A new House of Lords report has called for a moratorium on any new ‘frightening and intimidating’ shared space schemes
Overzealous councils are risking public safety with fashionable, ‘simplified’ designs for shared spaces, according to the document Accidents by Design: The Holmes Report into Shared Space.
After finding ‘overwhelmingly negative’ experiences from the public, the report’s author, blind paralympic swmming champion Chris Holmes has called for an immediate ban on new schemes.
Holmes branded the projects, such as Dixon Jones’s innovative Exhibition Road streetscape in Kensington, an ‘architectural conceit’.
The study claims that of the 523 drivers, cyclists and pedestrians polled by researchers, the overwhelmingly majority were opposed to the schemes with 63 per cent of people rating their experience as ‘poor’. The report also noted a significant under-reporting of accidents occuring in shared spaces.
The report said: ‘This survey clearly shows just how misguided a planning approach that aims to improve pedestrian movement and comfort and “enable all users to share space” is when users actually report anxiety, fear and in over a third of cases a refusal to use the space at all.
‘People constantly referred to finding the schemes ‘frightening’, ‘intimidating’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘never feeling safe’. The majority of respondents were pedestrians but we had an extraordinarily broad range of users from pedestrians, with and without disabilities, to drivers, including professional drivers, and cyclists.
‘The survey results also highlighted a worrying trend of underreporting of accidents which also needs urgent attention.’
Shared space schemes remove regulations and features such as kerbs, road surface markings, traffic signs and controlled crossings. The schemes will often see cars and bicycles share the same space as pedestrians in certian environments.
The report concluded there was an urgent need for accessibility audits for all shared space schemes and a central record of accident data including ‘courtesy crossings’ which must be defined and monitored.
Pedestrians felt strongly in many areas that drivers did not recognise that an area was a shared space and were not slowing down to allow people to cross. One person commenting on a shared space scheme in Hackbridge said they were unable to cross their road.
Another pedestrian commenting on the Hackbridge scheme said: ‘It is now more dangerous to cross the road and I have witnessed many more crashes and accidents with car collision because drivers do not know what to do when they approach these schemes and pedestrians are being told to walk out in front of a car to cross the road - it’s crazy.’
Drivers, the document claims, are equally as concerned about the safety element of shared spaces. One driver who responded to the survey said: ‘We spent years and loads of money teaching our children to stop, look and listen, now they will have to stop, hope and pray.’
A cyclist on London’s roads said: ‘Shared space is a false promise with poor delivery … sharing is never on equal terms - as a confident but anxious cyclist, I usually win the sharing transactions, but if a particular driver doesn’t want to yield, they won’t.’
Shared Space: friend or foe? [Report extract]
Pedestrian: ‘I didn’t feel safe for/with children - there were no clear boundaries for them. Road traffic was still moving at 20mph or more, I had to make sure we held their hands the whole time. Motor traffic often failed to give way at “informal crossings”, and lack of pedestrian priority crossings meant you had to basically take your chances or wait a long time to cross the “road”.
Cyclist: ‘Exhibition Road still feels largely dominated by motor vehicles; cyclists are still restricted to pavements. By being a junction, Paul Street feels unsafe. I can appreciate that the design is made for users to engage with their surroundings and therefore be safer, but as a cyclist the shared space has made me particularly anxious because of the danger of collision with cars and the lack of spatial awareness among pedestrians.’
Blind pedestrian: ‘I am blind. Not knowing the difference between the place where I’m safe and the bit where I can be killed is scary!’
Pedestrian: ‘I found when a driver did stop for me to cross a lot of times the driver coming in the opposite direction did not stop and this meant standing in the middle of the road with nowhere to go, and sometimes being shouted at for being in the road. I therefore found it very dangerous and not a nice experience!”
Driver: ‘If as a driver you stop to let pedestrians across you are often abused by other drivers. I stop, but the cars coming the other way don’t, so pedestrians don’t know whether to cross or not or they cross and then have to run. Elderly and disabled are too scared to cross as they can’t move fast enough.’