Thursday, 2 June 2011

Shared Space?

On 20th May I met Colin Knight (Head of Coventry Council's Planning, Transport & Highways Department) who briefed me on how Coventry Council's plans for changing the city centre in preparation for the 2012 Olympics would impact cycling.

With all such meetings it's very much the council telling us what they are going to do. It's unlikely that Cyclic could affect the outcome on any issue which the council regards as closed. Nevertheless the changes do look positive for cycling. One of the fundamental ideas is the concept of "shared space" .

From at least the 1950's, if not earlier, the big idea for handling traffic in towns was that differing types had to be separated. Motorists should have their own roads; not only motorways but also roads like Coventry's ring road. Pedestrians would have pavements and walkways. Where paths crossed, the pedestrians would be carried over or under the motorists' route. As for cyclists, received wisdom was that we would disappear. By the 1980's and 1990's we hadn't quite disappeared, but were thought to be pedestrians on wheels who could easily fit onto the pedestrian paths.

When there was a problem with road safety the answer was usually more segregation; railings on the kerb to pen pedestrians in, subways to take them under the most minor of roads. Back in the 1970's there was even a subway in Broadgate and another between the two pavements on either side of Fairfax Street; the road between Pool Meadow and Sainsbury's!.

As fewer pedestrians and cyclists used the roads in towns and cites, motorists started to drive faster, treating the roads as their own. The severity of crashes increased and the roads became barriers blocking one area from another (Sky Blue Way and the A45?).

It was time for some new thinking. Perhaps traffic levels should be cut, speeds lowered and people allowed to move slowly without being bullied out of the way? The proposals for Coventry's city centre seem to fit into this new mode of thinking:
  • Most private car traffic to go. It takes up too much room
  • Keep speeds below 20 mph
  • Expect buses, taxis and pedal cycles to share the carriageway on equal terms
  • Where there's no carriageway (or traffic speeds make cycling hazardous), allow cyclists to use pedestrian areas. Cyclists will be expected to give way to pedestrians. If a cyclist abuses the situation, it's an issue about that particular person rather than every cyclist.
  • Separate pedestrians and motorised traffic with the conventional carriageway / footway approach but expect drivers & riders to give crossing pedestrians a reasonable chance at key points. Not for bus drivers and cyclists to barge across junctions at speed without a thought for pedestrians but also not to expect them to wait minutes for a seemingly unending stream of  pedestrians to pass.
It might be argued that cyclists should have their own paths. However experience in Coventry and elsewhere is not positive:
Cars parked on a cycle path. Trinity Street. 2008.

A pedestrian using a cycle path. Warwick Row 2011

Note the upstands. These are an attempt to keep pedestrians and cyclists separate but in practice pose a safety hazard. If a cyclist makes a turn to avoid a pedestrian and hits the upstand at a shallow angle, they will come off!

A number of roads will be one-way for taxis and buses. We hope that they will remain two way for cyclists:
Hales Street a few years ago. As shown in the Department of Transport's recommendations (LTN 2/08 see Figure 7.6)


  1. Nice artice. But Fairfax Street between Sainsbury's and Pool Meadow is probably not the best example of shared space replacing a subway.

  2. Thanks.

    I have to admit I haven't given the Millenium Place junction much thought recently. Getting rid of the subway was a good idea, but I think some sort of traffic lights system is needed given the large volume of bus traffic crossing a large volume of pedestrian traffic.

  3. Hi george

    Is Colin Knight a cyclist? I honestly believe that the reason why historically measures to safely accomodate cyclists (particularly in coventry) have failed has been due to the lack of experiential knowledge of those making the plans.

    Consulation is fine, but unless you've actually experienced the joy of a car driving past you in a cycle lane , or been confused by cycle lanes that suddenly disappear or that leave you in more danger than simply riding on the road- i worry that we'll be forced to live with more piecemeal gestures and ill thought out strategies rather than the forward thinking strategy we're hoping for.

    here's hoping!

  4. Hi Joab,

    Colin Knight did mention that he had cycled in the city and thought the unjoined-up nature of the routes was a poor show.

    While we might get a few things improved by focusing on what's already been built, I think that major improvements can only be implemented when the road system is altered for other reasons.

    The council has wanted to remove the buses & taxis from Broadgate for years. In the past they have been adamant that cyclists should go as well. So I'm glad that thinking has shifted to seeing anti-social cycling as an aspect of anti-social behaviour rather than an aspect of cycling.

    I'm rather happy about the removal of traffic lights - cyclists do get a bad press when they ignore them. If the lights go, the problem goes. I also think that sharing the carriageway with buses (max speed 20 mph) is a more practical option than some sort of cycle-only path.

  5. hi george

    all true- good changes are more likely to come when radical changes are happening to the management of traffic/ roads as a whole- its a good sign that he took the time to include you.

    take care