The Times, 24 October 2016,
Trendy shared space schemes that attempt to declutter streets by stripping out kerbs, road markings and traffic signs are causing “chaos and catastrophe”, ministers have been told.
The system — adopted by town planners across Britain — has created a “traffic free-for-all” in busy shopping areas, putting pedestrians and cyclists at risk, it was claimed.
The Conservative peer Lord Holmes of Richmond said that at least 14 local councils had scrapped shared space schemes by reintroducing zebra crossings and segregated cycle lanes.
He made the comments as experts prepared to publish a government-backed review of the system this year. The review, led by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, is expected to be critical of the process, saying that planners often fail to ensure an “inclusive environment” is created that benefits motorists and pedestrians at the same time. It suggested that the Highway Code may have to be rewritten to tell drivers how to approach shared spaces.
Shared space was developed in the Netherlands in the 1970s to declutter streets. It seeks to blur the lines between pedestrians and vehicles by taking out kerbs, surface markings, crossings and signs.
Drivers are supposed to reduce their speed because of uncertainty over who has priority. In some areas, zebra crossings have been replaced by “courtesy crossings” that have no basis in law and rely on the goodwill of motorists. About 100 roads have been adapted in Britain, figures suggest.
Safety groups have been highly critical of the development, claiming that it puts pedestrians at risk, particularly those with disabilities or sight problems. MPs from the Commons women and equalities select committee have begun an inquiry into shared spaces and other aspects of the “built environment”.
In a written submission to the inquiry, Lord Holmes, a former Paralympic swimmer, said that shared space had “absolutely failed to achieve an inclusive experience”. He added: “Shared space is not a safe place nor a pleasant place; it has turned high streets into traffic-free-for-alls; it has caused confusion, chaos and catastrophe.”
A number of deaths have been linked to shared space schemes. In 2012 David Thompson, a pensioner, died when he was hit by a bus while crossing a junction without traffic lights or road signs in Coventry.
Lord Holmes reported that 14 schemes had been scrapped in recent years. These included a zebra crossing that was reinstated at a cost of more than £100,000 in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Another crossing was reinstated in Bath after the council was warned that pulling it out had created a safety risk.
In its submission to the inquiry, the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation said that the Highway Code may have to be rewritten to make sure that drivers give proper consideration to pedestrians in shared space areas.
“There may be a requirement to consider how we balance the needs of people driving vehicles and other people in certain areas of our built-up areas, in particular where those needs interact,” it said. “There are a number of ways that this may be achieved, including changes to the Highway Code . . . or to primary legislation.”
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “We are absolutely clear that the needs of the whole community, including disabled people, need to be considered by councils looking to introduce shared space schemes.”