A Manual for Streets

This article was published in 2007, in Newsletter 71.

The Manual for Streets (MfS) could be the most influential document on urban design in 50 years. It is intended to bring about a transformation in the way streets are designed in order to give priority to environmental quality and to promote sustainable and truly mixed user communities. It is a replacement for the Government’s old Design Bulletin 32 and Places, Streets and Movement.

Scholars Court in the St Matthew’s area of Cambridge is an example of a civilized street layout possibly of the kind Manual for Streets envisages.
Image as described adjacent

The draft focuses on residential and other light-trafficked streets but the authors emphasise that the key principles are applicable to other types of street too, particularly the fact that streets should be designed not just to facilitate traffic but should be positively integrated with the built environment while taking the needs of pedestrians and cyclists into account. Future editions of the manual may deal with busier environments, leading up to a comprehensive guide to the design of all non-trunk streets.

Cycling is mentioned often in the document but there is only limited reference to cycle facilities. Many would argue that this is how it should be, for the emphasis is on developing street environments which are inherently suitable for cycling without the need for bolt-on extras. Indeed, the main thrust of the document is about recreating communities, quality environments and ‘streetscapes’. Cycling is but a means (although an important one) towards this end rather than something to be accommodated in the abstract.

Key goals are providing for movement choices and encouraging appropriate driver behaviour. A hierarchy of users is promoted, with people on foot and with disabilities first, cyclists second, then public transport, cars and other motorised vehicles.

For cyclists, the hierarchy of solutions – brought forward from Cycle-Friendly Infrastructure – is supported with a clear statement that cyclists should not use footways. Dynamic envelopes illustrate the lateral space requirements of cyclists and other road users, although the space stipulated for cyclists is insufficient. In keeping with a minimal facility approach to cycle planning, the authors stress the value of ‘invisible infrastructure’ such as 20 mph zones, bus lanes and the like, which are both popular with cyclists and good for safety.

Another area where MfS raises the profile of cycling relates to parking. Indeed, residential cycle parking is treated first and in detail, in keeping with the manual’s hierarchy of users.

MfS is attractively produced and copiously illustrated with photos of good and bad practice from home and abroad. It is promising that its content has survived initial vetting by the DfT. What is not clear is how the more extensive work on cycling carried out by the former English Regional Cycling Development Team fits in with the published document, of which it was once intended to be a part.

The finalised version is due to be launched on 29 March 2007 and we will be reviewing this major new piece of government guidance in full in the next edition. The finalised version is now online.

This article is based on material from the Cycle Campaign Network, reproduced with permission.