East Street, Horsham – A shared space that can’t be shared?

Back in February, I wrote quite enthusiastically about East Street in Horsham. This narrow road, in the centre of the town, was converted by our local councils into a ‘shared space’ environment over the summer of 2010.

It was an ideal target for such a conversion. The nature of the one-way systems in the town meant that the street itself did not have much motor traffic on it (drive down East Street, and you quickly end up right back where you started), and what vehicles there were on the street were heavily outnumbered by pedestrians. Despite the predominance of pedestrians, however, the street was unpleasant to walk on, with narrow pavements, and multiple parking bays.

To their credit, the council decided to do something about it, attempting to redesign the street in favour of pedestrians, and cyclists.

The result was a qualified success. This

is a genuine improvement on this –

However, my earlier, somewhat sunny, enthusiasm about East Street has been slightly tempered since the start of the year.

One of my main concerns is how a presumed ‘equality’ between road users actually pans out when you have motor vehicles rubbing up alongside pedestrians. This is something Cycle of Futility has written about recently, noting that

When a motor vehicle is in a pedestrian’s space, the motor vehicle wins. When a pedestrian is in a motor vehicle’s space, the result is the same.

Here’s how ‘equality’ works on East Street – a video, showing the conditions on this street, at around lunchtime on a Friday.

By my estimates, pedestrians outnumber vehicles by around 30:1. Yet the two vehicles that drive down the street – albeit reasonably carefully and considerately – completely dominate the environment. There is, ostensibly, an equality between what I dislike calling ‘road users’ in this shared space, but unfortunately some road users are more equal than others. Can we honestly say that East Street is ‘shared’, when the minority mode of use hogs it?

The simple solution would be to ban vehicles, at the very least between 10am and 4pm. This was, in fact, the solution applied during a trial period in 2008-9 – deliveries were made outside of these hours, and the street was closed to traffic at peaking shopping hours. However it seems that just two shops are insistent upon having deliveries to their front door at all hours of the day – so ruining the street environment for all the pedestrians that use the street, and also for the vast majority of retailers that would like to see the street fully closed to traffic, for at least the majority of the shopping day. At the moment we have large HGVs driving down this ‘pedestrianized’ street, like this one, which was urgently delivering… paper napkins and cups.

DSCN8919

The East Street traders have themselves organized measures to make the street more pleasant for pedestrians, apparently because the council won’t act. They are attempting to ensure that their deliveries are arranged before 10am, and after 4pm, and are encouraging delivery drivers to park away from East Street, and walk their deliveries in. From the County Times of May 12th, 2011 –

Chris Holt, member of the East Street traders’ group and owner of La Source, said: “We scratched our heads and we said why don’t we come up with something voluntary – because no-one else can be forced to do this. The strong message we were having from our customers is that they were concerned about the amount of traffic on the street. We’re not just doing this for our own business, but for the safety of customers who should be able to enjoy the street. The only reason it’s been ongoing for so long is because it only takes one objection to stop the full pedestrianisation.”

It should also be pointed out that there are a large number of restaurants on the street who are, for obvious reasons, keen for the street itself to become an al fresco dining area. But sadly they are being thwarted, because the council appears uninterested in creating a fully pedestrianised street, even in the evening, when there is no need at all for deliveries.

Another problem is that the expensive street furniture – which was designed both to make the street more pleasant, and also to deliberately slow vehicles’ progress down the street – is being progressively destroyed. Of the three larger benches that were installed on the street, one was destroyed in November last year when a vehicle drove into it.

And last month, the exact same fate awaited another bench, when a motorist smashed into it –

DSCN8924

These benches are plainly expensive; they have been removed, and have not been replaced. And this is barely nine months after the new design was opened – at this rate, there will soon be no street furniture left. And as these obstacles disappear, so it becomes easier and more tempting to drive down this street, and park on it – even though, officially, the only people allowed to do so are those making deliveries, or ‘loading’ (and this includes ordinary members of the public, some of whom seem to be interpreting ‘loading’ in a most liberal way) and those with blue badges.

There is no need for anyone to drive down, or park on, this street. There are two large car parks barely yards away from it, and alternative routes into the town centre (alternative routes, I might add, that are explicitly designed for motor vehicles, and unpleasant for cyclists and pedestrians). There is a street at the end that can quite easily be used as a loading area.

And yet without restrictions, we see the results. Motor vehicles are taking over. They are systematically destroying the pedestrian-friendly furniture. They are increasingly clogging up the street, and making pedestrians more wary of having to deal with ‘traffic.’ This same ‘traffic’ is preventing restaurants from setting up tables and chairs on the street itself, despite the vast preponderance of people on foot on this street.

I don’t want to share this street with motor vehicles any more.

This entry was posted in 20 mph limits, blue badge abuse, Horsham, Horsham District Council, Infrastructure, Road safety, Shared Space, Town planning. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to East Street, Horsham – A shared space that can’t be shared?

  1. OldGreyBeard says:

    I am very interested in shard space as it is being proposed for Leighton Buzzard High Street and is in the LTP.

    Leighton High St is very wide and currently is almost shared space although cars hunting for parking spaces dominate.

    It is closed to all except buses on Market days.

    It seems to me that at least some of the more old fashioned shopkeepers want it to be as it was in the 1950’s when “one could drive to one’s bank in ones motor”.

  2. livinginabox says:

    When a motor vehicle is in a pedestrian’s space, the motor vehicle wins. When a pedestrian is in a motor vehicle’s space, the result is the same.

    Many years ago, we were staying in Stow-on-the-Wold and a friend had to park outside the market square. We spotted a space and I said I’d hold it while they fetched their car. As luck would have it, in the few minutes before my friend arrived, a woman drove-up in her and wanted to park in that space. I explained and she became offensive. Then she started hooting, drove into me and used her car to push me out of the way. Yes, Futilitarian is absolutely right.

    http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Stow-on-the-Wold+youth+hostel&aq=&sll=51.92966,-1.723335&sspn=0.002269,0.005633&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Stow+On+The+Wold+Youth+Hostel,+The+Square,+Stow-on-the-Wold,+Cheltenham+GL54+1AF,+United+Kingdom&ll=51.930584,-1.722826&spn=0.001135,0.002816&t=h&z=19

  3. A great improvement on the street and I fully agree with you – there is no need for vehicles to be using this area unless they are loading/unloading – I’m in favour of banning the vehicles and saving our rapidly disappearing street furniture!

  4. I don’t know why, but pedestrianised or not, car drivers seem to take the attitude that they can park/drive wherever they want and changing this comes down to enforcement or indirect controls (e.g make it too darn expensive to drive). Don’t get me wrong, I am a car driver and at some time in my life I must have parked more on the pavement than not, gone into a pedestrianised area when perhaps I shouldn’t, but now things seem to get out of hand.

    It is refreshing to see that a town like yours seems to be making an effort (and Leighton Buzzard will be interesting to see to as I live down the road) and hope that the ongoing increase in fuel and duty will see more converting to alternative modes of transport and beginning to see why cars/vans can be so infuriating.

    Keep blogging and good luck!

  5. OldGreyBeard says:

    It seems to me that car drivers have a tremendous senses of entitlement: to uninterrupted forward motion, free parking, cheap fuel etc.

    Tackle that and the rest follows

  6. Greg Collins says:

    The blue car… wasn’t loading or unloading on East Street, just taking a short cut into the Carfax (My money being on it then parking on the double yellows there via Blue Badge – another story) rather than going the long way round via Blackhorse Way. In short it had no business being there. But as OldGreyBeard says the driver has a sense of entitlement and obviously their business and time is far more important to them than anyone else’s enjoyment of a shared public space.

    From a cyclist’s perspective East Street is almost unusable at weekends, only this morning I had to track stand down there three times as the pedestrians wandered about oblivious to others, including other pedestrians AND cars. But, to be frank, they have priority over me in my book. At least the local PCSO’s now know it is a cycle route and no longer try to stop cyclists using it! £500,000 spent on a badly flawed compromise. Ridiculous. But that is HDC/WSCC.

    Next time you’re on North Street take a look at then new pavement cafe arrangement outside the Black Jug. Half the pavement gone, forcing pedestrians onto the cycle path, which is one of the very few in town I bother to use.

    Good job I have a lovely bell on each of my shopping bikes!

    • Yes, a large proportion of people illegally driving down East Street are either ‘cashpoint cripples’, wanting to use the banks in the Carfax, or those using it as a shortcut to parking illegally there. As you say, double yellow lines tend to mean nothing, although disabled blue badges are rather prevalent amongst these surprisingly able-bodied drivers.

      It could be just an illusion, but illegal driving on East Street seems less common now than it was during the summer of last year – I think the council did have a bit of a clampdown, and that’s had an effect, combined with the higher number of pedestrians using the street in the run-up to Christmas. That made it *look* more like a pedestrian street. Last year, I informed one lady who I had followed driving down East Street and parking in the Carfax that what she had done was technically illegal – she seemed genuinely surprised, asking me ‘why there were cars on East Street’ if it was a pedestrianised street.

      So the appearance of the street is rather important in discouraging drivers, I think. If people see plenty of cars parked on it, and other cars proceeding down it ahead of them, they’re more inclined to use it (of course the signage – quite clear – means nothing).

      It doesn’t matter too much to me that East Street is basically unusable on a bike during weekends – at least during Saturday trading hours. I’m quite happy to either proceed very slowly, or dismount and walk. It’s not that long a street. I’d certainly rather have that then what it was before – a road.

      I also use the path by the Black Jug – it’s a pity that it’s so deeply flawed, with all the yielding to tiny side roads, the (legal) use of the RSA bridge so poorly understood by nearly everyone, and the fact that you can’t proceed southbound at the end of it. Ah well.

  7. Pingback: Naked streets | Streets without Cars

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