Tag Archives: shared space

Rolling back shared space in the East End

Brick Lane

Brick Lane by stevecadman on flickr (cc by-nc-sa)

As the builders move out of the newly completed £30 million “shared space” on Exhibition Road, their next job might be the polar opposite project: rolling back shared space from Exhibition Road’s geographical opposite street. Tower Hamlets council, with £300,000 from TfL, have announced that in the next few weeks they will be replacing the bricks of Brick Lane with a standard issue asphalt carriageway.

I don’t know if Brick Lane has ever actually been claimed as “shared space”, but from my recollection of its construction (and it’s the best part of two years since I was last there, so recall is assisted by flickr and Streetview) it certainly falls within the spectrum of “shared space” that Stuart Reid described at last month’s Street Talks. Though it is not without signs and bollards, and even a bit of guardrail outside a school, it does have features that encourage mixing more than conventional road design. There is delineation between footway and carriageway but it’s blurred, with no kerb and with only a slight difference in the style and colour of the block paving. I don’t know the street well enough to know whether this really gives users the feeling that pedestrians own the street, but that did seem to be the case on those few occasions that I’ve been there (though I know that construction of the East London Line extension closed the top end to traffic for a while, and it might still have been benefiting from that effect last I was there).

It’s not clear whether the works will reintroduce the kerbs, but the council reveal a lot when they say that the reason for replacing the paving with a conventional surface, apart from the fact that the paving is looking “scruffy” (is it?), is to “help to distinguish space for pedestrians from traffic”. That is, this is an explicitly anti-shared space move, intended, perhaps, to put pedestrians back in their place.

I’ve written several pieces critical of shared space. In high-profile cases it has been applied in inappropriate places — to big and busy through routes like Exhibition Road, where traffic will dominate and drive everybody else out simply by weight of numbers. Its True Believers at the extreme “naked streets” end of the spectrum emphasise their discredited hypothesis that giving motorists a free reign will make them more cautious and courteous, and so shared space is often applied in a way that allows motorists to bully their way to dominance. And unrealistic claims are made about the benefits of shared space for pedestrians and cyclists, usually involving anecdotes about crossing the road while walking backwards with your eyes closed.

I can now redress the balance and defend the weaker form of shared space at Brick Lane. Brick Lane is a far more suitable candidate for shared space than most of the high-profile schemes. It is already a narrow single-lane one-way street with a high pedestrian to vehicle movement ratio — a high place status, in the jargon, and little importance as a transport route. And there is none of the “increasing motorist freedom is good for pedestrians” pseudoscience in Brick Lane’s current design, just a few features that help to slow drivers down and make things easier for pedestrians.

Caution infernal traffic
Brick Lane by duncan on flickr (cc by-nc)

(If traffic volume is a bigger problem than I remember then more can be done to discourage non-essential traffic from using the street. Reversing the direction of the one-way traffic south of Hanbury Street, perhaps, so that it can not be used as an inter-arterial rat-run all the way from Whitechapel Road to Bethnal Green Road. And of course, the while lot should be two-way for bicycles. It would also be nice if there weren’t quite such a vast amount of (often illegally) parked cars.)

Brick Lane is exactly the kind of narrow city street — important place for people but unsuitable for and unimportant as a transport route — where shared surfaces could be beneficial, and where, in my (very limited) experience, they’ve been working better than in most of the high-profile shared space schemes. Spending £300k rolling back shared space here while spending £30m installing it on the other side of town seems daft.

Tower Hamlets have been promised a lot of money for all sorts of public works and events, having completely missed out on the Olympics to neighbouring boroughs. You’d have thought that a scruffy inner-city borough like Tower Hamlets would have been able to come up with a long list of worthwhile public works. This one just looks like construction for the sake of construction, with some silly rationalisation.

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Can road loveliness be found in shared space?

This week, science writer Angela Saini introduced Radio 4 listeners to “shared space” in Thinking Streets.

The premise was that there is currently a “war” between the different users of streets,* that the way to create peace has puzzled policy makers for a long time, but that new research points to shared space as the solution.

The conflict on our streets is real. But I think that’s about all that is correct about the story. How to create peace is not a puzzle: policy makers know how to do it, and have known for decades. And new research doesn’t point to shared space as the answer. There’s really very little of what a scientist would recognise as research in shared space — not because streets are not something that lend themselves to the scientific method, but because, despite the importance of streets to our health, wealth and happiness, the budgets and expertise required for proper research are rarely turned to the topic.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a powerful group of people who have convinced themselves that shared space is the revolutionary solution to the problems with our streets. The programme was largely devoted to the now familiar routine of these shared space evangelists, but there are a number of important things missing from the evangelists’ routine — things that I think would have been interesting to hear about in the “street science” narrative.

The first thing that is missing is the full story of the wider differences between the streets of the UK and those of the evangelists’ preferred example, the Netherlands. The second is the full story of the history of risk compensation on the roads. And the third is the full story of how the UK came to be transforming streets into “shared space”.

The first story is one that readers of this blog will now be familiar with. The Dutch have a far more advanced system of roads and streets than we have in the UK. We just pour asphalt everywhere, preferably in a configuration that allows people to drive fast, sometimes put a footway on the side, and then let people drive cars and trucks anywhere and everywhere.  The Dutch, meanwhile, take care to distinguish between roads, streets and lanes, build them differently, and have clear and widely understood differences in the expected use of and behaviour on them. And they build them following the principles of “sustainable safety”: ensuring that users share space only with other users who have roughly similar kinetic energy and direction.

That last point should have been made when introducing what the programme calls “home zones” (though British “home zones” have never fully replicated the Dutch woonerven). Woonerven apply the sustainable safety principle that you only mix users who have roughly similar energy — by banning heavy vehicles, and cutting the speed of the remaining motor vehicles to a crawl. “Shared space” may share some of the superficial characteristics of woonerven, but the crucial one for making people safe and comfortable is the equality of energy.

These wider differences between the UK and the Netherlands are important. They mean that Dutch drivers already understand streets differently to British drivers. And they mean that the Dutch have a vastly different proportion of journeys made by bicycle. The demands for, purpose, effects, and success of novel street designs are therefore going to be different in the Netherlands than equivalent changes in the UK.

The second story that was missing from the programme was about risk compensation. The evangelists told the usual story to explain how shared space is supposed to work: “an environment that overtly keeps us safe makes us behave less cautiously, whereas a shared space makes us more sensible.” Motorists, the story goes, will see the unfamiliar shared space street scene, with its jumble of different users and lack of signs to tell them what to do, and their automatic response will be to slow down and pay more attention. Pedestrians and cyclists, meanwhile, will respond to the increased sense of danger and discomfort by pricking up their ears and keeping their wits about them. Risk compensation, the story goes, means that in shared space everybody will become friendly, with drivers giving way and letting pedestrians cross.

This is little more than a just-so story. Even in the Netherlands, the evidence that it actually happens this way is weak and far from scientific. In Britain, though, it can be outright contradicted by ten minutes hanging around any shared space street. Taxi drivers still speed up Exhibition Road (if there isn’t a traffic jam already blocking the street). Traffic still completely dominates the seafront at Blackpool, and the blind and disabled now stay away from it. There’s not much friendliness from the white van men at Seven Dials. “Where once you would feel crazy walking on the carriageway…,” they say of Exhibition Road. Well, observations of the scheme so far suggests that pedestrians and motorists alike will view anybody on foot who casually “shares” the carriageway — walking outside of the clear pedestrian “safe zone” — to be crazy, and will shout and blast their horns at such people.

Saini observes that in the Netherlands cars “just stop” for pedestrians trying to cross the shared space. London cabbies and commercial drivers on a deadline don’t stop for red traffic lights, let alone mere pedestrians trying to get in their way. That Dutch drivers do is less a product of the shared space environment and more to do with the fact that the Dutch recognise a fundamental difference between “roads” and “streets” and how people are expected to behave on them.

Risk compensation theory is legitimate science, but in shared space the theory is applied to explain a phenomenon that, at least in the UK, just doesn’t exit: motorists becoming more cautious and friendly. In fact, the results of risk compensation can be seen all over British streets, and risk compensation on the roads has been a powerful force shaping our behaviour, built environment, and health and wealth for almost a century. But with the exact opposite effect of that claimed for shared space.

The Rt Hon JTC Moore-Brabazon recognised the existence of risk compensation when he said, in objection to the introduction of speed limits in 1934:

“It is true that 7000 people are killed in motor accidents, but it is not always going on like that. People are getting used to the new conditions… No doubt many of the old Members of the House will recollect the number of chickens we killed in the old days. We used to come back with the radiator stuffed with feathers. It was the same with dogs. Dogs get out of the way of motor cars nowadays and you never kill one. There is education even in the lower animals. These things will right themselves.”

When people feel unsafe and uncomfortable, they stop doing whatever it is that makes them feel that way, or stop going to the places where they feel unsafe. It is entirely true that, as the programme says, “an environment that overtly keeps us safe makes us behave less cautiously, whereas a shared space makes us more sensible.” The environment that overtly keeps us safe — and which has kept us more safe with every technological innovation and toughened standard — is the interior of the motor car. In the safety of the motor car people behave without caution. The result is that everybody else feels less safe and compensates by getting out of the way. We walk less and less, bundle kids into SUVs for the school run, and most people will now never consider using a bicycle. JTC Moore-Brabazon recognised this process of risk compensation in the 1930s.

The shared space/risk compensation hypothesis is not simply a just-so story. It’s a just-so story that ignores all of our previous experience of streets. When pedestrians and cyclists felt uncomfortable and threatened by the rise of motor traffic on their streets, they compensated by getting out of the way. They went somewhere else, or swapped the bicycle for a car of their own. So when the programme says that, statistically, Dutch shared space is at least as safe as the traditional streets that it replaces (it’s probably not (p10)), far from being proof that those streets are working because “everyone becomes aware of each-other”, it is in fact just another consequence of the most vulnerable road users staying away from those streets. The increased risk of collisions and injuries on these streets is compensated for by those people who are most likely to get injured — the pedestrians that schemes like Exhibition Road are supposed to attract — staying away.

The final story that is not properly explored is why Britain is building shared space streets and other “road loveliness”, as the programme puts it, such as the scramble crossing at Oxford Circus. The programme’s only comment on this was that we are now designing places for people instead of merely designing places for cars. In fact, designing successful places for people has been going on for a long time. To create them, you first get rid of cars. In his 1995 Reith Lecture, “The Sustainable City”, Richard Rogers described all the opportunities that came from removing motor vehicles from places, and listed some of the top priority places in London that needed the treatment. The terrace in front of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square was one, and this was implemented in 2003, creating a largely pedestrianised zone between Trafalgar and Leicester Squares. One side of Parliament Square almost followed, but the plans were cancelled when Boris came to City Hall, and our politicians now seem determined to keep Parliament Square as an isolated and desolate traffic island forever. A riverside park in place of the Embankment road from Parliament Square to Blackfriars Bridge was the most radical of the suggestions, and the one that politicians wanted least to do with. And then there was Exhibition Road:

Albertopolis – the collection of major museums and universities in South Kensington, including the Albert Hall and the Victoria and Albert Museum – could be connected across the road into Hyde Park. Exhibition Road could become a pedestrianised millennium avenue, part of a network of tree-lined routes.

Exhibition Road has been transformed because the case for transformation was overwhelming. The need to make a more attractive environment and the opportunities and benefits of a place for people were obvious. But shared space is a miserable compromise. Shared space on Exhibition Road is not an alternative to the old four-lane highway layout, a layout that everybody already agreed could not be allowed to stay on such an important street. It is an alternative to the much needed and long called for removal of the motor vehicles, which will now continue to dominate the space, continue to separate Albert, perched in the park, from Albertopolis, and continue to choke South Kensington with pollution.

Far from being a case of people reclaiming the streets from cars, Exhibition Road and Oxford Circus are examples of places where traffic has succeeded in clinging on to its ownership and dominance of streets that so obviously needed to be properly reclaimed. None of the great economic and cultural opportunities that Richard Rogers described have been enabled by the changes. No modal shift, no health or environmental benefits will result from them. It was built — for £30 million — but they won’t come for fancy paving alone.

(I don’t think the programme makers can be blamed for failing to discuss these points — the fault lies with the shared space True Believers. Shared space is currently very trendy in a field that doesn’t have much experience with scientific skepticism. There are a lot of people who desperately want it to work and so have convinced themselves that it must work — as one person tweeted, if Jeremy Clarkson is a critic, it must be a good thing. Steve Melia is one of the few academics to have tried to introduce some of the much needed scientific skepticism — and I imagine the publication of his paper came too late for the programme.)

Shared space is the topic of next week’s Street Talk: Stuart Reid, Director of Sustainable Transport and Communities, MVA Consultancy, will talk about Creating successful shared space streets, followed by a chance to raise questions. As usual it’s upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8PN at 7pm (bar open 6pm) on Tuesday 10th January.

* illustrated by broadcasting sound bites that included the sort of massacre fantasies that would, with any other kind of weapon, result in arrest, but for some reason never does when the weapon is a motor vehicle.

“Shared” space on Exhibition Road

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…

More about the project on the borough website, and also coverage this week on Zelo Street.

Shared space in China

Via @tomvanderbilt, a video of an excellent piece of Shared Space infrastructure on Kunming’s third(!) ring road:

I’ve written before on the wonderful driving habits of the newly motorised Chinese.  While they don’t exactly have the concept of Shared Space*, they do have the related concept of might makes right of way, and it doesn’t matter to a Chinese car owner whether a bit of land is technically a bike track or a footway.  Not surprisingly, there is a massive death rate on the roads there, to the extent that the driving test prepares you to manage massive traumatic injuries.

In some of the backstreets of the Hutong neighbourhoods, the motor car has been banned because its presence overwhelms all other activities in the narrow spaces.

This picture used to be my favourite illustration of the current Chinese approach to roads, but the video above has surpassed it.

* A nice introduction to Shared Space is given by David Arditti.

Crap cycling and walking in car sick Glasgow

On Sunday I took a look at Glasgow, a town I have previously only passed through without stopping.  Here’s my commentary: a mix of cameraphone and proper camera photos; some of the commentary comes from the live tweets that accompanied the cameraphone pictures.

M8

M8The great overwhelming presence in Glasgow’s built environment is the M8, which crashes through the centre of the city, dividing the central business district from the inner suburbs, and filling them both with a tangle of concrete flyovers and junctions.  While several British cities have motorway arterial routes, a massive backlash prevented the planners of the 1960s implementing their dream of flattening our city centres and neighbourhoods to build networks of through motorways.  Instead, most cities stuck to bypasses and orbitals, with smaller and not quite so destructive inner-city ring roads.  In this through-motorway design with big city centre grade-separated junctions, Glasgow looks very North American. Continue reading

Weekly War Bulletin, 2 Oct

The exciting news of the week is that petrol head secretary of state for transport Philip Hammond has ended the War On The Motorist by announcing that John Prescott’s M4 bus lane will revert to an all-traffic lane.  Never mind the fact that this will do nothing to improve the actual journey times of Motorists, because a bottleneck further down the road determines its overall capacity.  This is politics, after all: no room for evidence in deciding policy.  Interestingly, this news has pitched private Motorists against cabbies, with desperate attempts to justify the presence of taxis in bus lanes.  Despite being the most universally hated road users in London, the taxis could at least rely on the politicians — who in turn rely on taxis to avoid mixing with the proles on the buses — for friendship and a free ride down the bus lane.  Now even Phillip Hammond has deserted them and told them to sit in the jams with all the other non-public transport.

A meaningless PR “study” finds that Clapham and Wandsworth have the most congested roads in London.  The AA say the problem is roadworks and a lack of “money thrown at the problem”.  Not too many cars, then?  The Evening Standard commenters actually fill me with hope for once:

What the lobbyists fail to mention though, is that there are simply too many cars in London. Why is that simple fact not mentioned?

You could a south London version of the Westway and it would still end up gridlocked. Road works don’t help in the slightest but it’s just a distraction from the true cause.

Of course, they won’t mention that, because in UK plc any attempt at tackling this problem is a “war on the motorist”.

– Ashley, Camden, 01/10/2010 13:57

The government has stumbled upon a clever scheme to keep good news about transport funding flowing: regularly announce that Crossrail funding is safe.  Everyone will forget that you already announced that last week, and the week before…

But Norman Baker, Minister for Pedestrians, Cyclists, Bus Passengers, and Other Unimportant Transport Users, has this week announced that Bikeability will not be allowed to go up in flames with the bonfire of the quangos.

The Met have expanded their Cycle Task Force.  There are some hilarious and presumably sarcastic comments from the mayor’s transport advisor: “the Cycle Task Force is a fundamental part of the cycling revolution the Mayor has delivered in London,” and “however there is always more that can be done to make London the best cycling city in the world…”

A hit-and-run killer dragged a woman under their car for a mile, around Belsize Park.  Meanwhile, a killer delivery driver in the city gets a suspended sentence.

Driver re-education courses, for careless driving and law breaking, won’t work.  Not that the £1000 fine given to hardened criminal Katie Price for careless driving and apparently texting while driving a horsebox on the motorway will.

The government has published its Manual For Streets, advocating shared space for the nation’s high streets.  Look forward to some of the ideas being implemented in the street regeneration plans that have been announced for Belfast, Bournemouth, Prestatyn, and Reading.  Also in the regions, Clay Cross in Derbyshire has been given conservation status; and Aberystwyth gets more money to spend on green transport (interesting that the BBC illustrate the story with a “cycling forbidden” sign).

Work begins on the next couple of “superhighways”.  Interestingly, they’re the ones to serve, erm, the two parts of town that already have superhighways.

Going places is going to continue to get more expensive.  (Unless, erm, you walk or cycle there?)  Lets all blame the government and ignore the rising prices of increasingly hard to obtain oil.

TfL aren’t very good at replying to freedom of information requests — or are good at procrastinating on them, anyway.

French towns are replacing their bin lorries with horse-drawn recycling carts.  This is still the least absurd modern transport solution I’ve heard all year.  The robotic high-density deep-underground car park in Birmingham being one of the many absurdities indicative of late-phase chronic car dependency.

South Wales are making more shock adverts about careless and dangerous driving.

Drivers who pass their driving test are safer than the ones who don’t.  Thanks, Professor Obvious.

Stratford Central Line westbound has an exciting revolutionary new platform where the doors can open on both sides of the train.  Magic.

Nobody is stealing hire bikes.  Well, five.  Of more concern is that the Independent have adopted the Evening Standard‘s awful name for them.

Segway owner accidentally rides Segway over cliff, falls to his death.

Smelly cyclists not welcome in New Forest tea shops.

Kingsland cyclist muggers arrested.

Anti-social Motorists in Guidford “block one-way system“.

Lorry collides with M6 at Coventry.  Car collides with M11 in Essex.  And the National Arboretum has opened a memorial to those who have died in the name of Motorways.

And a house has collided with a 206 in Hampshire, a Cafe has collided with a Vauxhall in Aberdeenshire, and three houses collided with a car in Sunderland.  Meanwhile a bollard has collided with a Nissan in Derbyshire.

Luxury cars torched in Dundee and Devon, and a “spate” of scratched cars on the IoW.

Australia have launched a National Cycling Strategy.  Lets hope they’ve looked at Europe and noticed which country’s strategy has succeeded and which is failing, and picked the one that works.

Finally, Google Street View now covers Antarctica.

Some moments of zen: Old man rides a bikeBear rides a train.  And, man carries carpet on mobility scooter — how irresponsible: that 8mph carpet could have been a danger to the poor Motorists…

“It’s a danger to himself and a danger to other motorists. If someone wasn’t careful, they could’ve hit him off and he could’ve got seriously hurt and his family wouldn’t like that.”

Risk compensation, shared space and unstable evolutionary strategies

The great evolutionary biologist, George C Williams died this week.  One of his many contributions was to explore the population genetics of sex ratios — the relative abundance of males and females in populations.  Williams observed that in most of the animal species that reproduced sexually, there were an equal number of males and females.  But in most species this is hugely wasteful.  Consider a species like deer, where one stag keeps a harem of does: a single male can mate with many females.  And so the majority of males are evolutionary dead ends; from the point of view of cold heartless biology, they are wasted.  It would be far more efficient if the species produced many fewer males.

This curious observation turned out to contribute to a major development in evolutionary biology: Williams and his colleagues realised that in a population that had many more females than males, any heritable tendency — any strategy — that led one lineage to start producing more males would be at an advantage, because those males would have a very high probability of producing hundreds of offspring.  The rest of the lineages would be at a disadvantage, investing in females which would only ever have a few offspring.  The many-males strategy, inherited by the hundreds of offspring, would become more common in the population.  But then the population would no longer have many more females than males, and the strategy would no longer have an advantage: for each male there is now a much higher risk that they will not reproduce at all.  Now, any lineage which took the opposite strategy — to produce safe females — would be at an advantage.  The many-males strategy destroys the very conditions that make it a good strategy.  This idea was part of the mid-20th century revolution that explained evolution as a process of fluctuating gene frequencies in populations: selfish genes and their strategies, competing in the context of the individuals and environment around them.  The revolution finished-off the idea that anything in nature was done “for the good of the species”; all that exists in nature is the best set of strategies for maximising short-term existence that selfish genes have yet stumbled upon.

Shared space is supposed to work by creating an unusual situation, free from all the signs and barriers, markings and signals that attempt to keep the road safe (or, at least, to manage the danger).  It is proposed that road users will perceive this strange foreign situation to be unusually risky, and so the Motorist will compensate for that perceived risk by slowing down, and the pedestrian will compensate for the risk by keeping on eye on their surroundings.  It’s all in the risk compensationIn Portishead, for example, the council have switched off the traffic lights and covered them with bright orange plastic.  The users of the roads of Portishead do not need to perceive that under normal circumstances these are the sort of roads that would need signals to keep them safe.  They have the signals right there saying it, better than any sign ever could.  Shared space works in Portishead because road users perceive the road to be unusually risky, and they perceive it to be unusually risky because they can see a set of signals that are conspicuously switched off.

On normal “safe” non-shared roads, road users already take absurd risks with their own and others’ lives.  London is stuffed with builders driving trucks while talking on phones, and minicabbers who will happily kill a cyclist just to get to the back of the next queue for the lights a couple of seconds quicker.  As the saying goes, if the car were invented today, it would be banned by modern health and safety — and that doesn’t reflect badly on modern health and safety.  We should surely be perceiving this great risk and adjusting our behaviour to compensate.  But we don’t.  Because the road is mundane.  These risks are just our boring every day commute, or the least fun part of a family day out; the bit that makes the builder late for his job and the kids scream “are we nearly there yet”.

What happens when the signals in Portishead are not simply wrapped in plastic, but ripped out altogether?  What happens when Bristol, and Clevedon, and Weston-super-Mare all do the same thing?  When no streets anywhere have traffic signals?  Road users will not be expecting to see them, will not consider their absence unusual.  A shared space will be just another street, like all the other streets.  Why should a road user perceive it as being associated with any greater risk than any other street?  Why should Portishead’s shared space then be anything other than our boring every day commute?  Why should Weston’s shared space be anything other than the least fun part of a family day out*?  Why should a road user then adjust their behaviour to compensate for a risky shared space any more than they currently do for our already staggeringly dangerous roads?

Shared space is a strategy and it is strategy that relies upon its own novelty and rarity to be effective.  When every street is filled with signals, signs, markings and bariers, shared space is a strategy that has a high probability of paying off big time.  But as shared space becomes more common; as more road users become familiar with, and comfortable with shared space, every shared space scheme becomes less effective, until shared space becomes so common and mundane that they all fail.  Traffic planners and politicians will suddenly discover that the opposite strategy, to attempt to manage the traffic, is more effective and attractive; that in the new population of streets, it is the traditionally managed ones that are the safer strategy.  And so the population cycle will continue, to the great joy of traffic-light manufacturers and aggregate companies.

Evolution is a nasty, wasteful, amoral process, with no forethought.  Evolution provides short term incremental improvements at the expense of long-term progress.  A small short-term sacrifice or investment that could pay-out a giant jackpot will simply be invisible to evolution.  It is not something we should imitate or interpret as a parable for how to lead our lives.  Civilisations should be capable of planning, cooperating, and acting for the good of the society.  We should be able to recognise that for a short-term sacrifice and investment, we can come up with a strategy that is far superior than any of the equally wasteful and unsustainable variants on the car-dependency strategy.

* Weston was a bad choice of example, wasn’t it?