Note: these are pictures from the Manual for Streets Presentation given at Acocks Green Library, 8 December 2010. The full Powerpoint presentation from that meeting is now available in three parts. You can now download them here:
Street design design expert, and co-author of Manual for Streets 2, Phil Jones, gave a very detailed and informative presentation to a highly attentive audience in Acocks Green Library on 8 December 2010.
Phil outlined how up until recently traffic engineers have been working from engineering guidance manuals which were never designed for situations like that in Acocks Green, but were designed for busy trunk roads. The new message in the government sponsored Manual for Streets 2 is that an urban village street is not merely a route to somewhere else. It is a place in its own right, and should be treated as such. We have been saying this in Acocks Green for six years now; we are not merely part of the route between Birmingham City Centre and Solihull. Our local centre is the heart of our community, but has suffered from the failure of Birmingham City Council to recognise this fact.
Phil went on to explain that Manual for Streets 2 (MfS2) does not recommend removal of all traffic. Areas can loose their vibrancy when this happens. Instead, traffic needs to be better integrated with the other functions of the street, and the balance of priorities needs to be changed. When it comes to traffic paraphenalia the MfS2 philosophy is that less is very frequently more. Urban high streets do not need to be dominated by traffic signs, traffic markings, traffic lights and the notorious guard rail cages which the Department for Transport is now, itself, increasingly advising against the use of (See their new 2009 guidance here) The presence of guard rails and bollards – things we are all too familiar with in Acocks Green – have been shown to increase speeds.
Illegally parked cars is often a big fear but there are other ways …
On the other hand, speeds of cars are typically reduced by methods like introducing slight visual obstructions. Planters and steeper bends can be as effective as traditional traffic markings. Reducing strict segregation between traffic and pedestrians tends, also, to result in more smoothly flowing traffic with more pedestrians feeling empowered to use the whole of the space. This has also been shown to increase the number of pedestrians in the street as a whole.
News which was particularly interesting to this audience was that a recent Department for Transport study – hot of the presses from a conference Phil had been at that day in London – confirms that Shared Space (one style of street design which emphasises reducing pedestrian/traffic segregation) is ‘no less safe and can be safer’.
Widening pavements also increases pedestrian usage of the area whilst narrowing roads reduces speed. This point is something which, again, is particularly relevant to an Acocks Green audience who is currently endorsing a BCC scheme to remove most of the dual carriageway on the Warwick Road in Acocks Green. Most of us have, at some point, stood near Sainsbury’s and watched with despair as the traffic begins to speed up as it hits the wide dual section.
Many older streets lose their sense of History when modern street layouts and furniture are imposed upon them.
The atmosphere of such streets can often be retrieved by a sensitive stripping down of recent additions and, again, a more sympathetic use of materials.
This is an issue in Acocks Green, where good buildings from the nineteen-twenties and thirties are obscured by modern railings, bollards and street signs: a point, which interestingly, also attracted spontaneous comment from non-Acocks Green members of the audience!
Boris Johnson also proved a hit with his idea of a five point approach to better streets:
- Tidy up
- De-clutter – remove unecessary features
- Re-locate/merge functions – e.g. put signs/bins on lamposts
- Re-think traffic management – e.g. make it unobtrusive
- Re-create the street – e.g. upgrade materials
The audience stayed well beyond the scheduled finishing time of 8.30 pm in order to hear, and very actively discuss ,these new ideas. Such ideas are now radicalising urban street design, helping to make urban high streets once again a popular places for people to visit and spend time in, at a time when the local high street has been under threat of disappearing. Acocks Green was well represented in the audience, but there were also delegates from other areas like Moseley and Harborne, from Birmingham City Council, Friends of the Earth and Living Streets. The evening was rounded off by Andy Chidgey from BCC informally explaining his recent plans for Acocks Green. (See our previous posting) When asked whether he had found the evening interesting Andy agreed that there were many ideas which worth thinking about.
We hope that Manual for Streets 2 will help to shape the new, revitalised, Acocks Green centre which we look forward to see emerging in the next few years.