Time to give Shared Space serious consideration in Kings Heath High Street
Time to give Shared Space serious consideration in Kings Heath High StreetThose who have followed my political career will know that I am a great supporter of the Shared Space concept. Shared Space is a continental idea where streets are first of all de-cluttered of all excess signage and pedestrian railings that plague our High Streets. Finally the demarcation between pavement and road surface is blurred, so that it is clear to all that the pedestrian is king – vehicle traffic by default slows down. A good example of a ‘Shared Space’ already exists in Kings Heath, along Popular Road and the adjoining roundabout. Would this work along the High Street?
Of all the places I thought Shared Space could would work in Birmingham is Kings Heath High Street, especially in the section between Vicarage Road and Station Road. It would require a leap of faith by everyone and maybe a smaller section between Vicarage Road and Popular Road should be tried first. Issues like removing pedestrian crossings and replacing them with raised platforms would require a leap of faith for pedestrians. Removing parking spaces for cars along the High Street, between Silver Street and Poplar Road, would require another leap of faith by the traders. Replacing the smooth tarmac road surface with a paved surface would require a leap of faith by the emergency services who prefer smooth and flat roads. What I believe we would end up with is a more attractive street environment for shoppers, a smoother flowing road for vehicles AND reduced accidents.
In the last 4 years there have been 2 deaths along the High Street/Alcester Road South in Kings Heath High Street.
Those deaths were:
14th October 2008 – 70 year old man crushed under Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) on the Alcester Road South across the road from the Pear Tree pub. The victim was crossing the road when the traffic was stationary. He crossed in front of a lorry that was in the queue. Unfortunately he also crossed in front of this lorry, just as the traffic was began to move. The lorry driver, high up in his vehicle, didn’t see the victim and accidently drove over him. A news item can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDyk4uT77fs
7th November 2011 – 13 year old girl, Hope Fennell, crushed Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) on the High Street in front of Kings Heath Baptist. The victim was crossing the road when the traffic was stationary – the pedestrian crossing further down the road was on ‘red’. She crossed in front of a lorry in the queue just as the lights turned ‘green’ and the traffic began to move. The lorry driver, high up in his vehicle, didn’t see the victim and accidently drove over her. A news item can be seen here: http://www.birminghammail.net/news/top-stories/2011/11/07/woman-trapped-under-lorry-in-kings-heath-high-street-65233-29736307/
I know that the Hope Fennell campaign claim “4 deaths in 4 years” along this road. I have no knowledge of a further two similar deaths along this stretch of road and have been unable to find news items relating to any such deaths. If anyone can provide evidence of these two further deaths, I’ll correct this blog entry.
As you can see, these accidents have the common denominator of stationary traffic and a pedestrian crossing immediately in front of a stationary lorry. The lorry does not see the pedestrian crossing due to the driver being so high up. The traffic begins to move and the pedestrian is run-over.
It is therefore completely understandable that the Hope Fennell campaign want to see HGVs banned from Kings Heath High Street either all day or during the busiest parts of the day. I understand and sympathise with this argument, BUT I can’t support it. My fear is that banning HGVs either fully or partially from Kings Heath High Street will simply divert them down neighbouring residential streets. Residential roads such as Valentine Road, Springfield Road, Barn Lane, School Road, Billesley Lane, Moor Green Lane and Avenue Road are already de facto Kings Heath by-passes. Isn’t it more sensible to keep HGVs away from residential roads and deal with the issue itself on Kings Heath High Street?
An argument has been put forward that all the HGV traffic on Kings Heath High Street could be diverted onto the A38. This is a non-starter since most traffic from the M40 and M42 is already directed away from the A435 by motorway signage. The vast majority of the HGVs using Kings Heath High Street are doing so, since they are accessing businesses and residents along the A435 corridor. Remember that the HGV that tragically killed Hope Fennell is exactly the same type of vehicle that is used by couriers to deliver parcels to residents or to deliver goods to small shops. The impact of banning these vehicles either from the High Street or even the entire area would have enormously detrimental implications for local residents and businesses.
In the short term, I honestly believe we need to look at installing short stretches of pedestrian railings at all pedestrian crossings along the High Street. And I say this as someone who wants to keep the pedestrian railings to a minimum. Can I also add that those who campaigned against the installation of railings earlier this year at the spot when Hope Fennell died were completely wrong in their argument – see article at http://www.aboutmyarea.co.uk/site/content.asp?area=390&type=0&story=214178 The case put forward in the article that the railings “could lead to pedestrians being trapped in the path of heavy lorries” is total nonsense. Yes, there have been cases in London where cyclists have been crushed by lorries on railings where roads bend sharply. In this case, the proposed railings were short in length and on a straight bit of Kings Heath High Street. I have seen no evidence of cyclists or pedestrians ever been crushed on short lengths of straight pedestrian railings.
So yes, I accept as a short term measure the installation of some pedestrian railings at all the pedestrian crossings in Kings Heath shopping centre. This will reduce the chances of pedestrians walking in front of stationary HGVs, plus keep HGVs on the A435 and away from residential roads.
But long term, I honestly believe a shared space concept for Kings Heath High Street needs to be considered.