The “shared space” streetscape at Exhibition Road in South Kensington is taking shape. I’ve written before expressing skepticism about shared space — the idea that removing the road signs and kerb stones is enough to tame the motor vehicle, make drivers slow down and look out for others, and reclaims the streets for people. Exhibition Road doesn’t make me any more hopeful.
The new layout and surfaces might make for a more liveable area, where everybody takes to their family out in cargo bikes and sits around socialising on the stone ledges.
But it might just result in more of the same: large volumes of fast moving motor vehicles dominating the street.
Despite the deterrent of the road works, there were dozens of vehicles per minute coming through here on wednesday afternoon. Hard to imagine that they won’t dominate the space, pushing the pedestrians to the side — and, indeed, judging from all of the temporary signs that are in place during the construction work, pedestrians and vehicles aren’t yet trusted to get along without a little help.
Nor are motorists even expected to work out how to handle a junction on their own — they still require a subtle roundabout.
Perhaps it is unfair to judge “shared space” by Exhibition Road, given that, having taken out of the kerb stones, they have installed, er, bollards: clearly the designers of the street don’t really believe in the shared space idea themselves. Vehicles belong on one side of the bollards, pedestrians on the other, and people can’t be trusted to work that out by themselves. Same old street, different paving stones.
Plenty of free parking outside the museums.
Health and safety in the workplace demands that traffic is kept away from the workmen who fetch fresh concrete. No such luck for the people for whom the finished Exhibition Road will be a workplace.
Taxi drivers might learn to “share” the full extent of the road space, but will the tourists on foot be so bold?
Old habits die hard: crossing Cromwell Road, part of the TfL Road Network, will be by staggered light-controlled crossing, complete with a lovely new pedestrian cage.
And even the lesser Thurloe Place will break the “shared space” with a set of traffic lights and tarmac.
Finally, Thurloe Street outside South Kensington Station, has been made no-through (the old one-way system around Thurloe Street and Thurloe Place replaced with a simple two-way Thurloe Place). Again with the use of bollards to mark a footway because the motorists can’t be trusted to behave themselves. It’s nice, except that with no kerb and no signs at the end, it’s not at all obvious whether or not this is supposed to be a through route for bicycle users.
It does look nicer than it did, at least, in the bits where the vehicles haven’t yet returned. But I’m not sure it looks thirty million pounds better. We’ll see whether it works better than it did…