce parking restrictions in these areas that was the greatest worry. With suppressed demand for commuter and residential parking in many parts of London, it was felt that shared surface streets in new developments could be prone to parking abuse with councils unable to enforce parking restrictions because they could not follow the strict letter of the parking regs properly (e.g how to enforce requirement to not park over a dropped kerb when there is no kerb at all?)
Overall it seemed that although there was some very good examples and innovation in residential street shared surfaces there were still a lot of practical hurdles to overcome such as the adoptability of the areas, local authority attitudes, drainage from private to public, the attitude of utility companies and the big issue of parking control. A main aim of schemes has been to create a family friendly environment, but in some cases it may also be used to increase densities, especially if shared spaces are counted as amenity space.
Downtown, Southwark (Proctor and Matthews Architects)
Smartlife, Cambridgeshire (Proctor and Matthews Architects)
Agnieszka Zimnicka from Croydon Council showed the meeting pictures of some clever street planting in Brussels. Narrow but tall trees had been added to small build outs along the road to make it appear much greener and more inviting without talking up much space.