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Shared spaces

A view of the newly designed Exhibition Road, London© InfoKeep death off the roads. Drive on the pavement. Explore what happens when kerbs, pavements, pelican crossings, signs and barriers disappear from Britain's high streets. What happens if pedestrians and motorists mix and mingle? Chaos, fear and the survival of the fastest? Or will people's natural courtesy and increased alertness win through, providing a comfortable, less-stressed environment for all?

Select from varied shared spaces activities, including spot the difference, statistics with maths, pigeon-eyed views, an attitude survey and an amazing classic video.

Spot the difference

Download the powerpoint. Show students the first slide of two photographs of a London street and invite them to spot the differences. Explain that one was taken in January 2010, the other in November 2011. Which is which? What has been taken away, what has been added? Make lists and compare.

Two images showing Exhibition Road before and after the redesign© Info

Show the second slide of before and after images and ask students to add any other differences they notice.

Two aerial images showing Exhibition Road before and after the redesign© Info

Ask which street seems the more attractive place to be, as a pedestrian or cyclist, or motorist. Imagine them busy – with lots of people and traffic. Which seems safer?

After discussion, introduce the concept of "shared spaces". It is designed for the comfort and safety of road users. It works in a rather surprising way.

In the past, pedestrians and users of motor vehicles were kept apart. Crossing points, such as zebras or pelicans, let pedestrians safely across roads. Otherwise, road users were strictly segregated, with kerbs, pavements, white lines and markings, and sometimes barriers such as safety rails.

In a shared space the approach is different. The idea is to mix, relying on eye-contact and mutual respect to keep people alert to each other. Without strict demarcation it is not clear who has the right of way. So people naturally behave with consideration to others, slowing down, being more careful and courteous. As a result, motorists become more observant and responsible. Everyone has a more pleasant experience and there are fewer accidents.

Show students the remaining photographs in the powerpoint, and brief them on the background to the pictures.

  • The photographs are of Exhibition Road, Kensington – a part of London popular with tourists and museum visitors.
  • It used to be dominated by traffic – two lanes split by parking spaces and refuges.
  • Now the two-way traffic shares a smaller area, and pedestrians have a continuous flat surface – better for buggies and wheelchairs.
  • The aim is for pedestrians and motorists to co-exist through sharing and mutual respect. With traditional street layouts many drivers feel that the road is theirs by right. They resent delays from slow-moving cyclists or pedestrians. If the space is shared, no one "owns" it, and there is less resentment and irritation.

Vote on who prefers the shared space idea.

  • Where might it work well in your locality?
  • Where might it not work so well?

Also discuss who might not like the shared space. There have been objections from disabled people's groups. If safety depends on eye contact, it is not very good for blind or partially sighted people.

Attitude survey

Find out what people think of shared spaces. Is there an example near you? If so, identify it and try to find as much as possible about how it was planned, using local newspaper and council websites. If not, use the example of Exhibition Road in London.

Then draw up a list of questions to ask friends and relations about their attitude to it. For example:

  • Would you personally feel safer on a street without strict rules?
  • Do you think timid or vulnerable people would feel safer?
  • Do you behave differently in an area where you know the rules, such as a traditional road, and one without rules, such as a car park? What is different?
  • How would you react if you saw a partially sighted person who seemed hesitant? Is this different in a shared space from a traditional street?
  • Which makes you feel better – getting where you are going in a short time or showing courtesy to others?
  • If someone waits and gestures to you to go first how do you normally respond? How might that make the other person feel?
  • Have you ever felt frustrated as a pedestrian by the railings or barriers that discourage you from crossing the road at certain points? Have you ever known anyone who climbed over them?
  • Have you ever felt frustrated as a driver by slow-moving pedestrians, people pushing buggies, or cyclists getting in your way when you wanted to accelerate? Where does it happen most?

Collate responses and try to summarise the main findings.

Figure it out

What do students know about road casualties? Make a rough guess of how many people are killed, and how many killed or seriously injured, in a year on public roads in Britain?

Is it a few hundred people, a few thousand, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands?

How many total casualties are there in a year – that includes those with slight injuries as well as the serious ones and deaths?

How many of those casualties are children?

Here are the latest official figures:

  • There were 1,900 people killed and 24,430 killed or seriously injured, in reported road accidents in the year ending September 2011.
  • There were 204,350 casualties in the year ending September 2011
  • The total of reported child casualties (ages 0-15) was 19,890, of whom 2,400 were killed or seriously injured.

Select some of these statistics and express them as weekly and daily totals. Work them into a telling phrase that can be easily understood by someone who is not comfortable with numbers.

Have a guess at the proportion of casualties aged under 16. Then calculate the precise percentage and see how close the guess was.

Now ask students who they think is most at risk – pedestrians, car drivers, cyclists or motorcyclists? Are casualty rates getting worse over the past ten years, or better?

Show this graph of reported road casualties:

Graph showing road accident statistics© Info
Can students tell from it that:

  • Car users form by far the largest group of casualties.
  • Next is pedestrians, then motorcyclists, then cyclists.
  • The casualty rate for car users has fallen consistently and dramatically over the ten years.
  • In contrast, the casualty rate for cyclists, though relatively low, is rising.

Points of view

Talk about perspective – literal and metaphorical.

Take another look at the photograph on slide three in the powerpoint.

Ask students how tall they think the photographer was who took it. Or, less whimsically, where the photographer was positioned. These pigeon-eye views can be very attractive. But do they give an accurate idea of what the street would be like to a road user – pedestrian or motorist?

Compare them with the photographs on slide two, which are street-level views. Is the impact of these pictures different from the high-level ones? Why?

Some people believe that images produced by architects, designers and planners should be taken from the same level that people will see them – around 1.5 metres from the ground. Who agrees, who disagrees? Why?

Discuss other typical uses of high-level photography that students can think of. For example, holiday brochures, publicity shots for, say, festivals, or in films. Talk about why some scenes look more interesting and attractive from above and at a distance.

How easy do students find it to switch perspective in their mind's eye? Can they move on from the well-composed long, high shot, and instead visualise what it might be like to be on the ground? Suggest that the ability to do that may help people plan better and less likely to end up somewhere that they really do not like. Who agrees?

Failing to look properly

Some accidents have one simple cause. Many do not. They have "contributory factors" that, acting together, result in an accident.

The most frequently reported contributory factor to accidents is ...

  • "Failed to look properly"

Discuss that. It was reported in 40 per cent of all accidents reported to police in 2010.

"Pedestrian failed to look properly" was reported in 60 per cent of accidents in which a pedestrian was injured or killed.

In 25 per cent of accidents it was reported that a pedestrian was "careless, reckless or in a hurry".

Make a long list of all the reasons why someone might "fail to look properly". Include factors that might make them "careless, reckless or in a hurry".

Turn the list into a poster, a rap or some other lively form of communication that might help remind people to stay alert in hazardous situations.

Extreme shared space

For a light moment, invite further thinking about the shared space idea. How far could understanding, watchfulness and respect go in helping people and traffic co-exist? Could, for example, stallholders and shoppers on a street market safely share space with, say, a train...?

Then try the railway track market activity, with an extraordinary video.



This activity was written by PJ White and produced in February 2012. For more similar new-related activities, sign up to receive newsthink free every fortnight during term time.


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