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18/01/2011
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Making streets for real people

Milton Keynes was designed to separate vehicle and pedestrian movement, with priority given to vehicles. Improving the pedestrian experience will be challenging.

A place where pedestrians are second-class citizens

Making streets work well for pedestrians in Milton Keynes will be an interesting challenge. The photograph shows the most heavily used pedestrian route outside the shopping centre. Even here, pedestrians do not have priority!

Milton Keynes was built according to the idea that pedestrians and traffic should be separated. This way of thinking became popular in the 1960s, when it was thought that dangerous and congested streets could be avoided by split-level planning, with different channels for pedestrian, car and bus movement. It was the result of a belief that streets do not work.

It resulted in a 'transport planning' vision for our towns and cities — the result of which can be seen in these two images, which show the same street in Reading. You can just make out the church spire in the background of the second picture.

The major problem with the transport planning approach is that pedestrians do not comply with it. Consequently, most major streets are examples of design failings in the way that vehicles and pedestrians interact.

St Giles' Circus: a pedestrian accident blackspot

A good example of this is at St Giles's Circus, in London. In the 1960s there was a plan to have 'urban motorways' running down Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. Although they did not come to fruition, we are still living with the consequences of this way of thinking today. The Centrepoint tower was built on what would have been a roundabout connecting the two urban motorways at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. A strange public space has resulted, which is a renowned pedestrian accident black spot because pedestrians do not behave in the way that transport planners want them to.

People walk through barriers and cross at informal crossing points even though the risk of accidents is much higher. The coloured diagram shows an analysis of pedestrian movement at this junction, with red areas prepresenting the highest number of movements, and the blue the fewest. The black dots show the sites of accidents involving pedestrians. It shows that many people are prepared to risk their lives by walking the in the road and crossing at places other than the marked crossing points.

We can either force people to change their behaviour, or design streets for people and vehicles to interact safely in the first place.

Streatham High Road: the main road as barrier

Streatham High Road, in south London, is extremely difficult to cross. As a result, 72 per cent of pedestrian movement is on the western side, the side that the stations are on. On this side there are better quality shops, and high street brands. On the eastern side, which has fewer pedestrians, the shops have marginal uses, on short-term leases. There is a direct relationship between the way that pedestrians are treated and whether dependent uses, such as shops, survive.

Shoreditch triangle: safe crossings where people want them

The area within the 'triangle' created by streets in Shoreditch, east London, was difficult to access on foot and so Transport for London planned to install new crossing points. Intelligent Space analysed how people actually moved around the area and found that 59 per cent of crossing took place 'informally' outside designated crossing points.

The following diagrams show how this analysis informed a redesign of the crossing points to match them with 'desire lines' — the places where people actually want to cross. As a result of the improvements, informal crossings have reduced by 61 per cent because the crossing are now in the right places.

Pedestrian flows can be modelled and measured. It is important to assess streets and junctions for pedestrian use as well as car use. Modelling can be used in many ways, for example to predict the impact of new retail development on pedestrian flows.

Finally, there are other ways of separating pedestrians and traffic. In Tokyo, Japan, for the last 30 years the main shopping street has been closed to traffic every Saturday. They call it 'pedestrian heaven'.