The way we plan and develop the urban infrastructure needs a radical rethink. As society gets bigger and busier, it is painfully obvious that traditional thinking is outmoded and not suitable for the 21st century. Andrew Gill, specification product manager at Brett Landscaping explains how we can further develop the concept of ‘shared spaces’ as a solution to a raft of issues
WHEN the Government recently called on local authorities to de-clutter streets, they were simply echoing a commonly held belief that Britain’s urban streets are a mess. However, in doing so they also hinted at a wider dissatisfaction with the urban environment. Congestion, pollution, road safety, poor public transport. It’s clear that our urban centres are failing to function as intended and are increasingly not fit for purpose.
A recent public satisfaction survey published by the Institute of Civil Engineers revealed that nearly half of people (49%) place roads and highways at the top of their list of areas that need investment, with public transport second. 21% voted for more investment in flood defences. Clearly, nobody is happy.
Each of these ‘top-three’ issues of concern can be addressed through improved integration of design for both new projects as well as the regeneration of existing areas.
The secret is to regard all three issues as one problem, rather than treating roads and highways, public transport and flood defence as separate issues with distinct, conflicting solutions. In fact, there is one simple solution which deals with all three.
The concept of ‘shared space’ is relatively new, but already has proved itself as a solution to the problem of archaic infrastructure design. Pioneered by Dutch road designer Hans Monderman in the 1970s, shared space is a design approach which sees the traditional segregation of vehicles and pedestrians removed in favour of a more integrated design.
Home Zones Intelligent design and the use of well chosen materials can be used to strike a balance between vehicular use and pedestrian use and can help communities to reclaim streets. The shared space concept is coming to the fore in UK with the publication of Home Zones by the Department of Transport and the Manual for Streets (MfS) and the recently launched MfS2. The shared space concept has resulted in some spectacular successes in Europe, for example in Bohmte in Germany and Makkinga in the Netherlands, where road signs have been removed altogether and the highways infrastructure has been carefully designed to successfully influence drivers.
When it comes to the design of shared spaces, the intelligent use of concrete block paving on roads has been proven to encourage lower traffic speeds in built-up areas. One of the findings in Manual for Streets was that, in using block paving in place of asphalt, traffic speeds in urban areas fell by between 2.5 mph and 4.5 mph, giving all users greater time to react.
Similarly, the use of different colours and textures of block paving can also help to create clearly defined areas and clear routes for traffic, again helping to create a safer environment.
Within integrated design, materials can be used which further enhance the environment for pedestrians, vehicles and users of public transport. Special consideration must also be given to those users with disabilities. At the moment the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) requires only that consideration of accessibility be given. As a result the onus is passed on to the bus operating companies to deal with accessibility through techniques such as ramps on buses.
However, this is a far-from-perfect solution and in many areas boarding buses remains a challenge for a great many people, no doubt one of the reasons behind the dissatisfaction in public transport registered in the ICC survey, but again one which can be easily overcome by intelligent design.
Tactile paving and products such as specialist Kassel bus boarding kerbs can help to make access to public transport easier for all users, especially the disabled.
Any plans to develop shared spaces must therefore consider improvements in the access to public transport. This also represents a key driver in taking vehicles off the roads, especially in urban centres where pollution and congestion are seen as major issues.
Where directional signage is essential Trief Chevron and Trief Cadet Chevron Kerbs can be used as part of a traffic management or calming design. The units provide vehicle and pedestrian safety through physical and visual deterrent. Their unique ‘tyre trapping’ design helps to prevent vehicles from leaving the highway.
The kerbs are available with either a painted surface or with an epoxy based finish which contains glass Ballotini beads for a reflective surface. In this way essential directional and warning instructions can be integrated into the infrastructure, again helping to de-clutter the environment and ensure safety for all users.
The issue of flooding may not, on the face of it, appear to be directly connected with the design and development of shared spaces. However, the correct choice of materials and integrated design can help to ensure that the area serves to help with the increasing problem of urban flooding without impacting on design.
Permeable paving delivers a 2:1 performance ratio in that an area of permeable paving is capable of draining twice its own area.
In this way permeable paving can be integrated into the wider design using a ‘mix and match’ approach of permeable and non-permeable products to suit and there is no need for the entire project to feature permeable paving. Local authorities are increasingly coming to understand how to mix and match paving to develop an integrated, coherent system.
The new coalition government is clearly still committed to spending healthy amounts on housing, transport, schools and flood management. 150,000 new homes will be built for the social housing sector over the next four years, 145,000 properties will be benefit from improved flood and water management, the transport infrastructure budget will see investment of £30 billion over the next four years and school spending is set to grow from £35 billion to £39 billion over the next 4 years. Despite scrapping the BSF scheme the Chancellor confirmed spending £15.8 billion on school buildings (either new build or refurbishment).
The challenge now is for Government departments to work together to ensure that design is better integrated and that in the years ahead we get more ‘bangs per buck’ from reduced public spending. There is already plenty of excellent guidance in place, as well as an increasingly robust regulatory framework pushing towards sustainability. Government now needs to join the dots and push society towards a future where the urban environment is healthier and better for all.