Tuesday 4 January 2011

What won’t bring about mass cycling (2) ‘Shared Space’

If you were Mayor for the day what would you do to improve the lot of the London cyclist?

Create more ‘shared space’ areas. People tend to be quite reluctant towards these
but evidence from the Netherlands and Germany for example shows that they are safer because different road users learn to look out for each other.


The US is a long way from catching up to Europe in designing streets that allow the flexible, unchoreographed mixing of cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians.

A recent presentation by Ben Hamilton-Baillie at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, highlighted how far Europe, and especially Great Britain, have gone toward letting motorists and pedestrians sort things out for themselves rather than having traffic engineers impose a strict order on circulation.

At Seven Dials in Covent Garden, London, a monument stands in center of a complicated intersection, with people gathered round. “It’s been in this form for 22 years,” Hamilton-Baillie says. “It’s the safest junction in London. Pedestrians take little notice of the drivers. Drivers pay attention.
Civility is inherent in that process.”

Civility? Check out 62 seconds of the actually existing conditions at Seven Dials a couple of weeks ago:

Drivers give way to each other but Seven Dials does not strike me as civilised space. Rather it's motor-vehicle-sick space (and just look at the amazing volume of black cabs). The monument is currently boarded up for repair but even if it wasn't I don't think you'd find people sitting on the steps on a cold, bleak December morning with drizzle in the air.

Seven Dials is not obviously pedestrian friendly and if you try strolling out into this space and get run down don’t expect sympathy from the coroner or any interest from the Crown Prosecution Service. Nor does it strike me as particularly cycling friendly. It’s like 20 mph zones – 'shared space' may reduce the numbers of people killed or injured, but it does nothing to restrain the hegemony of motor vehicles.

The idea that shared space might now eradicate the symptoms of car sickness in the city seems optimistic. The assumption is made, perhaps, that the reason why traffic management failed — the huge growth in traffic density — is the same reason why, when we revert to pre-traffic management streets, we will not simply revert to pre-traffic management problems. And certainly the absurdly optimistic assumption is made that, while magically solving all of our existing problems, shared space will not create entirely new ones.

Shared space might be a miracle cure. But it might just as plausibly be a desperate and unrealistic last-ditch attempt to justify continuing to allow masses of inappropriate private vehicles on London streets that manifestly cannot handle them.

I’m with Crossrider:

shared space is actually a nonsense concept. It's used to justify spending a fortune on York stone slabs, granite setts, and generally digging up the road and giving it a makeover to keep highway engineers in a job. All you really need to do is get rid of the traffic.