Saturday, 23 July 2011

Reducing Street Clutter: Creating Better Places?

By PLACE Intern Gary Potter.

It’s a familiar site in many UK towns and cities: an abundant supply of unnecessary bollards and safety railings, and plentiful traffic safety signage encroaching on the pedestrian environment. However, more and more local authorities across the UK are embracing the concept of de-cluttering our streets, and are gradually recognising that improving the streets brings a range of benefits to everyone. Local businesses report better trade, more people are encouraged to walk and cycle, the streets become safer, more sociable places, and the historic character of an area is enhanced rather than degraded. 

Great Victoria Street, Belfast. Photo by Gary Potter.

Last summer in England the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Transport Secretary Philip Hammond urged local authorities to reduce street clutter and ensure regular audits. The coalition government also wants communities to inform local authorities of particularly bad examples of clutter as part of the ‘Big Society’ initiative. Organisations such as Civic Voice, Living Streets and fixmystreet help councils and communities to carry out regular street audits. Tony Burton, Director of Civic Voice, has claimed that...
...“too many streets are plagued with pointless clutter, blighting the local environment and people’s lives. Civic Voice believes in streets we can all be proud of. Our Street Pride campaign gives people the power to make a difference. With … welcome backing from the Government we should reclaim our streets and see them cleared of clutter.” 

Whilst the national drive for reduced clutter on streets continues, there is also an eagerness at city level to adopt such principles of good street design. London has plenty of examples of de-cluttering in practice and has even set out how the city will achieve “well designed, uncluttered streets” in the statutory Transport Strategy for London.

In England and Wales ‘Manual for Streets’ and ‘Manual for Streets 2’ outline best practice and guidance for local highway and planning authorities as well as their consultants and contractors. In Scotland ‘Designing Streets’ places good design and place-making at the heart of street design. These documents suggests a more collaborative approach to street design in which designers and regulators are encouraged to work together to find more innovative options to tackling the conflicting needs of; vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, junction designs, safety audits, budgets, stakeholders, street furniture locations and maintenance plans. Street design is now accepted to be a complex process and there is even a Postgraduate Certificate in Street Design and Management which the University of Westminster targets at graduates working in planning, transport, architecture and design.

'Manual for Streets 2: Wider Application of the Principles'
Click Here for more information.

Manual for Streets 2 claims that “streets and roads make up around three-quarters of all public space - their design, appearance, and the way they function have a huge impact on the quality of people’s lives.” 

Clearly there is a trend towards good street design and reducing clutter … but where does Northern Ireland sit within this movement?

In Northern Ireland the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges has been adopted for some time in relation to trunk routes. However Manual for Streets 1 and 2 which provide guidance for designing successful residential streets, high streets, and other non trunk roads have not been adopted and no equivalent publication has been announced.

With this in mind, perhaps Northern Ireland should consider the benefits of quality street design and place making? Just this week I posted on the PLACE twitter feed ( about a senior US politician who answered the job creation question with place making as the answer. Richard Rush was quoted as saying that...
...“If job creation can be spurred by municipal government, that phenomenon will be driven by the ability of the city to build public spaces where people want to live, work, shop and invest. This exercise is called 'placemaking'.

In these tough times is this an area that the Northern Ireland Executive should be investing in to encourage investment in our urban settlements? Or is it simply beautifying our towns with little economic reward?

Case Studies

Piccadilly Circus, London

A £14m project by Westminster City Council to provide more space for pedestrians will see more than one kilometre of guard railings removed and more opportunities for pedestrians to cross the road will be created. The local authority hopes the benefits of the new scheme through reduced congestion on both the roads and pavements will provide similar rewards as in nearby Oxford Circus. It has been reported that in the first year of improvements to Oxford Circus over £6.5million worth of benefits were generated.

Piccadilly Circus Proposal by Atkins.

Broadway, New York City

An experiment which closed parts of Broadway to vehicles in an attempt to improve traffic flow became permanent after becoming a fascination for tourists and New Yorkers alike. At the time Mayor Bloomberg said that a warm response from traders in the area had persuaded him to retain the pedestrian plazas in Times Square and Herald Square. The areas are now given over entirely to pedestrian activity.

The Risks and Legalities

A common misconception surrounding traffic signage and pedestrian railings is that it is legally required. Whilst some signs are legally required, the Manual for Streets clearly explains that street clutter should be avoided and that innovation should be adopted and Government advice is that for signs to be most effective they should be kept to a minimum. A report last year indicated that overly cautious officials are citing safety regulations as the reason for cluttering up streets.

'Keep Right' signs are not always required. In this case
the sign is over-sized and not required as there is no
chance of going left of the lane anyway!

Is the middle bollard necessary? 

‘Designing Streets’ provides an example to explain to local authorities in England and Wales that they are under no legal obligation to provide the majority of the signage on our streets. In the House of Lords case Gorringe v. Calderdale MBC (2004)) a claim was made against a highway authority in England for failing to maintain a ‘SLOW’ marking on the approach to a sharp crest. The significance of this case is that the authority was found to have no duty to maintain signs and markings or provide warnings of natural road hazards and drivers are ‘first and foremost responsible for their own safety’. This example in Designing Streets was intended to provide confidence to local authorities to innovate rather than ‘box tick’.

More Information

Civic Voice's Street Pride Campaign
Street Pride Briefing on Poles [PDF]
Street Pride Briefing on Guard Rails [PDF] 
Street Pride Briefing on Bollards [PDF]
Street Pride Briefing on Signage [PDF]

And just this week I came across an interesting and humorous BBC News Video about a sign that anti-clutter campaigners have been circulating on the web: Click Here

What do you think about 'street clutter'?

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