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Engineer attacks architect designed streets

February 15 2011

Engineer attacks architect designed streets
Doug Stewart, an Aberdeen based civil and mechanical engineer, has published a critique of shared spaces, describing the concept as a “dangerous step back in time,” – whilst admitting a “commercial interest.”

In a letter first published in Local Transport Today Stewart wrote of his fruitless search for before and after studies on the removal of guardrails, writing: “The zero response is in marked contrast to the wealth of information from a similar exercise 25 years ago.  

“But that was before architects rather than engineers designed streets, and ‘legibility in the urban realm’ superceded safety.”

Drawing on evidence from the past Stewart has concluded that shared space streets are “lethal”, pointing out that the pedestrian death rate per car was once about 50 times higher than today.

Stewart refers to his own research into guardrails in the 1980s where concealed guardrails were replaced by high visibility guardrails. The engineer recalls: “The resulting validation that casualty rate reduced by 80% should have rung alarm bells at the DfT, because of the huge potential for saving lives by mass action at similar sites.

“Shared space streets may, 'look great'.  But only if you are the sort of sad individual who finds car parks beautiful.  Most of us would prefer to be safe,” Stewart concludes.


#1 Posted by Monkey9000 on 15 Feb 2011 at 12:03 PM
Is his name Stewart or Souter?
John Glenday
#2 Posted by John Glenday on 15 Feb 2011 at 12:09 PM
Doug Stewart...
#3 Posted by Matt on 15 Feb 2011 at 12:41 PM
Doug is entitled to his commercially skewed opinions, however there is a wealth of knowledge and experience in the UK which shows that well designed streets designed for pedestrians first rather than cars, have fewer deaths and higher pedestrian footfall resulting in less social isolation and increased economic activity.

I would refer Doug to the excellent collection of articles on Ben Hamilton-Baillies website, to Phil Jones Associates work and to CABE work on Streets:

As for numbers, Kensington high street had all of its guard rails removed together with extensive streetscaping, it is one of London's busiest streets. It saw a drop in casualties of 44% overall with a 64% drop in pedestrian casualties. Research available here:

Finally, this isn't science, but this time lapse of two streets shows the social implications of well designed streets:

#4 Posted by dirige on 15 Feb 2011 at 12:53 PM
Belittling architects is the new national sport, they should have it in the Olympics.
The Flâneur
#5 Posted by The Flâneur on 15 Feb 2011 at 13:43 PM
Setting aside the fact that he’s trying to sell something i.e. guardrail designs it’s hard not to agree with his motivation to cut the numbers of child deaths on roads and in fairness there is interesting research on his website into visual perception and its impact on accidents which I don’t doubt is a problem but… at the speeds quoted (in excess of 30 miles and hour) it’s still geared towards streets were the car is king rather than those designed for everyone which are obviously slower. And shared surface streets are more about changing the attitudes of drivers than pedestrians. Opting for guardrails just gives the impression that its business as usual and behaviours, such as speeding in residential areas if you think you can get away with it, don’t have to change.

Why not contact a fellow engineer like Andy Cameron at WSP who was part of the core team that produced both Manual for Streets and Designing Streets? Very approachable and eloquent on the subject and I’m sure could point him in the right direction for research.
Slingsan Darrows
#6 Posted by Slingsan Darrows on 16 Feb 2011 at 14:07 PM
Charing Cross in Glasgow and Cumbernauld are just two local examples of what happens when highway engineers are put in charge. Nuff said innit.

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