Tuesday 12 February 2013

Good and bad examples of shared space

This is apparently a fine example of “shared space”, compared in some quarters to the “naked streets” concept of Hans Monderman.

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(Curiously, the Google Streetview camera car which photographed this street must have been the deLorean driven by Michael J Fox in “Back to the Future” – see what happens when it goes a few yards further up the road.)

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Anyway, back to the future, as they say, I think there is a widely held view that Exhibition Road, as shared space, is a lamentable failure.  This despite the humungous cost - £20 million?  More? – and all those pretty granite setts and street furniture.  I gather that charities for sight-impaired people, notably the Guide Dogs Association, hate it.  The Streetview pictures are unfortunately not taken at the best time of day to illustrtare the point properly, but basically, come here at a busier time and you will see lots of cars on the street but not many pedestrians, who still stick well to the edges.

I have a couple of other examples of share space I would like to share with you which I submit work rather better.

The first is here, Roupell Street, which runs alongside the railway viaduct under Waterloo East railway station.

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Roupell Street isn’t actually shared space at all, at least it hasn’t been conceived as such by the highways engineers in Southwark or Lambeth, which share responsibility for this street.  It is primarily a residential street of Victorian terraces, a conservation area where modern abominations like uPVC window frames are forbidden, and as such it is quite popular as a film set for period dramas.

It has a smattering of commerce as well:  the King’s Arms pub, with its drinkers spilling out into the street on a fine evening;  an excellent confiserie/patisserie, Konditor & Cook; a barbershop, and a language school.

It is also, significantly, a major pedestrian route from Waterloo Station towards Blackfriars and the City.  Before I took up a bicycle, I used to walk along here and could rarely resist a visit to Konditor & Cook for a slice of one of their chocolate cakes.  The Streetview image unfortunately wasn’t taken at the right time of day for this, but in the morning and evening peaks, the entire street is taken over by people on foot.

Also, significantly, the street has been arranged so that vehicles cannot pass through.  A few years ago, this was a popular taxi rat-run from City to Waterloo, avoiding Stamford St and the Cut.  The cabbies used to come through here, accelerating and braking sharply as they passed each of the speed tables, belching fumes and making their diesel rattle.  It must have maddened the residents something awful, quite apart from disarranging the pedestrians.  Now however, a simple measure has put a stop to that.  After a short stretch of two-way, you come to an even shorter stretch of one-way eastbound – the no-entry signs in the picture above – followed by the remainder one-way westbound.  The entire street is accessible to vehicles either from the east or  from the west via two adjoining streets, Brad St to the south and Theed St or Whittlesey St to the north, depending on exactly where you want to go, but you can’t legally pass straight through.

The result is as good a piece of shared space as you are likely to see anywhere, even if it wasn’t designed as such.

The second is here, Godalming High Street, in Surrey.

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As with the previous photos, this wasn’t really taken at an ideal time to illustrate the position.  During shopping hours there would be far more pedestrians around, who would have parked in (paid) car parks around the periphery.  Just behind shot, there is a rising bollard which closes the road entirely to vehicles, apart from buses and permit holders - disabled drivers, those residents who have no other vehicle access to their properties and shops for deliveries - who get a key to lower it.    The bollard is in operation all day Saturday.

I assume this was actually designed as shared space, and although it is now quite old and getting a bit tatty, it works quite well.  All the through traffic now passes along “Flambard’s Way”, a kind of bypass just a hundred yards to the south, which required the flattening of dozens of terraced houses and was a nightmare probably largely forgotten now as it happened at least 20 years ago.  There will be some drivers, apart from Saturdays, too lazy to walk from the car parks, or too mean to pay the modest charges, or too impatient to retrace their steps and head out on the main road, who will pass through here, but traffic is calmed by a combination of speed tables, block paving, and solid steel bollards at either side to create a sense of narrowness in the street.

So, no surprises there.  Shared space can work, but not just by prettifying a street and trying to fool people into believing there is no distinction between sidewalk and street. The fact is that motor vehicles don’t do sharing, so it will only work if you  tame them.

A good decade ago, the local Waverley Cycle Forum asked the council to approve a cycle contraflow on this one-way street.  It did appear to have been approved, but nothing has happened since.  The obstacle seems to be the local county councillor for Godalming, Steve Cosser, who apparently doesn’t want it.  This is a flaw I have recently noted in the workings of democracy in Surrey – the highways department expects residents to get the support of the local councillor for measures such as contraflows before it will work up proposals.  In principle, if the local councillor has his finger on the pulse and reflects the majority view of residents, then you would expect him to represent that view in the council.  Here I suspect that his hearing is a touch selective – we know about the objections of some residents, notably elderly pedestrians, but we never seem to hear about the petitions in support which certainly exist.


  1. There's "shared space" advocates suggesting that one of Cambridge's worst junctions, that of Regent Street/Hills Road and Gonville Place/Lensfield Road, be made into a "shared space" junction. Which is insane- possibly worse than the half arsed propsal the council have put forward.

  2. I reckon Villiers Street in London, which runs from Embankment station up to the Strand, can't be beat for not-shared-space-but-actually-really-good-shared-space. In theory it's a one-way road without restrictions, but the sheer number of people on foot means that any vehicle traffic must roll along carefully. There's a photo of it here.

    It's interesting to know that Roupell Street was until recently a rat-run. It's such a lovely, quiet, old-fashioned street now. Hard to believe it's 2013 and the bustle of Waterloo is around the corner! Just a shame those bollards reduce the pavement width so much. Maybe a candidate for actual shared space treatment?

    Don't get me started on Exhibition Road!

  3. The bollards certainly pre-date the introduction of the one-way scheme and I assume they were originally intended to prevent pavement parking, although as you say the effect is to reduce the available pavement width for pedestrians, who might have been more inclined to stay off the road in the past. Nowadays I wouldn't have thought they were necessary, except that in a peverse sense I think they encourage people to walk in the road where there is more space, and it has become so ingrained now that all the local motorists must have frown accustomed to it.

    I love the pic of Villers St - people taking over from cars by sheer force of numbers is good to see, although I guess we cant realisticaly expect to see that often without some robust enforcement/calming measures in place.