Ever since motor vehicles appeared on our roads and streets, government legislation and policy has required pedestrians to defer to traffic. The assumption and long-standing convention that cars and lorries take precedence over pedestrians, and to a great extent over cyclists, is so well-established that we take it for granted. Underpasses, overbridges, guardrails and barriers have sought to segregate traffic from other aspects of city life.
The emphasis on vehicular traffic over other street activities has resulted, as might be expected, in significant declines in walking and bicycling in recent decades. In 1971, 80% of 7- and 8-year olds travelled to school unaccompanied by an adult. By 1990 that figure had dropped to 9%, and is almost negligible today. Safety campaigns sought to reinforce deference to traffic, and discouraged the presence of children on streets.
The resulting imbalance in status and priority has bequeathed a public realm which is profoundly discriminatory. More vulnerable pedestrians, especially children, older people, and those with disabilities, are severely disadvantaged in urban and rural areas. Over the decades, governments and campaigners have addressed the imbalance through the installation of specific crossing points, often controlled by signals. Speed limits and clumsy bumps or chicanes do not address such discrimination, and may add to the problem.
Our work researches and develops approaches to street design that redress the balance. At the core is an emphasis on making places and other means to reduce speeds and change driver expectations. Making accessible, attractive public space out of highways. Returning safety and civility to villages, high streets, suburbs and city centres.