This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 137.
One of the more shocking things about the UK to foreign-born eyes is the state of the pavements (or sidewalks, in my native tongue). Not only the poor condition, or the numerous cars obstructing them, but the strange fact that planners allow the footways to be interrupted by minor driveways and estate access roads. It’s almost as if it has never occurred to officials to respect the people who are walking along the street. Any time more than a few motorists might want to use the space, the footway gets pulled apart and the carriageway floods in, with no evidence left behind that people need to walk here. Where there once was continuous footway are now cars speeding around corners, pushing aside both pedestrians and the virtually unknown Highway Code rules 170 and 206 (‘give way to pedestrians who are already crossing the road into which you are turning’).
This photo shows a real-life example of the county’s prototypical housing estate access design. Notice the widely flared junction, perfect for high-speed motor traffic, and the massive (faded) give-way markings that might feel more at home on a motorway junction. For people walking, especially if you are in a wheelchair or pushing a pram, your options are to bump down and up some kerbs, or else to walk partway into the estate to find a dropped kerb. Then you might get a chance to cross the side road, assuming nobody has obstructed your way with a parked car, or comes zooming around the corner.
Why does this terrible design keep getting built? Well, it’s part of the guide that Cambridgeshire makes available to developers, the Housing Estate Road Construction Specification. Not exactly a page-turner but it tells developers what they need to know to get their roads adopted by the county: the diagram to the right is a suggested junction design. It’s no wonder that so many pedestrian-unfriendly designs continue to be built today. For example, application 17/1272/FUL (behind 300 Coldhams Lane) was approved in January and when built it will cut apart the footway on Coldhams Lane in this way.
To support walking and cycling, all development will be designed to:
- give priority for these modes over cars;
- ensure maximum convenience for these modes;
- be accessible to those with impaired mobility; and
- link with the surrounding walking and cycling network.
It is a shame because the Cambridge Local Plan policy 8/4 is very clear that development is supposed to give priority for walking over cars. That’s one reason why we objected to 17/1272/FUL: because it did not comply with the Local Plan in this regard. We asked for a ‘Copenhagen-style’ junction with a continuous footway and clear priority for people walking (as shown below). The response from the planning officer was very simple:
Just like that, the Cambridge Local Plan was overturned at the county level. Perhaps if the county guidance for developers had diagrams of junctions that give priority to walking (and cycling, where appropriate), we would get streets that respect people more than motor vehicles. That’s already happening in some places, like Walthamstow in London, where the ‘Mini-Holland’ project is rebuilding streets to prioritise people walking and cycling and creating healthy, vibrant and welcoming neighbourhoods.