People and streets: new approaches to people vs cars

by 21 September 2007blog, comment, place making, small towns

Lake Road, Keswick Town Centre, shared surface

The introduction of shared spaces and the removal of traffic signs, formal traffic control and signal controlled junctions is gaining momentum in European towns and cities as part of a European Union supported initiative. Spiegel Online reported last week on the German town of Bohmte where road signs and traffic regulation are being abolished. This report follows on from an earlier article last year which announced the EU experiment.

Hans Monderman is often credited with promoting this approach to humanising urban space. An article in Wired back in December 2004 clearly set out Monderman’s ideas. These include:

  • removing signs and relying instead on the surrounding townscape for clues about traffic flow to improve the relationship between people and streets
  • careful lighting of roads and adjacent pedestrian areas as a single design
  • extending pavement activities to the edge of the street, further emphasizing the idea of shared space.
  • ensuring eye to eye negotiation of right of way by human interaction rather than commonly ignored signs.
  • eliminating kerbs – instead of a raised kerb, pavements or footpaths should be denoted by texture and colour.

In the UK, this approach to traffic and people has been promoted particularly by Martin Stockley and by Ben Hamilton-Baillie who recently carried out a series of case studies for CABE on better street design. We have worked with Martin Stockley on proposals for Renfrew Town Centre and Keswick.

Renfrew Town Centre shared surface proposal

We have also promoted shared surfaces and a more flexible approach to traffic and pedestrian interaction in proposals for Keith, Ardrishaig, Nelson and St Helier. This approach is reflected to some extent in the Department for Transport’s design guidance Manual for Streets which marks another gradual move towards higher standards of street environments.

There is a report and description of related work in Kensington High Street, London here.