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DfT ban on shared spaces 'created a fiasco'

Exhibition road south kensington (1)

The Department for Transport (DfT) has been accused of sparking a “fiasco”, after it ordered all shared space road schemes to be halted. 

Following pressure from disability campaign groups, as well as nine-time Paralympic gold medalist Lord Chris Holmes, the DfT adopted a new Inclusive Transport Strategy in July which required local authorities “to pause any shared space schemes incorporating a level surface”. 

A shared space road scheme involves creating carriageway which can be shared by vehicles and pedestrians with the design and street furniture combining to discourage motorists from speeding.

Those opposed to shared spaces claim that they are extremely unsafe for the blind, as there are no markers to differentiate between pedestrian and vehicle zones.  

However, the DfT’s new strategy has been accused of creating “greater confusion”. Urban Design Group director Robert Huxford told New Civil Engineer that the DfT’s definition of a shared space was very vague and thus led to a “fiasco”.

He said: “I think the DfT didn’t realise that the request to pause would be interpreted as including all level surface shared space including residential areas and the subsequent impact on the house building. Fiasco would be a good word to use.”  

Concern voiced by the Urban Design Group, Home Builders Federation and others to ministers prompted the DfT to clarify that the request to pause did not include ‘‘traffic management features intended to improve safety”.  

However, after pausing their shared space schemes, some highway authorities reverted to using vehicle-centric planning design, which is out-dated and considered dangerous.  

As a result the DfT was forced to clarify its policy again in a letter sent to local authorities on the September 28.  

The letter, seen by New Civil Engineer, states: “In response to concerns raised about shared space and navigability, the Inclusive Transport Strategy asked local authorities to pause the introduction of new shared space schemes that feature a level surface, and which are at the design stage. This therefore does not apply to development schemes that are currently at the planning application stage or beyond.  

“For the avoidance of doubt, a level surface is a design feature in which the level difference between the footway and the carriageway is removed. The request to pause such schemes has led to a number of enquiries from developers, practitioners and planning authorities.” 

But Holmes told New Civil Engineer that the letter has served only to increase the confusion 

“The recent letter has just served to confuse and muddy the carriageway. Having a moratorium on shared space, if properly set out and defined, would be a thoroughly good thing, the problem is that that clarity wasn’t there as it should have been,” he said.  

“What we have now it seems, is a moratorium on level surface shared space in high density traffic areas, such as high streets. That is not a moratorium on shared space, that is only looking at one specific area and allows designers to continue carry on with shared space in everything bar name.” 

The DfT has been approached for comment. 

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Philip Alexander

    If Mr Huxford is confused by the DfT's new guidelines (not the first time that DfT has caused confusion!), why not use commonsense and suspend implementation of any shared space scheme, it's not rocket science.

    In any case, the whole concept of "shared spaces" is flawed because they are supposed to rely on eye contact between pedestrian and driver, a bit difficult if you are visually impaired and jolly dangerous to boot. Even for the agile young fully-sighted pedestrian it's a case of "will he, won't he stop?" and drivers are completely clueless or worse, deliberately ignorant of how to use shared spaces.
    The use of such schemes should be halted permanently and existing ones reversed or changed to pedestrian-only areas.
    It really is a cop=out for urban planners to foist such schemes on users of the roadspace without proper education (that's never going to happen) and absolutely clear Highway Code guidance and mandatory signage. The current situation of no-one understanding who gives way to whom is far more of a fiasco than the DfT suspension of approval for new schemes.

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  • One was introduced in Poynton on the main road from Macclesfield to Stockport.

    It has not been a success as it just delays all the traffic and pedestrians can feely mingle with HGVs.

    The Poynton bypass which would have been a great precursor in reducing the traffic will not be completed until 2021 (possibly).

    The Manchester Airport link road A555, which links with the bypass, and which will no doubt attract traffic will open next weekend (one year late and a disgraceful example of how not to build such a road).

    Surely the whole programme is the wrong way round

    1 Bypass
    2 Link Road
    3 Shared space on old road when it can show some benefits

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  • Forty years ago shared space was all the rage.

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