Brockley Road - off the rails

Kensington High Street: classy bins, classy lamp posts, classy ladies.

The poor condition of much of Brockley Road has been a recurrent theme since this blog began. It was also the subject of some detailed discussion with the Council when Cllr Alexander visited Brockley Cross in the summer.

Shortly, we'll publish the details of the High Street campaign we hope to get off the ground, but for now, we want to revisit a particular issue which was discussed with the Council officials during the tour.

The railings opposite the Brockley Barge and the Chemist are in very poor condition and do more than their fair share to contribute to the generally squalid condition of the streetscape. The dull grey metal bars are bent out of shape while the legs churn up the pavement in to which they sink. Their utilitarian design and lack of maintenance screams crap town.

The Council Officers admitted as much and said that, were we starting with a clean sheet of pavement, no one would consider installing railings in those positions. However, they'd also be reluctant to remove them - no one wants to be the officer who removes railings, only for a pedestrian to be killed in that spot shortly afterwards.

But there is very good evidence that railings not only make our streets worse, they also make them more dangerous, prompting some Councils to de-clutter.

According to the Urban Design Compendium, Kensington Highstreet:

Has undergone a major transformation in order to improve its image and provide a safer, more attractive environment for pedestrians. Specific measures included:
  • reduction of street clutter by mounting traffic signals and signage on lamp columns
  • removal of guardrails and bollards
  • removal of staggered crossings; removal of traffic islands
  • introduction of dropped kerbs
  • reduction in the number of surface materials
Initially there was significant opposition to these changes and the Stage 1 Safety Audit brought attention to a number of safety issues. To address these issues an evidence-based method was applied during the first phase of the scheme. During this phase the impact of the changes on the behaviour of pedestrians was carefully monitored using on-site observations, CCTV and representatives from disabled and walking groups.

Monitoring also included the use of records of personal injury collisions collated by Transport for London. The initial results showed that such innovative change together with detailed design and risk assessment could be achieved without negative impact. The changes were therefore retained and the remaining phases built over a period of three years.

The street improvements have not only improved the quality of streetscape but since the changes were introduced pedestrian accidents in the affected area have been reduced by more than 40 per cent.

And it's not only Royal Boroughs that are at it, Hackney Council have followed K&C's lead, as their newsletter reported:

So-called 'safety' features are to be stripped from many of Hackney's roads after research showed that they could contribute to accidents. The Council is set to embark on a radical reduction of pedestrian guard railings, starting with Mare Street in central Hackney.

The move comes after a study found that railings discouraged walking by restricting pedestrian access, gave greater priority to vehicles and had a negative impact on the street scene. Poorly placed railings can increase the chance of collisions by making pedestrians take risks. They may even contribute to the injury of cyclists who can get trapped between vehicles and railings.

So if we want to start improving our main streets, we shouldn't go to the expense of replacing or painting unnecessary old railings, we should get rid of them all together, humanising our streets, rather than hemming people in. We'd love to see Lewisham follow Kensington and Hackney's example.