high Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space: Pro-pedestrian road paving treatments: Exhibition Road, London

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pro-pedestrian road paving treatments: Exhibition Road, London

Share the Road sign, Columbia Heights
This is something that's been discussed here from time to time. It's based on a couple points.

First, that motor vehicle speeds need to be carefully controlled in pedestrianized places such as neighborhood commercial districts, and around schools, parks, squares, playgrounds, libraries and other civic assets.

Second, that all roads are mostly designed, engineered, and paved the same, regardless of land use context and desired operating speed of traffic.

The Smart Transportation Guidebook is a particularly good resource on this point.

In a practical sense it means that even if the posted speed limit is 25 mph, cars are still capable of being driven at very high speeds, although this is less the case when the roadway is narrow.

Third, since how fast cars move is a function of the designed speed capability of the road, change the road materials to better fit desired operating speed in the places where you want car traffic to be slow.

I've recommended asphalt block, still extant in a couple places in DC, such as on South Carolina Avenue SE.
Asphalt block road pavement, South Carolina Avenue SE

And there are special pavers on 7th Street SE alongside Eastern Market.
7th Street SE at Eastern Market

And I've thought even about brick, still extant in some alleys in the city, and on High Street in Cambridge, but there, the sound of the cars driving on bricks seems very loud, I don't experience the same effect with asphalt block or street pavers.

Brown's Court Alley, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC
Brown's Court, Alley Sale

High Street, Cambridge, Maryland
High Street, Cambridge, Maryland is paved with brick

Exhibition Road in London has just been repaved along the lines I've thought about, in a fashion that is 100% pro-pedestrian.

Exhibition Road, London, repavement project
Exhibition Road, London, repavement project. Photo: Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

From the Guardian article:

The impetus for this rule-breaking design came in 2003 when the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea decided that Exhibition Road wasn't quite living up to its name. Once the main route to the Great Exhibition, held in Hyde Park in 1851, it remains perhaps London's grandest cultural artery. Leading to the Royal Albert Hall at its northern end and bordered by the Victoria and Albert Museum on one side and the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum on the other, its various institutions collectively get more visitors a year than Venice.

Yet it had become a glorified car park, frequently choked with lines of coaches. And with the grimy dual carriageway of the Cromwell Road cutting across it, it's no wonder that many pedestrians preferred to take the dank Victorian tunnel that runs under Exhibition Road from the tube station to the Science Museum.

Today, Exhibition Road is in the final stages of its extraordinary transformation. With a few exceptions here and there, it is now a continuous, seamless surface of what is known as "shared space" – shared, that is, by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. And the emphasis is very much on pedestrians, who now have two thirds of the road's width to themselves.

While I have some fears about "shared space" concepts in the U.S. right now, because the car has been so privileged as the king of the roadway and thoroughfare that people think it's a good idea for pedestrians to carry flags when they cross the road (see "Flags are newest weapons in city's pedestrian push" from the Chicago Tribune), we can begin introducing shared space concepts into the U.S. by changing road pavements and driving conditions, focused on pedestrianizing spaces and placemaking in neighborhood commercial districts, around parks, squares and playgrounds, schools, libraries, and other civic assets.
Exhibition Road, London, repavement project
Interestingly, in cities, these changes tend to come about in places where there are legal subdistricts. Exhibition Road is located within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea--the City of London is a set of linked boroughs, each has a budget and specific responsibilities for its area, not unlike how the boroughs function in the City of Montreal, and how the Plateau-Mont Royal borough is taking the lead within that city to implement various pro-pedestrian initiatives at the expense of speeding through traffic.

So to make the change, it can be done at the borough level, rather than at a higher "city government" level as is more typical in the U.S.

Although New York City, with cycletracks and the "Sunday Streets" program, and San Francisco's Livable Streets initiative are demonstrating that these kinds of initiatives can come about from on-high, although making the jump from parklets to repaving say the area around Lincoln Park or Stanton Park, which also fronts an elementary school, in DC's Capitol Hill is still a stretch for any city.

-- "Inner Mission parklet adds splash of variety," San Francisco Chronicle
-- "S.F. parklets emerge as neighborhood fixtures," San Francisco Chronicle

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