The way we plan and develop urban infrastructure requires a radical overhaul. As society grows larger and busier, it becomes painfully clear that traditional thinking is obsolete and unsuitable for the twenty-first century. Andrew Gill, specification product manager at Brett Landscaping, explains how we can expand on the concept of “shared spaces” as a solution to a variety of problems.
WHEN THE GOVERNMENT RECENTLY CALLED ON LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO DE-CLUTTER THEIR STREETS, they were simply reiterating a widely held belief that Britain’s urban streets are a shambles. They did, however, imply a broader dissatisfaction with the urban environment. Congestion, pollution, road safety, and inadequate public transportation are all issues. Our cities are clearly failing to function as intended and are becoming increasingly unfit for purpose.
According to a recent public satisfaction survey published by the Institute of Civil Engineers, nearly half of people (49 percent) rank roads and highways first on their list of areas in need of investment, with public transportation coming in second. More investment in flood defences was supported by 21% of voters. Nobody appears to be happy.
Each of these ‘top-three’ issues of concern can be addressed through better design integration for both new projects and regeneration of existing areas.
The key is to treat all three issues as a single issue, rather than treating roads and highways, public transportation, and flood defence as distinct issues with distinct, conflicting solutions. In fact, there is a single simple solution that addresses all three issues.
The concept of’shared space’ is new, but it has already proven to be a viable solution to the problem of archaic infrastructure design. Shared space is a design approach pioneered by Dutch road designer Hans Monderman in the 1970s that eliminates the traditional separation of vehicles and pedestrians in favour of a more integrated design.
Zones of Residence Intelligent design and the use of well-chosen materials can help communities reclaim streets by striking a balance between vehicular and pedestrian use. The concept of shared space is gaining traction in the United Kingdom, thanks to the publication of Home Zones by the Department of Transport, as well as the Manual for Streets (MfS) and the recently launched MfS2. The concept of shared space has resulted in some spectacular successes in Europe, such as in Bohmte, Germany, and Makkinga, the Netherlands, where road signs have been removed entirely and highway infrastructure has been carefully designed to successfully influence drivers.
When it comes to the design of shared spaces, it has been proven that the intelligent use of concrete block paving on roads encourages lower traffic speeds in densely populated areas. One of the findings in Manual for Streets was that using block paving instead of asphalt reduced traffic speeds in urban areas by 2.5 to 4.5 mph, giving all users more time to react.
Similarly, the use of different colours and textures of block paving can help to create clearly defined areas and clear traffic routes, thereby contributing to a safer environment.
Materials that improve the environment for pedestrians, vehicles, and public transportation users can be used in integrated design. Users with disabilities must also be given special consideration. At the moment, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) requires only that accessibility be taken into account. As a result, the onus is placed on bus companies to address accessibility issues through methods such as bus ramps.
However, this is far from a perfect solution, and in many areas, boarding buses remains a challenge for a large number of people, no doubt one of the reasons for the ICC survey’s dissatisfaction with public transportation, but one that can be easily overcome by intelligent design.
Tactile paving and products such as specialist Kassel bus boarding kerbs can help to make public transportation more accessible to all users, particularly the disabled.
Any plans to develop shared spaces must therefore take public transportation accessibility into account. This is also a key driver in removing vehicles from the road, particularly in urban areas where pollution and congestion are major concerns.
Where directional signage is required Trief Chevron and Trief Cadet Chevron Kerbs can be used in traffic control or calming designs. The units ensure vehicle and pedestrian safety by acting as a physical and visual deterrent. Their distinct ‘tyre trapping’ design aids in the prevention of vehicles leaving the highway.
The kerbs are available with a painted surface or an epoxy-based finish that includes glass Ballotini beads for a reflective surface. Important directional and warning instructions can thus be integrated into the infrastructure, aiding in the decluttering of the environment and ensuring the safety of all users.
Flooding may not appear to be directly related to the design and development of shared spaces on the surface. However, proper material selection and integrated design can help to ensure that the area serves to help with the growing problem of urban flooding without compromising design.
Permeable paving has a 2:1 performance ratio, which means that an area of permeable paving can drain twice its own area.
Permeable paving can thus be integrated into the overall design using a’mix and match’ approach of permeable and non-permeable products to suit, with no need for the entire project to feature permeable paving. Local governments are increasingly understanding how to mix and match paving to create an integrated, coherent system.
The new coalition government has made it clear that it remains committed to spending reasonable amounts on housing, transportation, education, and flood management. Over the next four years, 150,000 new homes will be built for the social housing sector, 145,000 properties will benefit from improved flood and water management, £30 billion will be invested in transportation infrastructure, and school spending will increase from £35 billion to £39 billion. Despite scrapping the BSF scheme, the Chancellor confirmed a £15.8 billion investment in school buildings (either new build or refurbishment).
The challenge now is for government departments to collaborate to ensure that design is better integrated and that we get more ‘bang for our buck’ from reduced government spending in the coming years. There is already a lot of good advice in place, as well as a more robust regulatory framework pushing for sustainability. The government must now connect the dots and guide society toward a future in which the urban environment is healthier and better for all.