|In Much of the World, Pedestrians Rule the Naked Streets|
|Thursday, 11 April 2013 00:00 | Written by Dawn Marshallsay | Blog Entry|
When the streets get naked, the pedestrians come out to play. It sounds strange that road accidents are reduced when you remove the curbs, signs and traffic lights that were designed to maintain safety, but this removal forces drivers to make eye contact with pedestrians and travel slower in case they need to break sharply—you never know where or when a pedestrian will want to cross the road. It’s therefore no surprise that naked streets, or so-called “shared space” schemes, are spreading across the globe.
This is good news for the environment, as improving pedestrian freedom and safety—and slowing cars down—will encourage more people to walk and reduce car emissions. Driving slower also uses gasoline more efficiently and, in some cases, travel time is shortened, as cars don’t have to wait at traffic lights.
Origins of a Worldwide Phenomenon
It was Ben Hamilton-Baillie from the UK, however, who coined the phrase “shared space,” while carrying out such a project in 2003. He is now an advisory expert for the European Commission’s Shared Space research project, which launched in 2003 and has led to such arrangements springing up across Europe, including at the following towns and cities:
There are now shared-space programs in every corner of the globe, including Australia, Brazil, Japan, Russia, South Africa and the USA. It could be said that Tokyo led the way, as most of its roads follow the shared-space principle, although they were not purposefully designed to reduce accidents. London’s busy Oxford Circus launched a Tokyo-style, X-shaped pedestrian crossing in November 2009, removing barriers and frequently stopping all traffic for 30 second to allow pedestrians to cross the road diagonally.
Some traffic lights remain, and there are still road signs directing drivers to car parks and destinations beyond the town center, but there are fewer things to steal drivers’ attention away from pedestrians wanting to cross the road. On the year-anniversary of the scheme, it was announced that there had been zero accidents for pedestrians and drivers.
Another problem Ashford has encountered since its ring road went naked is the issue of parking. Because the town center is strict on charging for parking, with a plentiful amount of parking meters and wardens, the removal of curbs and yellow lines allowed cars to start parking on pavements for free, which of course reduced the pavement width and led to cracks in the newly laid slabs. Unfortunately this had to be solved by placing temporary barriers on the road. This may not have occurred in a town where there was plenty of free parking.
The UK’s Royal National Institute for the Blind, and Guide Dogs for the Blind, have criticized the removal of curbs and railings, as blind people and their dogs have learned to depend on these to stop them from wandering into the road. Furthermore, the beeping of traffic lights used to tell the blind when it was safe to cross. Can blind people trust drivers to stop when they walk out into the road? If shared-space implementations are reducing drivers’ speeds and making them more aware of what pedestrians are doing, it’s probably the safest situation for a blind person to try crossing the road, as shown in the reduction of accidents.
Future Shared Spaces
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