Exhibition Road Redux

“Shared space schemes labelled ‘dangerous’ in Lords report”

“A new House of Lords report has called for a moratorium on any new ‘frightening and intimidating’ shared space schemes”

Architects Journal

But a House of Lords report says it doesn’t work well enough.

WE GAVE Exhibition Road a mixed review in Street Design. I visited Exhibition Road a few times and found it over-designed, a frequent problem for 21st century streets. I agreed with our friend and colleague Hank Dittmar, whom we quoted on the subject of Exhibition Road: “Only the parked cars look comfortable.”

It’s in the news this week, because it may be the most famous Shared Space in Britain, at a time when “Shared Space” is the buzzword of the moment for High Streets (Main Streets) around the country. Most local politicians in the UK seem to know about Shared Space, and now a member of the House of Lords has come out with a report that labels them “dangerous”—and in fact many UK Shared Spaces do seem dangerous, for at least two reasons: cars driving on them routinely go faster than is safe for spaces where pedestrians, cyclists, and cars are sharing the road; and they are frequently unsafe for the blind.

I say “frequently,” but I’ve only visited a few Shared Spaces in the UK. I’ve been tweeting for a while with the makers of a film called Sea of Change, however, which shows “the devastating impact of shared space on the blind and partially sighted people of Great Britain.” It premiered at the House of Lords in December 2013.

During the planning process for Exhibition Road (opened in 2012), modifications were made for the blind, but those don’t seem to be enough. In addition, the design speed for Exhibition Road is just too high. In theory the speed limit is 20 miles per hour, but drivers comfortably go faster—and that’s a problem for any Shared Space. The problem gets worse at the northern end of the road, which is in the City of Westminster, where the design speed is even faster than in the southern part in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Of course that traffic behavior spills over. The wide roundabout at the border introduces a little confusion, which slows cars down, but not enough to make everyone drive as slowly as they should in a Shared Space.

That’s one reason why I call Shared Space “Slow Streets.” Shared Space doesn’t work unless the cars are going slowly. And apparently that’s not the case in too many British examples. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

I believe the striping and texture is for the benefit of the blind—but how do they cross the road, knowing that drivers are sometimes going quickly?

About John Massengale

Architect, Urbanist, Author, Educator
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