Ever had a bonkers idea, you know, the sort that arrive in the wee small hours, they seem marvellous at the time; rubber feet to stop shoes and socks getting wet, chocolate beds in case you get the munchies… that kind of thing?
When we wake most of us rightly smile, then neatly fold and place these ideas in the locked drawers of our dreams, dazzling in the dark but when such magic is exposed to the gathering light of day….
Well, here’s the thing, some of these dazzlements make their way into the dystopic day and the dream becomes the nightmare it always would.
One such idea is “shared spaces”, innocuous sounding I agree until I set out its central proposition; put buses and blind people, white cane users and white vans, guide dog owners and gas guzzlers, toddlers and tankers in the same “shared space” and see what happens. The proposition is predicated on the belief that everyone will behave better, have a more inclusive, interactive experience if all those tedious traffic signals, pelican and zebra crossings, pavements and street markings were all swept away. I mean, whoever came up with such a lunacy as lights to tell vehicles or pedestrians when to stop or go, audible signals to enable blind and visually impaired people to have the comfort and the confidence to cross- crazy huh ?
There is nothing ”shared” in this “space”. There is nothing inclusive in the concept. I’m all for innovation and improvement but a scheme which relies exclusively on eye contact means that I can’t use it, and neither can millions of others. Even if I could are we really suggesting that a driver looked at by a plaintive pedestrian will behave better, slow down and wave them across? In reality, research has shown that in streets with high volumes of traffic, pedestrians are more likely to give way to vehicles. The same research showed women and older people also felt intimidated by the shared space and preferred previous road layouts and conventional crossings.
This was the subject of the short debate last Thursday [read debate here] to question the government and draw public attention to just what is going on out there in this “shared space”. It is pleasing to note that a scheme in Gloucester is being reconsidered and local authorities in Blackpool and Warwick have already performed well executed U-turns. I strongly suggest that all others follow suit.