Making road space available to all road users
There's a major opportunity for Ipswich to move forward in Shared Space road schemes with the alterations at Giles Circus. The agreed scheme is to move the statue further north on to a widened pavement outside Barclays Bank and to move the road south such that it follows the curvature of the old Oxborrow's building (leaving a pavement too narrow for the parking of motorcycles). A public consultation exercise suggested alternative ways of indicating the re-aligned road - either a low kerb solution (preferred by the partially sighted) or a kerb marked only by different surfacing, with both road and pavement at the same level.
Members of our Society's Executive pushed for a more radical alternative - one without any demarcation of the road whatsoever - a true Shared Space scheme. Such schemes have been increasingly successful across Europe since the introduction of the 'Woonerf' in the Netherlands. Roughly translated as 'streets for living' it was developed by Hans Monderman and pioneered in Denmark, Sweden and Holland. The essence of shared streets is uncertainty. Car drivers do not have priority and proceed slowly and carefully in much the same way as we all push our trolleys around the supermarket. Lots of eye contact, non-verbal communication and courtesy to other road users ensure all share the available spaces. One of the keys is to reduce vehicles so that they don't claim priority by sheer weight of numbers - and we feel this could have been achieved here.
The number of buses using the Queen Street loop has declined and the couple of remaining routes using the Giles Circus stop could easily be diverted along Friars Street. There are simply too many cars passing through the junction looking for on-street parking spaces and the proposed electronic traffic management schemes could lead to a substantial reduction. Thus the remaining delivery vehicles, essential users and bicycles become a manageable number in the Shared Space.
Shared Space schemes are spreading and a number in this country have won awards for their innovative approach to traffic management and for the' de-cluttering' of the street scene. Railings, road signs, zebra crossings and traffic lights can all be removed - all are effectively signals that give vehicle drivers priority over pedestrians and Shared Space schemes redress this balance.
New Road in Brighton was about to be closed to vehicles but traders were concerned about servicing their premises and the consequential Shared Space won a Civic Trust Award. The number of people using New Road has grown and trade has improved considerably. But not all Shared Space schemes are totally successful. Newbury's Market Square is probably the most contentious, but it is Shared Space on a massive scale. In Kent, Ashford's scheme was promoted to create viability and a sustainable place for living and working. The single direction ring road was identified as a barrier to people and development.. The result has been to restore these streets to a series of interconnected public spaces. These streets however still carry up to 10,000 vehicles per day but in an environment where pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles have equal priority. There have been other benefits not obviously apparent at the design stage - air quality has improved, noise levels are down, the number of people walking and cycling has increased dramatically and cross-town traffic speeds have halved but without increasing overall journey times because stop-start driving has been eliminated.
In Ipswich we need Shared Space schemes along the Northern Quays and in Key Street if the proposed development of the BOCM offices (to be called Custom House Square) goes ahead. IBC is doing the easy one first!
[Editor: As John Norman says, the Society would have preferred no kerbs at all in Giles Circus but we applaud the scheme nevertheless. If it works as intended it will give our rather cramped town centre another public space and, in this era of competition between towns, it should help to make visiting Ipswich more attractive. The cost of £650,000 for the whole scheme is being met largely by funds from the Haven Gateway and the County Council. It is unfortunate that opponents have sought to give the impression that moving the Giles Grandma statue will cost £650,000!
It also needs to be said that the town's first Shared Space scheme in Handford Road is hardly a good example of what can be achieved and might even have given the concept a bad name! It is a busy through road, arguably the main road into the town centre from the Al2 and far less important for pedestrians, except on match days at Portman Road and for people walking that way to the railway station. Motorists here generally seem oblivious to other road users.]