Do you think free space road designs, such as the one that’s been in situ on Exhibition Road in London for the last few years, could ever work on a broader scale throughout the UK?
It depends, surely, on the attitudes of the people who use, and occasionally abuse, the spaces in which they find themselves, does it not? Which means ‘yes’ for most of the time, but also a very big ‘no’ from time to time as well. And when the word ‘no’ applies to free space road thinking, the consequences will inevitably be grim.
The brainchild of former civil engineer, Hans Monderman, free space road design works on the principle that all drivers – and pedestrians and cyclists alike – will become more responsible for their actions if the normal architecture of the road is removed. Everyone has a right of way if there are no zebra crossings, traffic lights or guard rails to suggest that they do, in other words.
Instead, everyone ends up behaving in a more civil manner – in theory. Drivers drive more slowly, looking into the eyes of pedestrians before they cross; and in turn pedestrians don’t just wander into the road, headphones ablaze, oblivious of the perils of the road – because if they do they know it might be curtains. The space is shared by everyone in it, and far less accidents occur as a result. Which is great, of course, so long as everyone signs up to the idea, and respects it.