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UK traffic engineers lack skills for shared-space

UK traffic engineers lack the skills to design the new generation of shared-space urban schemes planned across the UK, the father of shared-space design Hans Monderman told NCE this week.

Monderman, who designed the first "naked streets" in the Netherlands, where vehicles and pedestrians share the road and where traffic lights, barriers and signs are stripped out, said a major new training initiative was needed.

"New engineers are still being trained in the old way of thinking so we are fighting a war we can never win," Monderman told NCE during a rare visit to the UK this week.

He urged UK engineers to consider studying at a radical new £5M shared-space academy he is planning to set up in the Netherlands using local government and EU money.

More than 40 shared-space schemes are planned in the UK and under Monderman's vision for the academy, which is expected to open in the Netherlands' city of Drachten, many UK traffic engineers would undertake courses to study shared-space techniques.

"I want the centre to bring knowledge together," he added.

The idea of the shared-space learning centre was welcomed by UK traffic engineers this week.
"It would be a fantastic opportunity for a new generation of engineers to become an intrinsic part of the design of the built environment rather than an isolated profession with its own rules and traditions," said leading UK shared-space consultant Ben Hamilton-Baillie.

Chairman of the Institution of Highways and Transportation's urban design panel Peter Dickenson also agreed and told NCE: "Highway engineers need to understand more about these issues."

The centre, which would have input from public space experts from across the world, including Danish public space guru professor Jan Gehl and the UK's Professor John Adams from University College London, would also spearhead a European research project into existing shared-space schemes.

The research would address concerns such as those raised by blind and partially sighted people that shared-spaces are too dangerous for them to use because they rely on eye contact between the pedestrian and the driver.

"I would love to have a new European research project that would survey shared-space schemes, assess the problems and try to find solutions," added Monderman.

"The problem with blind people in these spaces is quite universal and there must be some common strategy for solving these problems. I would love to work with blind and partially sighted people to make new designs.

These are questions we could answer from this centre."

Charity Guide Dogs for the Blind recently criticised the design of shared-space schemes in the UK. It claimed that designers did not properly appreciate the needs of blind pedestrians and so schemes posed a serious risk to the safety of blind pedestrians and their guide dogs.

The centre would look at how to communicate shared-space principles more effectively as part of community consultation and come up with new ways of measuring success.

"We are not evaluating projects properly and research is needed on how to do this," he added.
Meanwhile, Monderman praised the number of schemes coming to fruition in the UK, such as Brighton New Road and Ashford in Kent, along with countywide initiatives in Hampshire and Suffolk.

"The UK is taking the lead now and that has been the case for the past three or four years. So much of the debate of this issue now comes from the UK."

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