Monday, 8 February 2016

Shared Space Storm

[Any of the images can be clicked to enlarge.]

Last week, while Storm Henry was howling through the north of Scotland, I went to Edinburgh for the day to meet up with colleagues planning the Walk Cycle Vote campaign.

Travelling by bus from Inverness, gave me almost 4 hours each way to read the online documents relating to the bill that Alexander Taylor's recently lodged with the Scottish Parliament.

This bill “urges the Scottish Government to place a moratorium on all shared space schemes until safety and equality concerns have been addressed.”
It comes with 53 supporting documents of written evidence.

In truth, you don't need to read much of this evidence to realise that shared space, as it's being implemented in the UK, is a disaster for disabled people, particularly those with sight loss.

If this issue is new to you, a good place to start is with the “Sea of Change” video that was premiered in the House of Lords at the end of 2013 and is now available online.

Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE (Chris Holmes), being blind himself, is a strong campaigner.
This page on his website has many excellent links.

He published a very readable report in July 2015
Accidents by Design: The Holmes Report on “shared space” in the United Kingdom

Lord Holmes secured a debate on this subject in the House of Lords 15 Oct 2015.

More recently, Alexander (Sandy) Taylor and Margaret Hutchison gave evidence to the Public Petitions Committee at the Scottish Parliament on 26 Jan 2016. (The first 39 mins of this video.)

Something like shared space had been attempted before in other places but the term 'shared space' originated with the Dutch traffic engineer, Johannes (Hans) Mondermann (1945-2008).

He was born in Leeuwarden (Friesland) and, as a traffic engineer, created shared spaces in that area as well as Groningen and Drenthe – the three Provinces in the north of the Netherlands.

His key philosophy was that road users (pedestrians, drivers, cyclists) must negotiate their way by interacting with each other. To bring about this change in behaviour, all traffic controls such as traffic lights, lane markings and kerbs are removed.

The idea is attractive and has much to commend it but two serious problems need to be resolved:

1 – Greatly reduced motor traffic is a prerequisite for shared space to work. Creating shared space should not be used in an attempt to reduce motor traffic.

2 – Because negotiation is expected to be mediated by eye-contact, navigating shared space is impossible or very difficult for sight impaired people and many other disabled people. These people have a continuing need for controlled crossings and clear, uncluttered routes.

I'll end with some tenuously related thoughts.

The rabbit and duck illusion (Kaninchen unde Ente) has been known for over 200 years old.

The same image can be perceived in two distinct ways by the same observer at different times.

Two groups can each hold to one of these views with possible conflict.

The lack of clear priority can result in shared space being viewed as either a pavement (by pedestrians) or a roadway (by drivers) and consequent conflict between the two groups.

Cyclists can end up somewhere in between and disliked by both the others.

Like Mondermann, the Dutch graphic artist, M. C. Escher, was also born in Leeuwarden.

At first glance his print, Waterfall (1961), appears simply to show water falling down two levels and over a waterwheel.

The water then flows away down a zigzag channel but this mysteriously returns the water to the top of the waterfall.

Focusing our attention locally, there appears to be no problem with any individual component. And, indeed, the individual components can all be built.

But, taken as a whole, we know it can't be right as it contradicts the laws of science. And if we had built the individual components, we'd find we couldn't join them together.

This illustrates a potential flaw in taking a tick-box approach to design.

The typical goals of shared space are to have smooth traffic flow while simultaneously allowing people to walk in and about the space. Without reducing traffic flow, these are incompatible goals.

People are more likely to have heard about Mondrian than the similar sounding Monderman.
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) was a Dutch artist who was born near Utrecht. During his life he spent time in Amsterdam, Paris, London and finally New York.

A gallery of all his work sorted by year:

His early paintings are similar to the like of Van Gogh.
He then moves onto more abstract representations of subjects like trees.
From 1918 onward he produces the rectangular grids for which he's best known.

Many, such as (the catchily titled) Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, are characterised by grids of strong, black outlines around a few coloured rectangles on a white background.

His Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942/43) eliminates the black outlines to successfully capture the shimmering lights of Broadway.

Reducing the visibility of kerbs by making level surfaces and using variously coloured pavings and setts may create a sense of place but it also creates a space that is impossible for sight impaired people and their guide dogs.

I feel another storm is coming.

Your comments are welcome.