Friday, 5 February 2016

The Myth Of Shared Space

What is "shared space"? I think it means different things to different people and in this post, I will attempt to show it as being a largely mythical concept.

I have put off writing this post for a long time because so many others have written about shared space (from a variety of standpoints) and I am not sure that I really have anything new to add. I will declare that I am not an opponent of some of the concepts per se, but I really do think many ideas have become toxic with the way they have been implemented.

Let's start with an important definition (well, my definition) of shared space which is in the glossary to this blog;

Shared Space
A street where several functions either share the same space at the same time or sometimes separated in time. For example, a footway may have loading bays on it which are only operational during times of low pedestrian flows or traffic signals separate different movements and modes by space and time.

Shared space can also mean more radical layouts where traffic, pedestrians and cycle users share the same area on a single surface, such as Exhibition Road in London. The concept seeks to blur demarcations between travel modes and enhance the street scene or public realm.

Let's also pause for a minute and take a look at the current official UK guidance on the subject in the form of Local Transport Note 1/11 - Shared Space which defines the concept as;

A street or place designed to improve pedestrian movement and comfort by reducing the dominance of motor vehicles and enabling all users to share the space rather than follow the clearly defined rules implied by more conventional designs.

So immediately, the "official" view ignores those riding bicycles, but acknowledges that motor traffic is an issue - this should be about pedestrian comfort and reducing traffic (OK, my interpretation!). LTN 1/11 also defines "sharing";

The ability and willingness of pedestrians, facilitated by the sympathetic behaviour of motorists and others, to move freely around the street and use parts of it that, in a more conventional layout, would be considered largely dedicated to vehicular use.

This is a problem for me as it suggests that shared space relies on those driving to behave sympathetically towards pedestrians and this is all rather too simplistic. LTN 1/11 also defines "level surface";

A street surface with no level difference to segregate pedestrians from vehicular traffic.

I mention "level surface" (sometimes referred to a single surface) as shared space and level surface are often conflated and used interchangeably which is not right. A level surface has distinct advantages for people with impaired mobility, wheelchair users and people pushing buggies, but is can be a significant barrier to visually impaired people. We also have the concept of "comfort space";

An area of the street predominantly for pedestrian use where motor vehicles are unlikely to be present.

We also have some key statements which kind of give the reason for looking at a shared space scheme;

  • Shared space enhances a street’s sense of place.
  • As the level of demarcation between pedestrians and drivers is reduced, the amount of sharing increases.
  • In shared space, a design speed of no more than 20 mph is desirable.

Some commentary is given in support of these statements, but there are plenty of health warnings (!) given in the document. In no particular order of important, I think the following points are worth bearing in mind;

The Manual for Streets (DfT, 2007) suggested that, above 100 motor vehicles per hour, pedestrians treat the general path taken by motor vehicles in a shared space as a road to be crossed rather than a space to occupy. However, this figure is not an upper limit for shared space. Shared space streets with substantially larger flows have been reported to operate successfully, albeit with reduced willingness of pedestrians to use all of the street space.

A key benefit of shared space, particularly where there is a level surface, is that it can allow the street to be used in different ways. For example, street cafes and the like may be present during the day, while at night the area occupied by daytime activities could be given over to people visiting night-time entertainment venues. A street could also host regular street markets or occasional events such as street theatre.

[D]uring research into user interaction in shared space, no instances of negotiation by eye contact were observed – indeed, there appeared to be very little overtly demonstrative communication of any sort between pedestrians and drivers. Eye contact cannot be relied upon, given the difficulty in establishing it with a driver through a vehicle windscreen, especially at a distance. It is important that this is understood to avoid undermining the confidence of blind and partially sighted people using shared space.

There is a great deal of advice in the document and in my opinion, if some of the more well-known shared-space schemes were "measured" against this advice and the design the criteria (which are guidelines), they would be abject "failures". The three points I have reproduced above suggest that traffic flows shouldn't be high if we are inviting pedestrians to dominate; level surfaces can have wider benefits and the often-quoted concept of "eye contact" is cobblers. Please have a read of the whole thing as in my view the proponents of the shared space movement don't seem to follow even this.

So, why do we get shared space schemes? They are actually nothing new and in countless locations, things we would call a "shared space" pre-date the motor car - just think about any old town or city market square which has operated just fine without cars. 

I'm going to spend the rest of this post giving some examples of what shared space might look like, despite me saying it is a myth and then I shall round up with some conclusions. First, here is one of the many squares in the wonderful city of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic;

The city has lots of squares which are in many places just large open spaces with streets running into them. The image above is fairly typical and one can very clear see the tram lines running through the space. There is no parking allowed, but loading can take place where required, although don't ask me if it was permitted when I took the photo. It could be shared space, but it was like that before cars.

In terms of traffic flow, it will be the trams being the issue rather than the motors, but I would argue there is a very high sense of place. I would suggest that the layout is rather poor for visually impaired people as it is a wide open space of paving with no help for navigation; and it's probably an issue for many people with mobility impairment because of the traditionally cobbled surface. Those very important issues aside, pedestrians dominate the space and are enabled to do so by the lack of vehicles. Next, a street in Deventer, The Netherlands;

Again, this is a level surface shared space, although "footway" areas are nominally picked out in a slightly lighter paving. In this street, we have have car parking (and lots of cycle parking as one would expect!) but the street is access for cars and deliveries only - through traffic has been filtered out and flows will be significantly less than the 100 vehicles per hour given as the guide level in the LTN. Let's keep it going. This is Venn Street, Clapham, London;

Although once again a level surface, Venn Street has more traditional footway areas a "carriageway" along the centre and the granite cobbles is a resident's parking bay (achieved without paint, but with a sign on the building). There is also a loading bay in the street, but no parking allowed on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (at least it was when I last visited) which means the space can be used for other things (such as a market). So not only is the space shared by transport modes, it can be shared with a market. 

The street is also one-way (towards us, although this should be changed to allow 2-way cycling) and again, only of use to those who need to be there. Compare the above photo with how the place looked in 2008. I would say that if it wasn't for the British traffic signs and English shop names, this could be anywhere in Northern Europe! Still in London, I want to show you the same street, but it is a street of two parts. This is the famous Exhibition Road which has been controversial over the years (and remains so);

Again, we have a level surface, but there is an 800mm strip of "hazard" warning tactile paving which is set behind a black slot drain. The warning strip demarcates a comfort space for visually impaired people. The first three photos were taken between Kensington Road and Cromwell Road

The last photo was from the tiny section south of Thurloe Place which provides access for those delivering or needing to access some residents' parking bays in Thurloe Street. In essence, one can drive through a couple of roads which form a loop and then the exit puts you back before where you started (if that makes sense). In other words, unless one has business there, it is pointless driving in.

Next we have Marine Parade, Southend-on-Sea. This street is right on the sea front and for many years consisted of a wide dual-carriageway road with lots of parking. The road was a significant barrier between the promenade on one side and the pubs and amusements on the other. A few years ago, the area was redeveloped with the central reservation coming out along with 2-stage staggered crossings and the road being made a single carriageway with hugely widened footways, some on-footway loading for the businesses and some uncontrolled crossings with some level surface thrown in. 

The area is a shared space because the huge traffic signs at each end tell us so and there is a 20mph speed limit which is enforced with average speed cameras (which I like). The top photos shows the extent of the cycling infrastructure (there is none) and it really is a wasted opportunity, especially as the new area is a break between adjacent protection (t a varying quality). The lack of controlled crossings will be an issue for some sectors of the community, although on a nice sunny day with lots of pedestrians, people on foot can assert themselves as the second photo shows.

Southend is a really interesting example. Undoubtedly, it is head and shoulders above what was there before. Had the cycling infrastructure been continued to link up the seafront and a couple of zebra crossing been thrown in, I think it could have been pretty good. But is it "shared space"? I am not sure it is, we have a conventional carriageway between wide footways and the carriageway takes levels of traffic which allows sharing momentarily as pedestrians scurry across. Contrast this with the "nice" end of Exhibition Road, one is not going to stand in the middle of Marine Parade eating an ice-cream!

At each end of Marine Parade, the road layout goes back to pretty standard UK stuff (even with the cycling infrastructure) and so Marine Parade is essentially part of a much longer motor traffic corridor, despite having the A13 running parallel to it. The sea front could have bee transformed into a series of east-west cul-de-sacs with connections every so often back up north to the A13 - I suppose I am on about unravelling networks. Let's have a look at a few more examples where I think there has been far less noise. Here is New Road in Brighton;

It's another level surface scheme, but with restricted motor access to the point where again one can deliver and only a blue-badge parking bay is available. Motors are only allowed in from one end (cycling allowed both ways) and as a result, people walking, cycling and sitting at tables dominate the space. It is shared space? People will say it is, but really, the sharing is not on equal terms, it is a pedestrian space within which people cycling are guests and people driving don't need to be there unless they are making a delivery. This is the opposite to the "through route" schemes like Southend and Exhibition Road. This next photo is St James' Terrace in Southwold, Suffolk;

It is part of a network of historic streets which were not designed as such, more they evolved. There are some very narrow footways and so most people walk in the road in this part of town, which is very popular with tourists. Despite the parking, the streets in this area are generally pretty quiet. The area could do with a couple of modal filters and perhaps a restricted parking zone could clear out all by residents' parking (there is a large car park on the edge of Southwold). But, this and the other streets are essentially shared space streets with a level surface. This has happened by historic quirk rather than expert design, but you will never hear about places like this - they are not new and shiny. OK, last example. The next photo is Trinity Street, Borough, London.

Is this shared space? It's a level surface area with a carriageway-like cobbled route through it picking out a cycle track - there are no cars, but there is sharing going on. On the one hand, people cycling have a clear route through and perhaps they could dominate, although cycle speeds will be low as it is a link. People cycling can share on the terms of the pedestrian and indeed, there is seating and planting around the space which does help shape how it is use. This was not designed as a shared space, this was created by closing a through route to motors. Look at the place in 2008, it had already been closed to motors with the area being transformed soon after. 

The use of the word "shared" is the thing I keep coming back to. Shared conjours up an idea that everyone can use a space on equal terms and this is clearly not and cannot be the case on a through route for traffic. It is why that wherever we see this kind of design plopped on a busy road (and especially busy junctions) we immediately get controversy. 

On the one side, the designers and the forward thinking councillor who pushed for a shared space will be extolling the virtues of smoother traffic flow, capacity gains and a greater sense of place. On the other side we will have visually impaired people and their advocates pointing out how people have now been excluded as they relied on kerb upstands and controlled crossings. We will read local newspaper reports with people complaining that their new "implied roundabout" has caused accidents and we'll also have local cycling groups complaining about the total lack of protection. This is all very familiar isn't it?

I think the examples I have used show that there is no real thing that defines the concept of shared space, although level surfaces come up a lot. The places which are successful from a pedestrian's point of view (going back to official guidance) are the ones which limit motor access to really very low levels and on this basis, it is not about sharing, it is about who exercises the most power. Don't forget, a pedestrian dominated place by day can still attract people driving through to quickly at night.

When all is said and done, I think we need stop being hung up by the term "shared space" it is all about the streets and how we use them and therefore that in itself means that the term is a myth for me. Venn Street and St James' Terrace are more similar than we might imagine in terms if them being the backdrop to street activity. One is very pretty and one is very basic, but they seem to do a similar job because of low traffic levels. Southend and schemes like it with pretty paving plonked on a busy through route may be a lot nicer than they were which us fine to a point, but we really run the risk of creating as much exclusion for some people as the old streets created. 

Friday, 29 January 2016

Traffic Signal Pie: The Great Switch Off? No, It Runs Far Deeper.

So the excitement in the press last weekend was a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs where the headlines shouted loud about ripping out traffic lights.

The full report titled "Seeing Red: Traffic Controls & The Economy" is a 56 page tome with more to it than meets the swiveling eyes of those stuck in their cars in traffic jams. I am being as deliberately provocative as the IEA's own webpage which announces the report in an unashamedly car-centric way. Don't take my word for it, the IEA's head of transport, Dr Richard Wellings (PhD in transport policy) said;

"For too long policymakers have failed to make a cost-benefit analysis of a range of regulations – including traffic lights, speed cameras and bus lanes – making life a misery from drivers nationwide. It’s quite clear that traffic management has spread far beyond the locations where it might be justified, to the detriment of the economy, environment and road safety."

This is very clearly a report only interested in the plight of people who are driving. The report is co-authored by Martin Cassini, who campaigns against traffic controls, preferring a utopia where people would simply get on with each other on the road in pure equality (and presumably where the laws of physics don't apply);

"Traffic control seeks in vain to achieve safety through coercion. To avoid more needless deaths on the altar of the malign current system, reform is vital. At major junctions at peak times signal control can be useful. But it should be a last resort. By and large, we are better off left to our own devices, on a level playing-field with equal or no priority."

The report is about far more than traffic signals as can be seen in the summary;

Not only is a high proportion of traffic regulation detrimental to road safety, the economy and the environment, it also imposes huge costs on road-users, taxpayers and communities.

Despite the potential for social and economic harm, traffic regulation is introduced without analysing the full cost to road-users. All too often, policymakers neglect negative effects and approve schemes even when costs outweigh benefits.

From 2000 to 2014, when there was little growth in traffic volumes, the number of traffic lights on Britain’s roads increased by some 25 percent. The number of junctions controlled by signals has risen to about 15,000 with a further 18,000 pedestrian crossings.

The number of instructional traffic signs in England reached 4.57 million in 2013 – an increase of 112 per cent since 1993. Britain’s first speed camera was installed in 1992. By 2012 there were over 3,000 at 2,300 fixed sites. Monitoring now extends to large sections of the motorway network, a step change in the surveillance of motorists.

In 2013 Islington became the first borough to bring in a blanket 20 mph speed limit. By summer 2015 around 14 million people lived in local authorities that had adopted or were in the process of adopting a 20 mph standard.

The rapid expansion of bus lanes began in the late 1990s. In London they grew from 59 miles in 1997 to 172 miles in 2007.

The importance of the road network means the cumulative effect of these measures imposes an enormous burden on the UK economy. Just a two-minute delay to every car trip equates to a loss of approximately £16 billion a year.

There is a strong economic case for replacing standard traffic regulation with strategies that harness voluntary cooperation among road-users. ‘Shared space’ schemes – such as the one in Poynton in Cheshire – show the transformational benefits of this unregulated, design approach.

A high proportion of traffic lights should be replaced by filter-in-turn or all-way give-ways. Many bus lanes, cycle lanes, speed cameras and parking restrictions should also go. Culling such traffic management infrastructure would deliver substantial economic and social benefits.

You will have noticed by now that I am setting the report up for a rant and you would be mainly right. In my opinion, it is founded on shaky principles from the start and it seeks to construct an argument to justify the end position that traffic controls should be removed which leaves people to it (although there is more depth as I will explain later). In essence, let the market decide which is what one can expect from such libertarian authors. To extend this economic analogy, just think for a minute what happens whenever we let the market decide. The strong and powerful screw over the weak. The introduction gives a flavour of this belief;

"Before there were any statutory traffic regulations, road-users were governed by common law. All had equal and mutual rights to be exercised  so as not to interfere unreasonably with the rights of others. They were required to avoid unnecessary obstruction and to use such care for their own and others’ safety as a reasonable person would under the circumstances."

Of course, back in the old days before cars, pedestrians were still being clobbered by carts and carriages, so the proposition is daft. Why do we have regulation on our roads? Well, the report would have us believe that in terms of the growth of traffic controls;

Such measures spring from an attempt to coerce road-users into behaving in certain ways, instead of allowing practices to develop spontaneously through free choice and cooperation, with road-users assessing costs and benefits to decide on an appropriate mode for their individual needs. 

In my mind, this is precisely why we need traffic controls, because otherwise we are firmly in the territory of "might is right". A simple example is the provision of a zebra crossing. It is done in order to help people wanting to cross the road gain priority from motor traffic, possibly because flows are too high to find a gap. If one stood at the side of a busy urban road, I wonder how long one would have to wait for drivers to "cooperate" and stop to let one cross. What about the economic impact on the pedestrian in all the time waiting to cross?

The report goes through each of the headline above and essentially moans and whinges about all of these traffic controls, before getting to the meat of it; the economic case. Well not quite, there is still space to have another moan about yellow lines and traffic signs. But the economic case is simply not presented. There are figures on how much is spent on traffic management and yes, if it wasn't put in and then maintained, there might be a capital and revenue saving to be had, the report states;

Traffic management involves major installation, operation and maintenance costs. DCLG accounts reveal that in financial year 2012/13, local authorities in England spent £428 million on traffic management and road safety (DCLG 2014). In addition, £293 million went on transport planning, policy and strategy. Precise figures are hard to gauge, but a fair slice of English councils’ £3.5 billion annual construction and maintenance budget is likely to go on traffic management.

I make that either 12% or 21% of £3.5bn depending on whether one thinks lumping planning, policy and strategy into installation, operation and maintenance is fair. I don't, but you may have a different view. It's relatively small numbers when gauged against the highway maintenance backlog of £12bn or expansion of the strategic road network with £15bn (or High Speed 2 at perhaps £100bn). The report does accept (in a footnote) that English councils made £458 million from parking services (I assume parking charges and fines) in 2012/13. Given that this "profit" must be reinvested in local transport, this looks like a win to me.

On "environmental costs", the report asserts;

"the [traffic control] measures themselves have produced serious environmental costs. These must be set against presumed (and highly questionable) benefits. For example, modal shift to public transport may deliver few if any gains if motorists switch to noisy and polluting diesel buses, or if energy-intensive new rail infrastructure forms part of the policy package. Moreover, the environmental costs and benefits of ‘anti-car’ policies are notoriously difficult to quantify, particularly in the case of global warming, which involves forecasting economic and climate outcomes decades in advance."

This is not backed up with any data and so is no more an expression of opinion than me suggesting it is total cobblers. I have no data to support my position! 

I do agree with some of the comments about street clutter (aesthetic environment) and to be sure much is generated by regulation. I would in turn suggest that the majority of street clutter resulting from regulation is as a result of regulating the use of motor vehicles - why? Well, if we didn't we would have a free for all (from drivers). Where we don't have vehicles, we have very few traffic signs!

Why aren't these scroungers being regulated like drivers?

Let's have another example. Double yellow lines are put in either to stop people parking in a way which would block road traffic flow or to try and prevent people parking in places which cause problems for others (such as pedestrians trying to cross at side roads). In the Wellings-Cassini world, drivers would simply think for themselves and not park in stupid places

Still on environmental costs we are informed;

Similarly, anti-car policies can damage local businesses by making it less convenient to visit their locality. With car owners’ spending pushed elsewhere, local businesses may fail or go downmarket in a spiral of urban ‘degeneration’.

The data supporting this claim is certainly robust;

"A survey of local newspaper reports reveals this to be a widespread problem across the UK. For example: ‘Bus lanes have put me out of business, claims shop owner’, Manchester Evening News, 12 January 2013."

Beg you pardon, the anecdata supporting this claim is based on reading local rags which use aggrieved car-centric shop-keepers as their bread and butter page fillers. I take your anecdata and I raise you a proper report on the pedestrian pound.

The report then moves onto the "economic impact on road users", but I suggest you replace "road users" with "drivers" because that is the nub of it. First, the allusion that traffic controls are only needed at peak times (I think they mean traffic signals), with the argument extended to active traffic management on motorways not being needed if only people used the inside lane as they are told in the Highway Code. I will cover signals later, but the suggestion is that a change in priority rules could do away with them.

There is then a pop at Transport for London's East-West Cycle Superhighway where the report trots out the old argument that TfL's traffic models proves the scheme will cause serious delays. For drivers.

"For vehicles, peak journey times between the Limehouse Link tunnel in Docklands to Hyde Park Corner will more than double, adding around 20 minutes to this crucial cross London route (TfL 2014). At the same time, the new lane will do little to speed up cycling, shaving only two minutes off the journey from the East to West End."

For driving times, there has been much debate, often around the way in which the City elite travels in this part of London. Yes, the traffic modelling predicts that there will be increased journey times for people driving of about a minute and a half at peak times. I don't know where the 2 minute saving for people cycling has come from (I've never seen that reported), but it rather misses the point. If we are looking at road capacity, then I would counter than cycles are hugely more efficient than cars and so surely a bit of time shaving in favour of shorter cycling times is a good thing. 

The profound reason for the project (and the North-South route) is that it is far cheaper to reallocate road space to cycle capacity than it is to build tube and train capacity. London is growing and if the argument is that the East-West route is screwed now for drivers, it was never going to get better. Of course, it was possible to cycle fast with the heavy traffic before the Superhighway, but at peak times, the roads were often blocked to the extent that one couldn't cycle very fast. 

What is not built into the report's debate is that the protected nature of the Superhighway (and this goes for the others being built) means that cycling is becoming accessible to all on a key route. We are seeing kids on the route and people not fitting the lycra profile of days gone by. Of course, children are not part of the report's economic model and so their needs are conveniently ignored as are the needs and time value of anyone not driving a car in the middle of a city.

Remember, kids, you don't count, you are not economically active.

The footnote to the cycling time savings is probably the most revealing piece of anecdata on this section of the report;

"In fact these alleged reductions in journey times are questionable given the tendency for some cyclists to minimise journey time by nipping through on red or using pavements."

This driver is definitely not using the footway to nip to the front of
the traffic queue.

Well, ditto for drivers. Idiocy transcends transport mode, but the vulnerable always come off worse.

The report continues with the thread that time is money for drivers and them alone;

"The importance of the road network to the UK economy means that delays caused by traffic management impose heavy costs. Government estimates of the value of travellers’ time imply that a delay of just two minutes to every car trip imposes annual costs of roughly £16 billion, equivalent to almost 1 per cent of GDP."

For my own piece of anecdata, I use a toucan crossing twice a day. It is a two stage crossing and so that is 4 crossing per day. I regularly time my wait for a green signal and usually each one is around 60 seconds (unless I turn up at the right time and the button has already been pressed). What about my several minutes a week, and why isn't that being costed? I am not talking about crossing at a junction, this is a standalone crossing site - waits times at junctions are often counted in minutes. Of course, the authors would counter by saying that the signals are a traffic control we don't need. If it wasn't for the signals, I would struggle to cross quite often. If I couldn't move quickly, then forget it.

We then get onto "accidents, health and safety". The report questions whether traffic controls have made things safer, suggesting that there was a long term trend downwards in any case. A quote from Adams is given (sorry, not someone I have come across, I am sure my academic readers have though);

"There are many dangerous roads that have good accident records because they are seen to be dangerous - children are forbidden to cross them, old people are afraid to cross them, and fit adults cross them quickly and carefully. The good accident record is purchased at the cost of community severance - with the result that people on one side of a busy road tend no longer to know their neighbours on the other."

Actually, this is the first bit of logic I have read in the report. This quote makes perfect sense and provides an insight into the concept of "subjective safety", or as I prefer "experienced safety". The quote also uses a perfect example of different types of people trying to cross the road. It is a strange thing to quote because the report has banged on about getting rid of the very controls which enable Adams' children and old people need in order to cross the road.

Don't worry, we are quickly back to the belief that controls create "accidents" and if only the rules were changed and people obeyed them all would be dandy;

"At a four-way crossroads with traffic lights, two opposing traffic streams are in a stationary queue at red. On the opposing junction arm, traffic is crossing or approaching on green. Cautious drivers slow down, anticipating a return to red. Assertive drivers accelerate to beat the light in a bid to avoid another hold-up. Is it surprising that a great many injury accidents take place at traffic lights or priority junctions?"

It's a straw man being used to suggest that the answer at such a junction would be a 4-way stop or give way to the right - the idea is advanced elsewhere in the document. Of course, a 4-way give way to the right is called a roundabout and the last time I looked, we are allowed to build them. The report's introduction laments early debate on the matter where the AA apparently argued for priority from the right, whereas the RAC won with the concept of major and minor arms on junctions, with those on the minor arm giving way no matter who arrived there first.

On health impacts, we are told that road humps kill 500 people a year;

"In London it has been estimated that traffic calming is responsible for the deaths of 500
people a year. This partly reflects the extreme time-sensitivity of heart attacks, with delays in treatment of just a few minutes dramatically increasing mortality rates. Road humps can also cause pain and discomfort to travellers with arthritis, back pain and similar ailments, requiring ambulances to negotiate them at a snail’s pace."

The evidence for this is a 2003 BBC News website story which itself is laden with quotes from the former London Borough of Barnet councillor (and other positions), Brian Coleman who was particularly outspoken against road humps. So outspoken that under his tenure, Barnet pretty much outlawed their use. The 500 deaths is a Coleman comment on a London Ambulance Service comment at the time, but sadly there is no link to the actual report; I have had a look at other news reports from the time, but there is nothing. Besides, this was 13 years ago. There is absolutely diddly-squat on the economic costs of the people we manage to kill, maim, injure and poison by using our cars.

So, what is to be done about traffic controls? The report spends some time looking at some examples of where traffic controls were taken out, a so-called "alternative approach". We are talking about "shared space". Well actually, it seems we are not. Apparently, chief proponent of "shared space", the architect turned "built environment expert" Ben Hamilton-Baillie has apparently given the concept a new name;

"This alternative approach is best known as ‘shared space’, although Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who coined the term, now prefers ‘low-speed environments’. Shared space is too often confused with shared (flat) surfaces, which are unsuitable for blind people who need to orientate themselves. Kerbs tell them where the pavement ends and the road begins."

Who needs traffic controls when people can share so nicely?

That's strange, because Hamilton-Baillie seemed less worried about kerbs in places the report holds up as shining examples of the concept such as the Ashford Ring Road and Poynton (with the film I've linked made by Martin Cassini no less) which replaced a really awful signal-controlled junction with a pretty "shared space" within which motor traffic congestion has reduced. Smoothing traffic flow is a common theme where shared space is dropped in on busy through routes. The report does cover some of the criticisms of shared space, especially for visually impaired people;

"The blind and partially sighted object to the loss of features such as kerbs that aid navigation and give them a sense of security.It should be noted that shared space does not require shared (flat) surfaces, though as mentioned, the terms are often confused. Hence Hamilton-Baillie’s preference for the term ‘low-speed environments’, and the writers’ preference for ‘sociable streets’ or ‘equality streets’."

Hang on. Are we now just reducing this to traditional street layouts with kerbed footways and carriageways, but at the same time expecting everyone to be treated equally by each other? That's surely the problem we have with stuffing traffic through our town centres and high streets, which leads to traffic controls (such as controlled crossings) but which the authors think should come out. The report is also critical of the cost and poor maintenance of some of the shared/low speed/ sociable/ equality streets;

"The cost to taxpayers of high-specification shared space projects raises issues. At 2015 prices, this element of the Ashford scheme cost approximately £13 million, while Poynton cost about £4 million. There have also been maintenance problems, in the case of Poynton owing to short-term council cost-cutting."

Yes, this is a lot of money and would make budgets highway maintenance teams could only dream about. As we know, the issue is about traffic volume and speed; pretty paving seldom sorts it out and to be fair, I think the authors know this;

"This raises the question of whether such initiatives represent good value for money compared with other transport investments such as bypasses."

I've no problem with that, so long as the places being bypassed are dealt with so that walking, cycling and public transport are put first, although I doubt the people using them have any worth in the eyes of the authors. The solution in many cases is to just do away with traffic signals because this is comparatively inexpensive compared to a more comprehensive schemes. The example the report gives is Portishead.

Portishead? Not one I know about and so I did some Googling. This goes back to September 2009 when, as reported by the Bristol Post, signals (including those for pedestrians) were switched off at the Cabstand junction (a medium-sized staggered affair). Here is the junction in 2008 and a film was made about the scheme in 2010, by Martin Cassini. The scheme was a 4-week trial which was accompanied by a 20mph speed limit and signs telling drivers to give way to pedestrians. 

The film suggests that under signal control the junction took 1,700 vehicles per hour and without signal control, it took 2,000 vehicles an hour. Pedestrian flows remained at 300 an hour before and after. If you look at the Streetview images at the time, the junction wasn't particularly blessed with much pedestrian infrastructure in the first place! I don't know if that is peak, although I suspect it is. As we see a lorry swinging through the junction as a woman tries to cross with a buggy, we hear a telling bit of commentary;

"signal switch-off is not enough on its own because most drivers still assume right of way in the time-honoured fashion dictated by traffic controls."

Oh, I thought turning off signals means that people will share nicely. The current layout has changed a bit from the trial. There are now mini-roundabouts in the junction, a couple of zebra crossings and a bit of traffic calming. The previously signalised crossing of Wyndham Way remains uncontrolled with a staggered crossing. One of the crossings is over two lanes of traffic which is simply awful for people trying to cross. The original Bristol Post article talks about the signalisation being part of a development. My conclusion is that the original design was bad and signals may not have been the right option, but then as now, the decision has been taken to largely prioritise motor traffic over people in a busy town centre. 

I have had a look at Crashmap and there have been no pedestrian injuries between 2005 and 2014. Between 2004 and 2009, there were two collisions involving vehicles, both with slight injuries. Between 2009 and 2014 there were also two collisions involving vehicles, both with slight injuries. In all cases, these occurred at the junction of High Street/ Wyndam Way/ Ferndale Road. 

Funnily enough, I think putting the signals in to start was a mistake, although I don't know what the junction was like before; it seems to have been linked to a large (parking rich) development just out of the town centre which needed traffic mitigation. All of the debate surrounding this example completely misses the point that poor Portishead remains hopelessly shackled to motor traffic.

So, where does this leave us going forward? The report looks at three areas. First is a reform of traffic management policies. Of course, our urban places don't tend to stay static and so presumably keeping policies under review is a good thing. The report seems only bothered about reviewing policies which the authors think impede drivers;

"Traffic signals could be taken out where they cause unnecessary delays, perhaps following Portishead-style trials where lights are switched off for several weeks to observe the impact. Successful schemes in Drachten in the Netherlands (in 2002) and Bohmte in Germany (in
2007) scrapped over 80 per cent of their traffic lights. Together with the Portishead experiment, this suggests a broadly similar proportion of signals could be removed in the UK. High-specification sharedspace designs, as seen at Ashford and Poynton, might be considered at complex junctions where improvements to the urban environment would be particularly beneficial. At multi-lane intersections carrying high traffic volumes, signal control might still be required but, given junction modifications, only during peaks."

Turning off traffic signals for a few weeks does not give enough data, and a failing of schemes which appear radical is that the "after" situation can be so different to the "before" that we are not comparing like with like. Traffic signals can and do cause delay to drivers, but this is also a symptom of those places being busy; many trials of signal switch offs or shared space do result in better motor traffic flow and a capacity increase, but it is often to the detriment of people walking, especially those with mobility or visual impairment. It is also the case that the needs of people cycling are not even considered. The answer in these places is to change the streets for people. I have covered switching off traffic signals before and my views haven't changed.

Bus and cycle lanes could be taken out where efficiency or safety benefits are too insubstantial to justify their consumption of road space. This is likely to be the case in many suburban and rural areas, where bus frequencies and cycle traffic are low.

See how the paint takes away motor capacity.

Bus lanes can assist in making sure bus passengers gain an advantage over a private car driver. They are traffic controls designed to prioritise the movement of more people. They can fall down where at their ends where buses have to merge into traffic (often at junctions). Where designed as part of a comprehensive network of bus priority measures, they are effective. I assume that the report's authors would prefer that capacity for cars and the time of bus passengers don't fit the economic model. As for cycle lanes, a bit of paint does nothing to affect motor capacity, so I think they actually mean proper provision where space is properly set aside for cycling.

Speed cameras could be switched off or removed where time losses exceed safety gains. For example, on ‘smart motorways’ they could operate only when active management is addressing congestion issues.

If a motorway is free-flowing, this argument is essentially that we shouldn't be nicking those blasting through well above 70mph - time is money! The geometry of motorways take into account the capability of vehicles and their drivers and although there is a debate about what an upper speed limit should be (and I am not going into that here), the authors libertarian position is that people choosing to disregard the speed limit should be allowed to carry on. The trouble is, poor behaviour isn't left on the motorways.

Traffic calming could be removed from through routes where it produces delay and damage to vehicles, especially the emergency services, and air and noise pollution for residents. A similar approach could apply to mph speed limits.

Your through-route is my rat-run, is someone else's fear of their own street. The thing is, traffic calming is not a panacea, there are countless examples of it being deployed to try and deal with speeding drivers and high volumes of traffic and not working. The answer is often that the particular route needs to be changed into a local street (access for motors only) to provide unfettered access and priority to people walking and cycling - filtered permeability. On our high streets, we continue to deploy traffic calming (often in the form of bus and emergency services friendly flat topped-humps), but we simply fail to address the amount of traffic. If the authors are so concerned about the emergency services, then they would surely welcome far less traffic on the roads so emergency vehicles could get through more quickly.

Parking regulation could be restricted to locations where there is a genuine scarcity of spaces. Councils could reverse the policy of reducing provision to contrive shortages. Wherever possible, parking outside dwellings and businesses should be restored, particularly where there is a risk of urban blight and social decay."

Do I seriously need to counter this one? 

The second part of the authors' conclusion looks at how to remove barriers to change (to a system they think should be imposed on the rest of us). We have the standard comment about local authority staff having a vested interest in their jobs, salaries and status. Well believe me, keeping one's job is quite important, but we certainly do not do it for the money and the status of an engineer isn't much above the level of a dog turd on the street! Of course, the skills of those us in local transport can be used for good and evil. They also repeat their dislike of local authorities raising funds from parking and enforcement. To be fair, they then have a pop at the private sector for balance;

"there is a ‘private sector’ industry that manufactures, installs and maintains traffic signals, speed cameras and other equipment and infrastructure. This concentrated special interest, dependent on government contracts, is likely to lobby hard to retain its source of profits."

This sector is tiny when set against the part of industry which builds new roads, depends on government contracts and certainly lobbies hard to retain the source of its profits (and the oil interests and therefore "defence" interests too). Local government, including transport is being actively defunded as I write this. Yes, there are some big concerns involved in local government work, but this is because in-house talent has been steadily outsourced since the 1980s. There are also lots of little firms and suppliers who rely on small local government orders to provide their bread and butter work. They are not about shareholders and offshoring profits, they are about keeping money in the local economy and certainly provide some level of social service. At the same time, the government is sinking billions of pounds into huge road projects which are very nice indeed for the large firms winning the work.

Then we have a pop at people trying to get change with a modal shift from the car to active travel and public transport;

"certain road-user groups would resist change. Even if a policy disadvantages users and local residents generally, it may benefit narrow interests. For example, bus companies and cycling groups often demand priority measures, even where the cost to other road-users exceeds the benefits to their chosen mode. Such costs may bolster those special interests by encouraging more motorists to travel by bus or bike, thereby swelling their numbers and political clout."

Let me get this right. If we are able to affect a shift from private cars to other modes, we swell the numbers of people using those other modes thus giving them political clout and then presumably the numbers swell more and so on; this is a bad thing? What about the decades of political clout from big business who's only interests involve keeping people wedded to their cars? This is really a go at the all powerful cycle lobby which so far has managed to keep cycling in the UK static at 2% of trips. 

Then we have the "radical environmentalists" and "egalitarians" who have global warming trumping economic analysis and private cars being socially divisive respectively. This is is the ramblings of a crank in my view, but dangerous ramblings because organisations such as the IEA seek to lobby for its supporters and funders who (by the content of the report) must have a vested interest in not only maintaining the status quo, but increasing the almost total grip of motordom in the UK.

The report ends with a look at moving from "command and control" to "voluntary cooperation". By this, the authors mean the wholesale dismantling and deregulation of the current system to a point where things are run at the local level;

"Ideally, then, decentralisation should go much further than granting councils more fiscal responsibility. This might include transferring ownership of minor roads to residents’ groups and some major roads to mutual organisations separate from local government, or indeed commercial owners."

On the face of it, the transfer of big government to the smallest local unit could in theory give people more of a say how their streets are managed at the very local level. The trouble is, this is just scraps and do they seriously think that this would work? (they don't say how it would work). It is scraps because the real prize is the control of major roads over which there is little public or elected scrutiny (and are no way local concerns). Think I am being paranoid? Well look at Highways England and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to see where funding is being shifted to. LEPs are (from;

"local business led partnerships between local authorities and businesses and play a central role in determining local economic priorities and undertaking activities to drive economic growth and the creation of local jobs." [bold my emphasis]

The last sentence of the report reveals all (if you hadn't already picked it up);

"Given its enormous impact on the wider economy, roads policy is far too important to be left to politicians and bureaucrats."

Mark my words. All of the tabloid-friendly headlines last weekend were designed to capture the car-centric public's imagination of a brave new world without traffic signals and with unlimited parking. The true nature of the report is very much about the wholesale transfer of funding from the public to the private purse (with no similar shift of risk and liability). The libertarianisation of roads in the UK has nothing to do with empowering the individual and everything to do with profit for the rich and powerful.

Finally, a word about our sponsors. The report makes an acknowledgement;

"This publication has been made possible by the support of the Nigel Vinson Charitable Trust. The directors and trustees of the IEA thank the Rt. Hon. Lord Vinson of Roddam Dene, LVO, for both his intellectual and financial input."

The Nigel Vinson Charitable Trust is there to mainly fund free-market think-tanks, but it has also given grants to the anti-wind farm Renewable Energy Foundation and interestingly the Electoral Reform Society which wants to reform the voting system in favour of the single transferable vote which would actually make politics more representative. His Lordship is a climate change sceptic, a past chairman and current vice-president of the Institute of Economic Affairs. All nice and cosy.