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Safe Roads - the urban way forward?

    Do you ever get the feeling when you see your local authority constructing yet another road 'improvement' scheme, that in some ways it's like watching a pursuit cycle race in slow motion? You know the kind, where riders start on the opposite sides of the track and try to catch each other. From where you sit, one rider is going one way, and the other in the opposite direction. Invariably they are not seen going the same way.

    It's like that with road design. Research shows we should be doing this, or that, but the local planners appear still trailing behind. For years we have seen the proliferation of roads signs for every conceivable eventuality, and as a result our highways have become a nightmare of signposts which only serve to obscure the messages they are intended to project.

    In London an experiment is expected to take place which will stand conventional wisdom on its head. A west London road may be stripped of its kerb, traffic lights and signs in an attempt to encourage pedestrians, cyclists and cars to mingle. We have selected this report from THE TIMES as one worth retaining before it leaves the internet.

    Will the first naked street make drivers slowdown?

By Ben Webster, The Times Transport Correspondent

    ROAD signs, barriers and even traffic lights could disappear from Britain’s streets if an experiment on one of London’s most famous thoroughfares is adopted around the country.
    Exhibition Road, home of the Science, Natural History and Victoria & Albert museums, is to be the showcase for a street design in which cars and pedestrians will be encouraged to mingle.

    All traditional signals and barriers used to separate the carriageway and pavement will be removed and the question of who has priority will deliberately be left open. Even the kerb will be eliminated as part of the scheme to create Britain’s first such “shared space”.

    The theory is that all street-users are equal. Drivers will be forced to slow down and establish eye contact with pedestrians because they will no longer be able to assume that they have right of way.

Picture showing what Exhibition Road would look like if the redesign goes ahead:  picture courtesy of Guardian (click here)

     Traffic managers traditionally have taken the view that pedestrians and vehicles must be separated at all costs. But research from the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany has shown that traffic lights and road signs deter road-users from taking responsibility for their actions. A driver simply looks at the colour of the light rather than at people wanting to cross. Far from making junctions safer, the array of signs and markings on modern roads distract road-users from the task of safely negotiating a route past other people.

    The concept of “shared space” was pioneered in the Netherlands, where traffic lights and signs were removed from several junctions. Despite widespread predictions of chaos and carnage, the approach has reduced the number of crashes and made car journeys quicker.

    The maximum speed through the shared space will fall to 20mph, as it is impossible to establish eye contact when travelling any faster, but drivers will save time by no longer having to wait for a green light if there is a gap at the junction. Pedestrians will be able to cross anywhere.

    Ben Hamilton-Baillie, an urban designer who has helped to draw up the plans for Exhibition Road, said that motorists would still have full access to the road, but it would be like driving through a campsite. “You don’t need signs everywhere on a campsite telling you to give way or stop or slow down, because its blindingly obvious what you need to do,” he said.

    Drivers would also be more responsible for any accidents as they would no longer be able to argue that people “just stepped out into the road”.

    Kensington & Chelsea Council, the lead authority on the Exhibition Road project, also plans to apply shared space principles to Sloane Square by removing the roundabout and creating two large pedestrian areas outside the Royal Court Theatre and Peter Jones department store.

    Wiltshire County Council has tested removing white lines from the centre of urban roads and found that accidents fell by 35 per cent.

    For those on broadband who wish to see an inspiring slide show on the subject compiled by UK traffic specialist Ben Hamilton-Baillee click http://www.utrc2.org/events/assets/baillie.pdf

Megabytes but highly recommended