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Southwark Living Streets – Southwark Branch Borough High Street – Demonstration Community Street Audit Summary of Findings – 13th June 2005
Introduction & Structure of Summary Report Introduction Community Street Audits are a method for evaluating the quality of public space – streets, housing estates, parks and squares – from the point of view of the people who use it rather than those who manage it. For many people, when they think about how public space might be improved, the starting point is to demand clean pavements and clean streets. While these are very important if we are to get around safely and easily on foot, public space works best if it is designed and maintained to allow for more than just walking. When streets are places to meet friends and neighbours, to shop, to talk, to play and to watch the world go by, they start to contribute much more to local communities. Vibrant streets create safer neighbourhoods, less fear of crime and a healthier environment. They ensure that everyone can get around and can help to include everyone in public life. Living Streets undertakes Community Street Audits on a commercial basis for local authorities and other organisations. This demonstration audit was organised by the Living Streets Southwark branch for two reasons: 1. To involve branch members and other local people in the Community Street Audit process and to recruit more members to the branch 2. To identify some key issues on the chosen demonstration audit route and to report the findings to local decision makers. It is proposed that this brief summary report of findings should lead to the commissioning of a full Community Street Audit of the area by Living Streets. Structure of summary report The summary report will record findings under the eight audit categories used by Living Streets. At the end of the report, the three priority issues for future work will be identified.
Footway Surfaces & Obstructions 1. Footway surfaces and obstructions. The condition of footway surfaces is an obvious one for most pedestrians. At its most extreme, the absence of any footway at all can make a journey on foot all but impossible. More surprisingly, perhaps, is that footway condition and the possibility of a footway fall is the most important factor for older people when deciding whether to go for a walk – more important even than the length of the intended journey. Footway obstructions, whether permanent (bollards, guardrails, bins) or temporary (parked cars, advertising boards, rubbish), are also a major hazard for people on foot. The condition and age of the footway along the audit route were mixed. In places, the paving was new, but even when this was the case, some missing slabs created a potential trip hazard. There has clearly been considerable investment in the northern section of the east side of Borough High Street at some point in the recent past. The footway surface is largely good although cheap maintenance means that the bricks that have been disturbed have been put back with far less care than before they were moved. Further to the south, cheaper surfacing materials have been used and this is clearly visible in the later sections. For example, the footway around 241 Borough High Street is cracked and in generally poor condition with several examples of poor quality repairs. In relation to obstructions, this is a problem throughout this eastern side. There are many redundant poles and other items of street furniture that make an already narrow footway even more difficult to navigate. BT and traffic light units are particularly poorly sited as are a number of large road signs in the southern section. One enormous road sign straddles the footway and is entirely invisible to road traffic owing to the growth of trees from nearby St. George’s Church. Advertising boards are an additional obstruction problem in some parts of the audit area (particularly on the west side of Borough High Street). During the audit, we also observed a large number of rubbish bags on the footway.
Facilities & Signage 2. Facilities and signage. Facilities for pedestrians include the obvious – public toilets, benches, drinking fountains, lighting and trees. Signage is important for people on foot. Pedestrians need signs to different destinations, and street nameplates at every corner to tell them where they are now. There are very few facilities to speak of. This stretch of road performs an almost entirely functional role for pedestrians. Most noticeable is the absence of and provision for people to sit and for people to park their bicycles (especially in the northern section of the route). There is also a real issue around the provision of bus stops. It is an awfully long stretch from the bus stops on London Bridge to the first stop south on Borough High Street . Given the enormous volumes of people that appeared to be looking to make use of the buses, provision for them was inadequate. Where there were bus stops, the facilities were poor. Outside 179-191 Borough High Street, there is a bus stop but no shelter. The footway is not wide at this point and it is likely that there is overcrowding by the bus stop at rush hour times. There is a bus shelter at the stop outside 241 Borough High Street but it is a basic, unattractive design. The bus information is covered with graffiti and an advertisement reduces sightlines from and approaching the shelter. In terms of signage, there are some innovative elements of signage (lettering in the pavement) and some new signs (marked in the number of minutes places are distant) but given the historic nature of the area and the links to Borough Market little signage is apparent. It is probable that there are more attractive and interesting routes in the area that do not take the walker along Borough High Street. If so, these should be signed. Pedestrian signage would limit space on a footway network that is not generous to people on foot. Therefore this proposal should be viewed in conjunction with the proposal for altering road space allocation, later in the report.
Maintenance & Enforcement Issues 3. Maintenance and Enforcement issues. Maintenance and enforcement issues create some of the most serious problems for pedestrians, as well as the most numerous. They typically make up around 50% of all the issues identified in a community street audit. Issues under this heading include litter, footway cleanliness, repairs and patching, fly-posting and footway encroachment by shop front displays. On the audit route, it was felt that some levels of maintenance are reasonable although there are a number of turn-cones (rotating cones on press-button pedestrian indicators at traffic signals to help visually impaired people) that are not working. Enforcement is far more of an issue, with footway being lost to advertising boards associated with shops and pubs. Litter is a considerable problem too…this is not so much what is dropped but what lies in bags on the pavement waiting to be collected.
Personal Security 4. Personal security. Personal security is a major factor in the decision to walk or not. Actual levels of personal security and perceptions of personal security are not the same thing – both are important, but the perception of how safe somewhere feels is probably more important. People do not look up crime statistics for Borough High Street before making a decision about walking along it. The decision is primarily based on how people feel. Borough High Street felt reasonably good at the time that our audit was undertaken as the street was busy with lots of people going home or heading off to local pubs. There were a number of side alleys, however, that may have felt threatening outside daylight hours. Two local people said that the atmosphere changed once it became dark and there were security concerns. The audit did not take place after dark. It is suggested that if a full audit is commissioned from Living Streets, the area should be audited at night as well as during the day.
Crossing Points & Desire Lines • 5. Crossing points and desire lines. • People need to cross the road everywhere. Often formal crossings are not situated where people want to cross, which are defined as desire lines. Peoples’ need to cross can be made easier with: • Crossings that give them priority over traffic (zebras) • Signal controlled crossings that give motor traffic priority, and where pedestrians have to wait to cross • Refuges and pavement build outs that give pedestrians some protection from traffic but no priority • Traffic calming can also make it easier and less hazardous to cross the road. • Crossing Borough High Street for pedestrians is a challenging and potentially hazardous activity. Some of the findings can be categorised as follows: • The prioritisation given to road traffic means that the crossings that do exist for pedestrians are complex. Major junctions have refuges in the middle that often include dog-legs that add significantly to the amount of time it takes pedestrians to cross. An excess of railings means that pedestrians are herded into narrow spaces and cannot cross readily. • There are insufficient crossings. Given the volumes of pedestrians that use Borough High Street , there are far too few points where it is safe to cross. • Crossing timings are too short. Often there is insufficient time to get across the road on the pedestrian phase. An example of this is the crossing adjacent to 92/94 Borough High Street. The turn cones are operational, but there is a long wait for pedestrian priority. Crossing time is very short. The light controlled crossing opposite 150 Borough High Street is also poor. As well as long waiting times and a short crossing time, the road surface is poorly maintained and could constitute a trip hazard for pedestrians crossing. In addition, the drops are badly finished and constitute a potential trip hazard.
Crossing Points & Desire Lines (continued) • Other issues that relate to the difficulties pedestrians face when crossing Borough High Street: • The junction at Great Dover Street is simply dangerous. There is no full stop phase and at one point there is no pedestrian crossing at all even though traffic may be turning into the pedestrians’ path. • Auditors observed poor crossing facilities across the side road outside the Slug and Lettuce bar, near the war memorial. There are tactile facilities at the approach to the crossing point but no pedestrian priority or traffic calming facilities. Traffic swings into the side road at high speed, and auditors observed many pedestrians crossing nervously at this point. In contrast, there is a raised table, tactile approach and pedestrian priority lights at the Newcomen Street junction with Borough High Street.
Road Layout & Space Allocation 6. Road layout and space allocation. Constant changes occur in the way we organise the highway (the carriageway and footway combined). The kerb line moves back and forth, special lanes for buses and cycles are installed and some space is designated for shared use. How much space is allocated to pedestrians can have a major impact on the ease and attractiveness of walking. The policy of trying to provide for increasing motor traffic in towns and cities continues to be questioned; meanwhile, local authorities are committed to encouraging more walking. This may make it possible to increase space for pedestrians. A key question for auditors is: “Do people on foot have at least enough space to cope with peak pedestrian flows?” In Borough High Street, there are several points where the answer would be an emphatic “no”. Space allocation on Borough High Street is very heavily tipped in favour of motorised users. Very high volumes of pedestrians are crowded into often narrow footways. Cars and motorbikes moved very freely at the time that we audited this route and there was space for some (illegal) parking on the road without blocking through traffic. The road remains wide in places and there are spots where the road could be narrowed and the footways widened. The other user group to suffer are cyclists. Although it was not our brief to look at cycling provision, it was noticeable that the road layout and speed of traffic would deter many cyclists from using the road. The area around St. George’s Church (between the church and the gardens) represents a real opportunity to rethink road space allocation. Traffic volumes around this area are low and a new green oasis could be developed here either through the extension of the Gardens or by linking it to the churchyard. It is suggested that a pedestrian count at rush hours times would be useful. It is likely that pedestrian traffic would be far greater than vehicles at this time, yet the overwhelming priority is space for traffic and vehicular movement.
Aesthetics 7. Aesthetics. If walking is to be encouraged, we need to ensure streets and spaces are pleasant to use. Functionally efficient places for pedestrians can still be very unpleasant and discouraging. The aesthetics of public space are largely dependent on the design quality of the space itself, and the buildings and other features within sight. The secret to aesthetically successful public space is that it should function effectively, be built to a human scale and create a sense of place. Borough High Street functions as a theatre where the priority is traffic movement. The street is unremittingly functional and drab, in spite of its significance as a historic location and the beauty of many of its buildings. Apart from the area around St George the Martyr Church, there are virtually no trees or green places. The noise, smell and danger of traffic means that the many interesting historic details to be found are missed as the walker hurries through. There are several projects that could be developed to create oases on a human scale in the audit area, such as the St George/park area referred to earlier. Another is the area in front of the Slug and Lettuce, where the pedestrianisation of the side road could create an area of interest and beauty centred on the war memorial. It is suggested that a Community Street Audit is commissioned from Living Streets to explore these options in detail.
Traffic & The Priority Issues 8.Traffic. Traffic presents a direct threat to pedestrians in the form of crashes, and indirectly from air pollution. Around 3,500 people are killed in collisions involving motor vehicles in the UK every year. It is estimated that 24,000 people die prematurely every year as a result of air pollution. Traffic noise accounts for 66% of the total noise generated outside dwellings in the UK. The design of the street encourages motorists to speed along Borough High Street. At the time the audit was undertaken, cars and especially motorbikes moving off from the lights gave the place the feel of the start of a motor-race as they revved their engines and sped off along the road at up to 40mph. Clearly if pedestrians are to be and feel safer and to want to use the road in a social way, then traffic speeds need to fall along the audited route (e.g. to a 20mph maximum). Traffic calming at crossings (in the form of raised tables) would also help pedestrians feel safer when crossing the roads. Borough High Street – The Priority Issues The demonstration audit was an introduction to the street audit process and as such is not a substitute for a commissioned and costed Community Street Audit from Living Streets. This final section identifies 4 priorities within the audited area that would benefit from urgent action. a) The junction outside Borough Tube station This junction needs to be completely redesigned. It does not work effectively for pedestrians or any other road users, including vehicles. There are light controlled crossings on only thee arms of the junction; at the fourth, pedestrians have to either have knowledge of the light sequences or take a risk. b) The junction near the Ship public house A second junction where pedestrians are severely disadvantaged was observed at the far end of the audit route. Again, a complete redesign, in order to prioritise pedestrian movement, is proposed. c) Linking St George the Martyr church with the park The first of two suggested projects to improve the interest and beauty of the area would involve reconnecting the church and local park. d) Reallocating space by the Slug and Lettuce The second project could involve creating a pedestrian area by the side of the Slug and Lettuce, and highlighting the war memorial as a centrepiece. 1st November 2005