The dawn of 'slow streets'
28 March 2007
The Manual for Streets provides guidance on how to ensure that pedestrians are treated as the most important users of residential streets.
We're all familiar with slow food, promoting a more deliberate, sustainable and pleasurable life. Now CABE welcomes the dawn of slow streets, with new design guidance for residential streets.
The long-awaited Manual for Streets reverses the thinking behind the archaic Design Bulletin 32 which has been applied since 1977. The new guidance, which has been produced by the Department for Transport and Communities and Local Government in partnership with CABE, will lead to a transformation in the quality of new and existing streets. In the future we are likely to see safer roads, with slower traffic, more local features and less clutter.
The DB32 guidance led to places dominated by the motor car at the expense of all other street users. We can see the corrosive effect this has had on the quality of the environment, quality of neighbourhoods and quality of life. Now CABE believes that for the first time, street design is starting to get the attention it deserves. The Manual for Streets will ensure that pedestrians are recognised as the most important users of residential streets. Highway engineers will be asked to focus on the whole environment of the street, and not just what goes on in the five metres between the kerbs.
Louise Duggan, Streets advisor at CABE, particularly welcomes the move away from an obsession with risk which paradoxically has made streets more dangerous. 'Research has shown that where you provide wide streets and maximum forward visibility, drivers behave more riskily.'
So what practical changes are we likely to see on our streets? The guidance advocates that traffic speed should be controlled by the design of the whole space rather than just the signs, and it should be at or below 20mph for all lightly trafficked residential streets. It also calls for more locally distinctive streets that are made with local materials. Streets should reflect local history, and local people should be involved in the design process.
The streets of the future could also be less confusing. Signs, bins and bollards all have a role but too many can amount to clutter. Mounting street lights onto buildings and keeping household bins off on the pavement can reduce this. We are likely to see fewer alley-ways connecting places. People prefer to walk and cycle in places where they feel visible and safe. Alley-ways will only be used if they are short, wide and overlooked by residents.
Finally, streets should not just be designed to accommodate the movement of motor vehicles - they should also be spaces for playing and community fun, like street parties. Well-designed streets can encourage informal meetings between neighbours and build and strengthen communities by providing space for all kinds of activity. In the future our traffic spaces will become social spaces.
The principles from Manual for Streets do not yet apply to other urban streets - high streets, secondary retail streets, and streets connecting residential areas. CABE is seeking to work with the Department for Transport in developing guidance for these areas as well.