Sometimes a good idea is staring you in the face and you just don’t realise it.
As you know, I’ve been thinking hard about how we can improve local transport and, in particular, make roads safer and easier and pedestrians and cyclists to use.
Yes, I am a cycle campaigner, but I’m also slightly sympathetic to the motorist’s cause. I drive a car, I appreciate the benefits of a car sometimes, and I understand how motor transport helps our economy, and any solution to the sustainable transport issue must include provision for, in particular, the passage of freight 1
So how to achieve this “best of both worlds”?
The annoyance of parking in our street
Before I go any further, let me explain a little annoyance of mine, and a recent revelation. We have one small car. We don’t have a driveway or garage so we can only park on the street. Our neighbours have between them several large white vans, several 4×4’s, several estate cars, a few smaller vans, and, sometimes a great big pickup truck. I understand that some of these vehicles are needed for work purposes, but we’re talking about 3, sometimes 4 large vehicles per household. Not in every case, but in some cases.
These all take up lots of room and sometimes mean that we have park our one, single, small car, that fits nicely outside our house, a short walk away.
The image on the right shows what I mean. Normally there are more vehicles around. Note the pavement parking which is “normal”, and that we’re fortunate to have houses on just one side of the road. Imagine if there were houses on both sides – that’s what the rest of our area is really like.
Oooh, look at me, getting all “inconvenienced driver” and “war on the motorist”. Not my usual form at all!
And I realised this recently. That’s right. That’s not my usual form.
Hold that thought (or, park that idea, if you like).
My Street Design Idea
So thinking about how could we plan our streets better…I’m not a town planner but I reckon we need:
- Some main trunk roads to allow traffic to get between the motorway and the town, and connecting the main suburban areas of the town, and to enable public transport to get around.
- Safer residential areas, clear of parked cars and with low speed limits. Areas where people can meet and kids can safely play and move around outside, and where people of all ages can walk and cycle easily.
- Parking – I acknowledge the need for cars, we must give people somewhere to put them.
- Access to properties. People need to load/unload, pick people up, drop them off. Shopping and courier deliveries need to be made.
- A decent cycle and pedestrian network that somehow mirrors the inter-suburban routes, connecting up the main areas of the town and the suburbs to the town centre.
I’ll happily take comments on this list. Cycle campaigner friends, am I pandering to the motorist too much?
Retro fitting such a scheme to an existing town would be almost impossible, but we can think about how this might affect a new housing development.
Here’s my image of how this might look:
Yeah…no expense spared on the design, I know!
In this scheme, the trunk road on the left feeds an area of housing. On the entrance to the area there’s a car park. People can leave cars here and walk to their homes. If they need to access their property, say, if they’ve been to Ikea and are unloading a load of flat packs, there is a semi-pedestrianised, one-way route through (the hatched area). Note that gardens are important too, and green spaces have to fit somewhere as these are important, and I’ve not shown how the cycle/pedestrian network fits in. Hey, it’s a primitive concept right now – please bear with me.
The benefits of this:
- Safe, mostly-vehicle-free areas connecting houses.
- No pavement parking.
- Easy access to the trunk road.
- You have to walk a short way to get to your car.
Under my Nose Part 1
As this idea formulated, it got very frosty (can you tell from the pictures?) and I started taking the bus to work instead of cycling on the black ice. This means walking through my residential area.
And I was suddenly struck by something. Just down a short alleyway is this place:
That, my friends, is…
Well, I don’t actually know what it is or who owns it. There’s no signs saying what you can and can’t do in this area. But it looks like a jolly great big car park.
It doesn’t quite have easy access to a trunk road, but I reckon if it was better used we could clear a lot of cars off the streets around where I live and make them a whole load nicer.
Now, remember my little parking disgruntlement? Well I have, in the past, occasionally used this car park. But, much like if you’re in a car you ARE the traffic jam, I realised recently that by parking in the street I AM the parking problem. So I’ve taken to parking here out of principle now, even if there’s a space right outside my house.
Under my Nose Part 2
But better than that. As I continued to wander along roads that I’d wandered many times before, my eyes were opened to this place:
Yes I’ve walked up and down this street hundreds of times, and the planning here is fantastic. They’ve inconvenienced the driver and pedestriansed the road. It could use some greenery, but there are no cars allowed at all and there are often groups of people talking and kids playing along here. Just what we need. There’s even access to properties via the alleyways or “backsies” – places where you simply can not drive fast.
But it gets better. Would you believe that this little pedestrianised street has an off-street car park that has very easy access to a more major road…seriously…look:
How have I not seen the genius in this in the years that I’ve lived near here? I often choose to walk this way rather than a shorter way because it’s nicer. My subconscious selects this route as a pedestrian because, as a pedestrian, it’s a better way for me to go.
I’m not a town planner, but what I do see of new developments is half-hearted attempts at creating pleasant spaces.
I see trunk roads that lead to one-way, parking-free residential streets, but I don’t see where the cars are supposed to go instead.
I see off-street parking in some places that have courtyard arrangements – these are clever, but the roads around the courtyards are still very much places for cars – they lack the street furniture to encourage people out of their homes on foot on bicycle, to travel or to socialise.
And I see lots of talk about encouraging sustainable transport but combined with buses that don’t run on Sundays, unhelpful cycle and pedestrian infrastructure and a shocking lack of facilities (bike parking in those courtyards anyone?)
Yes, I’m not a town planner. But there must be better ways. It looks like they’ve been trying it right under my nose. But where’s the innovation in the rest of town. We can’t rip everything up and start again, but why are new developments allowed to get away with being so car-centric?
My eyes have been opened – safer streets have been right under my nose for years. Now can we have some more please?!
- Though, of course, we should also be considering freight alternatives – Swindon has a huge Iceland depot that feeds big lorries that drive all over the south west – this depot OVERLOOKS A MAIN-LINE RAILWAY!!! Go figure! ↩