17 October 2008

Shared Space in Manchester

Warren Marshall, the Urban Design and Conservation Manager at Manchester City Council, retired earlier this month. I've never met the man, but I'd like to applaud him for one particular piece of work he did during his career - the redesign of the area around St Ann's Square in Manchester City Centre.

I'm a big fan of the shared space approach pioneered by Hans Monderman in The Netherlands, which removes the separation between road and pavement, by, among other things, lowering curbs so that the road and pavement are on one level, removing barriers between the two and removing most road markings and traffic lights. The approach has proven to be successful at reducing accidents. That might be counter-intuitive to many, when we are used to being separated and controlled for our own safety, but it seems that when you stop people relying on the layout of the road to keep them safe, they start to pay more attention to what is going on around them and take more care.

The area around St Ann's Square isn't a pure shared space scheme (there are too many bollards for a start), but it does have some of the key features, such as the pavement not being raised up above the level of the road and the unusual features separating the road from the pedestrianised areas next to it, such as the large stone balls on the right of the picture.

The area has a much more pleasant feel than the ordinary roads surrounding it. There never seems to be any conflict between drivers and pedestrians, in spite of the fact that pedestrians tend to walk straight down the middle of the road. That lack of conflict seems to exist because nobody has any sense that they have priority, so instead of people angrily demanding that others get out of what they perceive as their part of the street, people silently and politely accommodate each other.

The way this has been achieved in one of the busiest parts of a major city is impressive and I imagine it wasn't been an easy scheme to put in place, so thanks for your work, Mr Marshall and enjoy your retirement.

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