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Reducing road rage on streets through better design

February 15, 2023

By Wesley Wroe

Street design needs to be fair for all road users, not just for cars. Here, we look at how communities can benefit from a more holistic approach.

In an engineer’s day job, we often find ourselves occupied by things like the number of cars going down a road, or the size of turning circle that a local bin lorry needs. The idea of ‘community' is often lost to the realm of the architect and the town planner. 

But to deliver infrastructure that supports sustainable growth as well as more livable environments, we need to take a holistic approach to design.

Regardless of which type of road user you are, you will likely have preconceived ideas about how other users interact on our streets. Cyclists versus drivers or taxis versus e-scooters, for example. These common conflicts are more likely when road networks are designed to prioritise car drivers only.

Where cycle routes are needed, these are often retrofitted and taken from existing road space. Poor design then drives poor attitudes between road users. The infrastructure forces them together in inconvenient and potentially dangerous ways.

When developing communities, we must think deeper about what it feels like to live on and use the streets we build. Designing our roads to focus on all users, rather than only those in cars, we can better support those who walk, cycle, scoot, or use wheelchairs and pushchairs.

At the development of Waterbeach Barracks in Cambridgeshire, where we’ve been working with master developer, Urban&Civic, we’ve had this in mind from day one.

The bold and ambitious vision for Waterbeach has been inspired by the need for a sustainable future.

Taking the rage out of the road

This year, Waterbeach will have its first residents move in. They will be able to access miles of new pedestrian and cycle paths. These will loop around lakes and weave through woodlands.

Waterbeach will also connect Cambridge residents and local villages to all the amenities this new town will offer in the coming years. It includes homes and facilities as well as a 23-acre lake with running loops, nature trails and more.

For the new primary school, we worked with Urban&Civic to remove conflict between road users altogether. We worked with the wider design team of landscape architects, and with transport planners and traffic modellers to reimagine movement around the development.

We showed how we could deliver a car-free school without impacting on the viability of the adjacent development parcels. Rather than focusing on designing safer junctions to reduce conflict, we removed the conflict altogether. There is still access to a staff car park of course, and a drop off/pick up for students and parents with disabilities through a rear entrance to the school plot.

Traditional highway design employs a car-centred approach. This is determined by where drivers want to access. Our approach asks where cars need to access, while allowing for pedestrians and cyclists, and enhancing connectivity through the site.

Design that reduces risk 

We should aim to reduce conflict while encouraging behaviour change. At Waterbeach, we focused on a movement framework that provides residents with opportunities to live healthier, more active, and sustainable lifestyles. We encourage active travel and offer vehicle access only where required. 

We did this by taking ideas from Denmark and The Netherlands and collaborating with local partners. Our pedestrian/cycle priority junctions design ensures continuity of level, alignment and material in a pedestrian or cyclist’s journey, with the car forced to cross a footpath. 

A community that reflects nature encourages wellbeing and more environmentally friendly behaviours.

Take a bike ride through certain European cities which don’t prioritise cars and you will see this in practice. In 2020, a new piece of highways guidance was published in the UK (LTN 1/20). This set the standard of good cycle design and encourages us to look at Europe’s examples.

Alongside this, the changes to the UK Highway Code enshrine in law the rights of pedestrians and cyclists crossing side road junctions. 

For Waterbeach, we developed two types of priority junction for our primary/secondary road junctions as well as our housing parcel accesses. The designs make footpaths and cycleways easier and more comfortable to navigate. They also blend the vehicle crossing element into the background. To cross this threshold, drivers must slow down—almost to a stop—to make the turn.

We are also incorporating a new kerbing product (Marshalls’ Dutch Entrance Kerb) into an access junction which has continuous footpaths crossing. This is inspired by schemes in Copenhagen, yet truly unique. It’s even being referred to as ‘The Waterbeach Junction’.

Street design in Waterbeach will encourage residents to lead more active, more sustainable lifestyles.

Waterbeach’s highway network is designed as a sub-20mph environment, with a 20mph speed limit zone through the new town. The speed limit will be predominantly enforced through the design of the streets, making an abundance of signage and legal enforcements unnecessary.

Making new behaviour change possible

Designing with all users in mind does not preclude residents from using cars, instead it helps them consider alternative approaches. We do this through subtle changes and encouraging better options. 

A planning requirement means all houses have dedicated parking spaces. A new homeowner at Waterbeach may ask themselves why they would need to use a car in this environment. Could that space be better used? New choices now become possible.

Waterbeach’s landscaping also plays a significant role. Tree-lined streets, Nature-based Solutions, grassy verges, and open green spaces invite residents to walk or cycle. A community that reflects nature encourages wellbeing and more environmentally friendly behaviours. With so much tree cover, it even suits the fair-weather cyclists

The next stage will be developing a network of micromobility solutions and links with proposed rapid transit networks. This will help connect the area in the next few years. Working with Stantec’s Smart(ER) Mobility team, we aim to ensure the coming phases provide the best opportunities for residents travelling around and beyond their community.

Having a say - including everyone in decisions

There’s wisdom in a crowd, including a crowd of stakeholders. Our junction design was born in a ‘eureka’ moment sparked by feedback from various stakeholders. In a planning consultation session, we redesigned the junction live on screen.

Waterbeach designs emerged after gathering ideas, stories, and examples in conversations between Stantec, Cambridgeshire County Council public realm and placemaking teams. Importantly, local cycle groups were also engaged.

This collaborative process between engineers, transport planners, landscape architects and master-planners meant the final design is tightly woven with existing and new landscape features. This will result in spaces which are both functional and beautiful. 

The design for ‘The Waterbeach Junction’ was born in a ‘eureka’ moment.

Cambridgeshire County Council has described it as “a pedestrian and cycle network that is exemplary and of the highest quality for anywhere in Europe.”

Shifting the focus onto all users is not unique. The scale with which it is being rolled out at Waterbeach is.

Peace on our streets through good, safe, and sustainable design

By considering all users’ needs, we can hope to negate tension by allowing all users’ space to travel safely on foot or on wheels.

Slowly but surely the concerns and views of users who are not in cars are rightfully gaining more traction in urban planning. Another recent Stantec project, Suffolk County Councils new Streets Guide has helped to break the mould of car-first design.

Through delivery of sustainable streets, good engineering design can help us move away from thinking of roads as routes which simply convey vehicular traffic.

Instead, we can drive a new public understanding of streets as networks of pedestrian, cycle, and public transport routes. Ones which do not prioritise cars over other road users.

  • Wesley Wroe

    Based in Cambridge, Wesley is a technical lead for our Active Travel team. There, he uses his passion for sustainable streets as he leads the engineering design and project management on a variety of projects.

    Contact Wesley
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