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The Risk

Fashion does not just come from the streets, it exists in the streets and it exists in the design of the streets. Trends come and go about what will make our cities better places for everyone. Much at the Elephant and Castle reflects the trends of the 1950s and some of it has now become very unfashionable. The proposals outlined by TfL reflect today's fashions. Subways are unfashionable in the UK now. When poorly maintained or used in very quiet areas they can become or feel dangerous.

One of the big trends in urban design today is called Shared Space. It's so fashionable regular journalists write about it rather than just the landscape and transport specialists. The idea is simple: don't segregate and seperate users of the street, let them share it. By removing barriers and the clutter of signage we will then behave as cautious humans rather than reckless machines whether we are drivers, walkers or cyclists. Shared Space is transport planning's response to decades of segregation, it is skinny jeans vs bell bottoms. Like trousers, neither fashion is appropriate everywhere all the time. When applied successfully the most obvious change of a shared space environment is the blurring of the boundaries between road and pedestrian area. The road appears to fade away. But at the Elephant it is not the roads that are proposed to fade away, it's the subways, the only space 100% for pedestrians.

TfL have badly applied shared space. Since 2011 they have removed hundreds of metres of pedestrian guard rail without any other intervention to slow traffic or aid pedestrian crossing - a contributing factor in the recent death of a five year old boy at a surface level crossing on a road linked to the roundabout. In early 2012 TfL removed guard rails from the centre of the triple carriageway at the south of the roundabout. Some pedestrians began sharing this space instead of using the subway. By August 2012 the hazard of this sharing had become obvious to TfL and new fences went up in the centre of the road precisely where the old ones had been. Fortunately the subways were still there as a safer alternative - we might not be so lucky next time TfL implement a badly conceived plan. Shared space is a very convenient solution when space is at a premium, because new space is expensive to create whether it's a road or a pavement. But here at the Elephant and Castle the investment in creating extra space for pedestrians was made decades ago when the subways were created. This is precious land in a crowded area. Why be swept along by fashion and take it permanently out of circulation?

Hichame Bouadimi Memorial
A memorial to Hichame Bouadimi on St George's Road
near Elephant and Castle 9 October 2012
© Richard Reynolds
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