Sunday, 11 March 2012

The politics of shared space

A thoughtful piece in the New York Times (reprinted in today's Observer's roundup) admires the achievement of the recently completed shared surface makeover of Exhibition Road.  The ideas that underlie the project, inspired by the late Hans Monderman and already widely put into effect in continental Europe, have been well covered in Britain, but it is interesting to know how they go down in the land of the free.

In the UK, such measures might be favoured more by the liberal (cycle-using, Guardian reading) urban intelligentsia, and less by Daily Mail buying types whose human right to drive unimpeded at 30mph could be seen to be under threat.   But the NYT piece suggests that shared surface projects can be seen as deregulatory, anti-nanny-state initiatives - that is, the kind of approach that in other fields might be favoured by the right-leaning - with pedestrians and drivers working things out between themselves rather than being bossed around by big Government.

The legal presumption, as a starting point, that the less vulnerable (e.g. driver), rather than the more vulnerable (e.g. cyclist) (but also cyclist relative to pedestrian) is to blame in an 'accident' has been established elsewhere in northern Europe, and it seems obvious that it should influence behaviour for the better, but it is not yet gaining headway in the UK.   In a decade or two, though, the idea that pedestrians are expected to jump out of the way of vehicles may have gone the way of drink-driving in its social acceptability.   Even Tories have to go on foot sometimes.

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