New Road, Brighton is a street I remember from my childhood. Back then and until 2007 it was one of the main streets navigating the influx of traffic in a one way system through the city centre. Theatres and bars were thriving on one side and the Pavilion Gardens to the other. The road was of great importance to visitors and Brightonians alike but was a hostile thoroughfare, dividing the very attractions that drew so many.
On a recent visit I found a place where the desire to meander and take in the atmosphere of the surrounding activity overrode any need to get to my destination beyond. Gone are the narrow footpaths that were once the restrictive passage along New Road and in their place is an open space shared by pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles alike. Restaurants and bars spill into the street and street entertainers amuse their audience.
The children who accompanied me were delighted by the opportunity to chase enormous bubbles released in quick succession by The Bubble Man. I was equally content in the knowledge that in this street at least, traffic tends to circumnavigate or pause momentarily for pedestrian movement – including playing children.
The street connects cultural attractions such as the theatres with the Pavilion Gardens, where visitors flock to sit and picnic or soak up the sun in the summer months. This opportunity to relax and watch the world go by spills on to New Road in the form of seating running down the eastern side of the road. Benches are strategically dotted around, in both sun and shade to provide a comfortable rest, but also to encourage defensive driving.
The team responsible for delivering Brighton’s first shared space with Brighton and Hove Council were Gehl Architects, Landscape Projects and Martin Stockley Associates. The team carried out thorough research into who used the street and how they used it, gathering evidence from local residents, traders, cultural establishments and councillors. They then evolved the street design from an initial design brief that specified a traffic free area into a Shared Space that met the needs of the various user groups.
The success of New Road is evident and I believe this is largely down to the ability of the design team to listen to key users of the site and to develop ideas in response these needs. The space is the 4th most popular destination in the city, not only for pre-existing cultural centres but as a place to simply spend time and soak up the rich cultural atmosphere that is so typical of Brighton.
“Since its opening, traffic levels in the street have dropped by 93%, whilst cycling and pedestrian numbers have risen by 22% and 162% respectively. English Partnerships selected New Road as an exemplar project for its Urban Design Compendium, whilst the project was lauded by CABE, and won awards from the Civic Trust, the National Transport Award for Urban Design, the Landscape Institute and the British Stone Federation.” http://www.landzine.com 26/04/2011
Currently New Road is the only street of its kind in Brighton’s city centre. Many areas have become pedestrianized over the years but the concept of Shared Space has not been fully embraced. Controversy over the implementation of these street designs, especially in London, focusses on the disadvantages it may pose to visually impaired or disabled users. A detailed evaluation of the effectiveness of way finding measures included in the design at New Road, such as textured paving areas and tactile guidance strips, can further the knowledge and understanding of how this group of people can use such a space. The design team for New Road demonstrated that carrying out in-depth reconnaissance can shape street designs that transform public places, contributing so positively to the social, cultural and economic structure of the city.
Images my own and Gehl Architects