Altering perceptions

* Road signs removed * Coming to your town, soon? * Accidents reduced in studies...

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What Car? Staff
25 January 2010

Altering perceptions

It's not just about stripping out infrastructure, either: the use of different road surfaces and colours, placing sculptures on roundabouts and gates at the entrance to villages, lowering street lights and planting trees and roadside flowerbeds all make a road look less like an open highway. In some cases, forward visibility is actually reduced, encouraging drivers to slow down and better study the road ahead.

It's happening here
London mayor Boris Johnson is championing shared-space zones in the city's West End. Barriers and road markings have been removed on sections of roads, including Oxford Circus, Kensington High Street and Exhibition Road, to 'encourage pedestrians and vehicles to interact in a new and balanced way', said Johnson at the launch.

He said it should help drivers to 'negotiate with one another rather than be dictated to by signs, railings and traffic infrastructure that can create unnecessary severance.' The results so far? Much opposition from local residents' associations citing chaos, but a claimed 44% reduction in accident rates.

Drachten, Netherlands: simpler space.
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Impressively, no accidents have so far been reported at other recently introduced shared spaces in Ashford, Kent, and Brighton, East Sussex. The showcase New Road scheme in Brighton has caused vehicle traffic to fall by 93% but use by cyclists has risen by 22%, and pedestrian traffic is up by 162%, says project manager Jim Mayor. 'There is also anecdotal evidence of economic benefit for businesses', he says, pointing to the reopening and refurbishment of formerly derelict buildings.

New Road has since been voted one of the most popular places in the city, he adds.
Shared space can also be used to control traffic through villages, as shown by the schemes in the Netherlands, and by one trial here in the UK. The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) conducted a pilot scheme for the Department for Transport in Latton, Wiltshire, recording a 40% drop in drivers exceeding 40mph, a 35% reduction in accidents, and support from more than three-quarters of villagers.