Will future road signs say “Do anything you like”?

Last night Ben Hamilton-Baillie introduced “Street design and place-making – new traffic approaches to traffic engineering, speed, safety and civility”.

I first met Ben at a conference in Bristol in the UK 12 years ago and I’ve admired his work ever since so I was really happy that he agreed to come to Berlin

So Ben asks us “Will city streets of the future be like ice rinks?”

Ice rinks have the potential to be dangerous; people bumping into one another, people travelling at different speeds, people stopping without warning and people like me who hold the rail and create congestion! But experts, beginners, the confident and less confident manage to interact together on ice rinks with everyone having a great time and safe time.

So should we apply the approach of ice rinks to streets and traffic? 

For many years many planners, designers and engineers believed that separation was the only way to deal with traffic: under-passes, over-passes and bypasses.

In many cities the public space of the street ends at the kerb and we, as pedestrians, ask for permission to cross the road by pressing a button. Sometimes things are a little more impeding and we are ushered, by safety fencing and barriers, to a point choose by A N Other. Pedestrian safety campaigns from the past centred on advertising materials saying “One false move and your dead”.

Do we want streets in cities of the future to be for people or for traffic?

Ben told us about some great examples of shared spaces: and streets for people:

  1. Kensington High Street in London – More than 800 metres of pedestrian barriers were removed
  2. Noordland, Groningen – The wall between the road and the primary school was removed so that cars entering the village via the school playground. Car drivers are alarmed by the presence of children and reduce their speed.
  3. Switzerland – Traffic signs and lights as well as pedestrian crossings were removed. Pedestrians cross the road without hesitation and the roads have a higher capacity than before.
  4. Drachten, Netherlands – Children play parks are situated near intersections, which in turn slows down vehicle speeds.
  5. St Gallon ‘Stadtlounge’ Switzerland – the ‘Carpet Street’ where everything is covered in spongy running track surfacing including: car parking spaces, cycle parking, seating, public art, lighting, tree planters and lighting.
  6. Ashford Ring Road in Kent, England – Removing all the ‘highway elements’ from the road; signage, lining and geometry resulted in opening up the town and boosting local business, increased cycling activity and improved access to the train station. The changes did not impeded the ‘function’ of the road. As a result of the scheme graffiti was spotted which said “Mummy where’s the ring road gone’!
  7. Sundials in London – For the last 23 years seven streets have converged on Sundials roundabout monument and for the last twenty-three years it’s been the safest place and space in London. As Ben’s video confirmed… if you have a ‘senior moment’ at Sundials you won’t get killed because drivers are expecting people to walk into the road so they are on full alert.

Top Tips and recommendations for ‘making’ streets for people

  • Bold politicians
  • Not using signage to defending urban design and traffic engineering schemes
  • Not focussing only on traffic models. Understanding human and communication behaviour
  • Adapting streets to peak hour, off peak and seasonal variations

In cities of the future there is a real potential to:

  • Resolve the debate of ‘separation’ and ‘integration’ once and for all
  • Respond to individual circumstances, places and people not just predicted traffic volumes
  • And finally we must measure civility… not just use traffic models, traffic data and crash statistics.

‘FAB IN THE LAB’ for Transforming Parking Spaces day is Elam. Elam came to the Lab with all his ingredients and cooked for people in the street. Elam you are a real Community Connector!