Daddy, the cars aren’t stopping

My 4 year old wanted to go to “the dinosaur museum” and with this month’s Street Talks subject being “shared space”, a post on Exhibition Road seems in order. Many local authorities are looking at this in the hope that it can offer some relief from what I will call the “inter modal tension” on our streets.

We took the tube to South Ken and joined the throngs of tourists and families heading north over Cromwell Road toward the museums.

I should say right up front that my impression is that the scheme is very poor. Here’s why:

It’s not really Shared Space
My understanding is that there are many other measures that should be in place for shared space to be effective. Pedestrians and cyclists should dominate the space. Through motor traffic should be eliminated or greatly reduced. The fact that Exhibition Road remains a major through route, combined with all the parking spaces rather negates any positive effect that the design might create. A typical London half measure.

Ugly Ugly Ugly
The whole space has been clad in grey granite. Those of you who have been to Aberdeen will be familiar with the effect. There is a diagonal grid of lighter stone which is supposed to represent and reinforce the pedestrian “desire lines” but ends up looking like a giant Argyle sock laid down the road. The pattern looks totally out of place and does not relate in any way to the magnificent Victorian architecture that surrounds it. The chance to do something beautiful with all that contrasting stone, has been lost in favour of what looks a rather lazy design decision.

poor amenity
Does this look like a nice place to sit with your children after a museum session? Where is the shade? In the height of summer this is going to be like an oven. Why is there a seat right next to parking? It’s not really a bench is it….? The doctrine of removing street clutter says that you shouldn’t use bollards. However, sometimes you need them. The bench is doing the job of a bollard and in doing so, compromises its function as a bench. This is dishonest… people before traffic!

I love the smell of deisel in the morning!

There were many chauffeur driven cars just stopped anywhere waiting with their engines running. The absence of road markings makes this perfectly legal. My 4 year old and I don’t want to sit right next to idling cars! Crap design.

It doesn’t work
Fail!The marking on the road surface does have an effect on behaviour… My son kept running along the lines, straight into the path of the taxis and vans! The whole experience was very stressful for me as he had no idea where he was supposed to walk. My boys know to stay on the pavement and we walk to school/nursery daily without problems.  But here in this new “shared” environment, I couldn’t relax for a second. That is exactly how Shared Space is supposed to work…!  Shame no one told the drivers who consistently failed to slow or stop as my little one wandered out. The council know that it’s not working too as they have had to put up signs telling motorists to give way. Those aren’t working either.

The surface is poor for cycling
The stone is slippery when wet and has already resulted in a number of cyclists falling. To be fair, the stone is faced with a rough pattern but this will wear away in time with all the heavy vehicles. I also doubt that the stone sets will remain flush and flat over time… we’ll see.

A massive missed opportunity
Oh what could have been….! All that cash to clad one of London’s most historic streets in granite and er… that’s it. Where are the trees? Where are the kiosks? Where are the fountains? Where is the “place” for all the people who come to this street? It could have been a really lovely place to hang out before/after going to museums or the Albert Hall. There is ample space to have provided two way traffic AND a really pleasant place to be. Think the Ramblas in Barcelona but with cars down one side. As it stands, it is really a car park with the odd unsheltered bench to demarcate the ends of the parking bays. But that is not the greatest tragedy… Where is the cycle lane? This was a golden chance to put in a cycle lane, extending the route that crosses Hyde Park to South Ken and beyond. Amongst the many flaws of the Cycle Superhighway scheme is the fact that the inner ends of the routes do not join up. Any chance to begin to create those connections should not be wasted. Obviously, one can ride down the road but it’s just another fast London road… where is the improvement for cycling?

Is it all bad?
Not at all… What has been done IS an improvement but the part of Exhibition road, to the south of Cromwell Rd., gives a better taste of how these schemes should work. The absence of parking and the fact that the through route to South Ken has been closed, means that this area is working much better. Pedestrians dominate and the two shopkeepers I spoke to said they loved the massive increase in footfall.

Some remain confused, like this driver who got “lost” in the uncertainty of it all and ended up having to get back onto the road via a ped crossing but overall this area felt better.

What is clear is that Shared Space doesn’t work without the raft of other measures that complement it. Principally that motor traffic must be limited or removed for the scheme to work. Local authorities are attracted to the concept but fail to implement the wider changes needed. Ultimately, the way to reduce the negative effects of heavy motor traffic is simply to reduce its access. There is just no getting around the fact that there are too many private cars in our city.

If you want to hear a pompous urban designer enjoying a totally uncritical fluffing from a supposed science journalist, you may enjoy this. Apparently, pedestrians are “natural Pythagoreans” who always favour the hypotenuse… Hence the Argyle sock pattern. What a knob.

If you think a thoughtful critique is more up your street, I recommend:
Waronthemotorist and Voleospeed

My 4 year old put it well as we tried to cross the road outside the Natural History Museum, “Daddy, the cars aren’t stopping!”


7 responses to “Daddy, the cars aren’t stopping

  1. Pingback: The “cyclists don’t pay their fair share” debate rears its ugly head again, and lots of Monday links « BikingInLA

  2. Pingback: Treating the symptoms, not the cause – the uses and abuses of ‘shared space’ | As Easy As Riding A Bike

  3. At last I read an article that actually sees this “shared Space” for what it really is. My experience concurs with yours. Pedestrians and cyclists share the space but drivers don’t. And you are right about the only bit that really works is the area at the south of the Cromwell Road. And when I was there I also found a “lost” motorist trying to get out and driving where they shouldn’t have been.

    I’ve seen shared space work well — in a very small village in France. But it doesn’t work in our “London villages” because they are villages in the same sense.

  4. I mean they are _not_ villages in the same sense.

  5. Really interesting. It’s occurred to me that a good comparison with Exhibition Road type shared space, for those who think they haven’t tried it might be a supermarket carpark (but one with fancier paving and no formal crossings or pavements). Those who have got out of their cars sneak round the parked cars, and tread gingerly across hoping the cars will stop to let them pass, waiting for the refuge of the supermarket. Similarly, the drivers peer around hoping they’re not about to go over a child. At least they’re not about to get run over, but running someone else over might be nearly as bad. And is another car about to pull out? The carpark is a necessary evil if we’re to depend on cars, but no-one enjoys the experience.

  6. I work on Exhibition Road, have done for a few years, I’m a daily cycling commuter and have an opinion on most things, so here we go…..

    The original plans that were discussed and passed onto the Exhibition Road group of organisations were pretty interesting, basic concept seemed to have been to connect the Tube station with the Serpentine Gallery. I seem to remember from an early draught that I had a brief sight of – I wasn’t directly involved, I have just developed the skill of reading things upside down on other people’s desk to a fine art – that the traffic was going to be on the east side only all the way up, that it was going to be no right turn, south-bound, from Prince Consort Road and no left turn, east bound, from Exhibition Road onto Cromwell Road. Basically, no through traffic.

    I like the shared space concept, but it’s never going to work on what is just a posh rat run between High Street Ken and Knightsbridge. And that’s where the pressure came for big changes which, as you have quite rightly pointed out, mean this is in no way, shape or form a shared space.

    You can see that they – TFL maybe? – had no intention of allowing the traffic to be slowed. The metal bollards, along the kerb line, from Princes Gate Mews all the way to Cromwell Road on the east sideshow a complete retreat from the original concept; if the lack of road markings and kerbs is supposed to slow traffic down then these posts have exactly the opposite effect.

    The speed limit is a joke – today I saw a driver valiantly driving at 20mph only to have several cars over take, at speed, south bound by the Science Museum.

    I gather the stripes are to encourage drivers to slow down…..
    But I have to say the thing that pisses me of most is the parking – the area is plagued by enormous, badly parked 4x4s that are too big for the parking spaces. What other city would insist on including scores of parking spaces right in the middle of what is supposed to be a world standard cultural centre. It’s a great view looking north up the length of the road completed ruined by long rows of cars.

    Oh, and the final nail in the shared space/permeability concept – are pedestrians really expected to step out from between parked cars and cross a busy road between the Science Museum and the V&A whcih surely is one of the points of the whole project- did the Tufty Club teach them nothing!!

    Positives – south of Exhibition Road to the Tube station is excellent and works really well and the south side of the arcade is a good space as well – not a lot for £22million though – but the rest is a real missed opportunity, and worse, has undermined arguments for more, proper shared spaces rather than the proliferation of faster roads and segregated pedestrians like Piccadilly Circus, Parliament Sq ……

  7. Pingback: Solihull Gateway Project | a solihull cyclist

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