Saturday, January 7, 2012

Exhibition Road

Well, it seems the shared space to end all shared spaces has finally been completed, and it's the partial success that we predicted. Groups representing residents and the disabled have been complaining that it's difficult and dangerous to cross the road. Unsurpising given that there are still significant traffic volumes. Many drivers still assume they have right of way, again unsurprising given that this is still a through road where motor traffic dominates. If the point of a shared space is to blur the boundaries between road and pavement, and have some semblance of equal rights to the space between motors and pedestrians, then Exhibition Road has failed. In effect, this is expensive - very expensive - eye candy. It's not a shared space - it's a motor road with granite instead of tarmac. You could have improved the aesthetic experience much more cheaply just by making it an access-only road.

A council spokesman commented "Clearly pedestrians must exercise caution as they would when crossing any road." The council clearly don't get it. As a pedestrian, you exercise caution at a zebra crossing, but you have right of way. On Exhibition Road, the cars aren't giving way. The spokesman also claimed "traffic is restricted to a maximum speed of 20mph". That's a lie. There's a speed limit of 20MPH, which is a very different thing. Westminster cyclists report "Motorists are not slowing down or taking care as the planners intended, as well as going over the speed limit."

The most telling sign of failure (literally) is the council have had to put out signs saying "give way to pedestrians". Remember, the point of shared space is supposed to be that there is sufficient ambiguity as to who has right of way that drivers allow people to cross the road. So you don't need signs like this cluttering up your world-class streetscape. This clearly isn't happening on Exhibition Road, but this sign won't change anything.

Lastly - don't let anyone forget this cost in the order of £25M. That's the all-in cost of a 6-lane motorway of similar length.

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