The Holmes Report into Shared Space

Today sees the publication of Lord Holmes' report into the effect of 'shared space' street redesigns on blind and partially-sighted people.

With this in mind, it's worth emphasising that many of the difficulties that these groups have with these layouts are shared – in slightly different ways – by people cycling, reflecting the way in which these environments often fall short of genuine inclusivity.

In recent years 'shared space' layouts have been applied on busy roads, carrying many thousands of motor vehicles a day. A lack of formal crossing points and minimal kerb separation on these roads can present great difficulty for blind people, as can be seen in the Sea of Change film.

But these are also the kinds of roads that are often hostile or intimidating to cycle on, due to the volume of motor traffic using them. Without dedicated space, people cycling on these roads – for instance in Poynton – are expected to share the carriageway with heavy traffic, or to informally cycle on 'footways', which presents further difficulty for those with visual impairment.

Poynton footway cycling shared space

These busier road environments need clear separation from motor traffic, both for people cycling, in the form of cycleways physically distinct from both footway and carriageway, and for blind and partially sighted people - or, alternatively, separation in the form of greatly reduced motor traffic levels.

This shouldn't conflict with attempts to 'declutter' our roads and streets – for instance, removing pedestrian guardrail that makes crossing the road circuitous and inconvenient – or with more general pedestrian-friendly design measures like continuous footways across side roads, and crossings on pedestrian desire lines. Such streets should be 'self explaining', making it clear without a lot of signs and barriers who should go where and who has priority; form follows function. Simply removing all cues, as shared spaces do, in an attempt to confused drivers into slowing down is ultimately self-defeating. More importantly, it sacrifices the comfort of people with disabilities, and on bikes, without providing any of the freedom of movement its proponents promise  - except, that is, for those in cars. 

On genuinely low traffic streets, a lower degree of physical distinction between footways and the carriageway will often be more appropriate. But this must be coupled with measures to keep the speed and volume of that motor traffic low, to create places where people cycling feel relaxed using the carriageway, and where those with visual impairment can cross in relative comfort.

Designing inclusive, accessible streets and roads means designing environments that work well for everyone.