When a car plowed into pedestrians outside London’s Natural History Museum last week, passerby presumed a terrorist attack was taking place. It turned out to be bad driving, but the incident has raised serious debate about the innovative design of Exhibition Road, which runs through the heart of the museum quarter. In the United Kingdom, Exhibition Road is the most significant example of shared space as espoused by the influential Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman. According to Monderman, the removal of traffic lights and road signs creates a level of ambiguity that slows cars down and increases the interaction between the different modes of travel. A decade or so ago, Monderman’s theories were taken up with enthusiasm by Daniel Moylan, a Councillor in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in which Exhibition Road is located. Moylan – a rare example of a politician with a real understanding of design – hired architects Dixon Jones, whose landscaping of the courtyard of the 18th century Somerset House had received critical acclaim, to redesign Exhibition Road according to the Dutchman’s principles. The wide boulevard forms the spine of ‘Albertopolis’, the cultural and education quarter developed after the 1851 Great Exhibition masterminded by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. It links South Kensington Underground Station in the south with Hyde Park in the north. In addition to the Natural History Museum, it is flanked by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), the Science Museum, Imperial College, the Goethe Institute and the Royal Geographical Society. It was once a busy four-lane route with parking on either side as well as in the center. Moylan’s vision was to provide a better ‘front door’ for the key institutions and to deliver this in time for the London Olympics in 2012. The computer-generated images of Dixon Jones’s design suggested that the marathon route would be diverted to take in this new piece of placemaking. However, the well-heeled local residents were not so sanguine about this idea. They were concerned about reduced access for their SUVs and Range Rovers and mad about the loss of parking space. So compromises were made. The cleared space was re-designed to include parking and pedestrians were pushed to one side of the street, leaving a long and straight avenue that invited drivers to put their foot to the pedal. While the quality of place was massively improved by the changes overall, the stretch of road between the Natural History Museum and the V&A never worked in the way it was originally intended. The levels of ambiguity`so essential to Monderman’s approach had been lost. However, at the south end of the street, which curves around to link up with South Kensington Underground station, a more complex road pattern slows drivers down and they intermingle safely with pedestrians and cyclists. Restaurants have colonized the street with chairs and tables and diners sit happily amidst the passing traffic. I walked around the area with architect Ed Jones recently. He enthused about the way the restaurateurs were using the street and pointed out how the improvements had prompted most of the institutions to give their own premises a facelift, the most significant of which is Amanda Levete’s spectacular new entrance and courtyard for the V&A. Following the recent accident, which left 11 people hospitalized, V&A director Tristram Hunt described the traffic arrangements on Exhibition Road as “confusing, dangerous and unsatisfactory” and called for the street to be fully pedestrianized. While it is clear that Dixon Jones’ design needs amending to reduce traffic speeds and to let drivers know that they do not have a clear right of way, full pedestrianization is not the answer. Monderman’s theories have been given greater relevance through research carried out by Peter Jones, Professor of Transport and Sustainable Development at University College London. Jones has defined a hierarchy of streets and roads depending on their levels of movement and their contribution to placemaking. It is a theory more relevant to the complex street layouts of English cities than the grids of North America and has been taken up by the transit authority, Transport for London, which has created a matrix of nine street types ranging from arterial roads (high movement/low quality of place) to city squares (low movement/high quality of place). Most streets in London have now been categorized in this way, allowing coordinated decisions on the infrastructure required for each condition. Designed well, shared space works and makes good use of space in a crowded city. One of the best examples is Leonard’s Circus in the Borough of Hackney which was, until two years ago, a busy junction. It is now an open square with landscaping through which trucks, cars, cyclists and pedestrians wend their way. So safe does it feel that street vendors - with large lunchtime queues - set up in the space undeterred by the vehicles passing through. Exhibition Road is too big a space for pedestrians alone. Without vehicles, large sections of it will be dead even during the day; at night it will be worse. My message to those who want to close the road to vehicular traffic is to push for speed limits, educate taxi drivers (who are some of the worst culprits) and continue to allow all road users to intermingle in and share this great civic space. Peter Murray is Chairman of the New London Architecture center and Mayor’s Design Advocate
Posts tagged with "Street safety":
New York States's highest court has ruled that cities and towns can be held legally accountable when dangerous streets are not improved via better design. In December, the New York State Court of Appeals decided a case in favor of Anthony Turturro, a 12-year-old who was stuck in 2004 by a driver traveling almost double the speed limit in a 30-per-mile-hour zone. Turturro, Streetsblog NYC reports, was riding his bike on Brooklyn's Gerritsen Avenue, a wide main street where, locals say, drivers disobey posted speed limits with impunity. The driver, Louis Pascarella, put Turturro in a coma; he subsequently pled guilty to assault. Citing in part the poor design of Gerritsen Avenue, a jury found the city 40 percent liable for the incident and awarded $20 million to Turturro, whose everyday functioning is diminished as a result of the crash. The case contended that despite years of complaints, the DOT didn't do enough to remediate underlying conditions that led to Turturro's—and others'—injuries. Though the DOT initiated traffic studies at three intersections in the years after Turturro, court documents show that speeding along the wide-open avenue as whole was not studied, and that the city declined to follow up with the NYPD on the speeding issue. In the past decade, four people have been killed on the avenue, which connects the small neighborhood of Gerritsen Beach to neighboring Marine Park and Sheepshead Bay. A year after Tuturro's encounter with Pascarella, the city unveiled a painted median near the crash site and downgraded Gerritsen from four lanes to three. “This ruling from New York’s highest court puts an end to the notion that traffic safety improvements should be subject to debate and contingent on unanimous local opinion,” Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White told Streetsblog NYC. The decision, he added, should convey to Mayor Bill de Blasio that street safety redesign must be a bigger part of the city's next budget. For the past two years, the mayor's office has butted heads with the City Council on funding for Vision Zero initiatives. This past fall, the city began installing pedestrian islands and a protected bike lane along Gerritsen. Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer who represents crash survivors, said the decision “will create an affirmative obligation on the DOT’s part to—at the very least—conduct studies to determine whether infrastructure can reduce traffic violence, and unless such studies indicate otherwise, to install the infrastructure.”
Given the current state of relations between the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio (spoiler: terrible, horrible, no good, very bad), the mayor has been quick to thank the police force for its strong support of Vision Zero—the mayor's plan to entirely eliminate traffic fatalities in New York City. The effort is obviously an ambitious one, but a year after it went into effect, de Blasio is able to tout some big successes. The administration recently announced that in 2014, pedestrian fatalities dropped to their lowest level since 1910: 134 deaths, down from 180 the year before. (Two caveats: over the last decade, before Vision Zero was implemented, New York City has seen an overall downward trend in traffic fatalities; and, second, 20 cyclists were killed in 2014, up from 12 the previous year.) De Blasio’s Vision Zero plan has three main components: reduce the city's default speed limit, redesign dangerous streets, and curb dangerous driving through increased traffic enforcement. The first of those three can already be checked off the list; last year, New York City's speed limit was decreased from 30 miles per hour to 25. The second is very much in progress; the city announced that in the first year of Vision Zero, it completed more than 50 major street design projects. And the third big piece of the plan—increasing enforcement—appears to be in swing as well. Streetsblog recently went precinct by precinct, crunching NYPD traffic enforcement numbers and found that, for the most part, officers are issuing more tickets for dangerous driving. “Tickets for speeding and failure to yield last year were up 54 percent over the year before, and up 82 percent over 2012′s numbers,” reported the site. “Importantly, the focus of NYPD’s speeding enforcement is shifting somewhat from highways to surface streets, but the pace of change was still very slow in 2014.” In its first full year, the city’s growing speed camera system also issued 445,000 violations. And failure to yield tickets in 2014 were up 116 percent over the previous year. As Streetsblog noted, the NYPD’s stepped-up traffic enforcement is being felt across the city as every single precinct issued more speeding and failure to yield tickets than it did the year before.
“Safety is in the eye of the beholder,” says New York City DOT Commissioner Sadik Khan. Khan’s remarks came Wednesday as the New York City Department of Transportation unveiled its new LOOK! safety campaign urging self-responsibility on the part of drivers and pedestrians alike. The updated campaign features thermoplastic curbside lettering spelling L-O-O-K with appropriately focused eyeballs replacing the O’s on crosswalks at 110 of the most fatality ridden intersections across the city. The street markings are accompanied by witty color photograph ads on nearby phone stalls, bus shelters, and the backs of city buses warning us to heed our mothers’ advice and look both ways before crossing the street. The campaign plans to eventually increase their range to include 200 intersections and more than 300 buses. 57 percent of traffic fatalities in 2011 involved pedestrians and nearly half of those fatalities occurred during the pedestrians’ right of way, states a statistic provided by the NYC DOT. In spite of this, NYC streets are the safest of their kind with the lowest fatality rate of any US city with a population exceeding one million, according a report written by John Petro of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy and Lindsey Ganson of Transportation Alternatives. The latest ads follow the DOT’s 2011 safety campaign, which incorporated colorful artwork by artist John Morse and haiku styled safety messages.