Lewisham frees the streets

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.

For some time, Brockley Central has argued that the Council should review whether the pedestrian railings on Brockley Road can be removed. More widely, we believe that clutter is a curse on our city and our lives. We've written about the experiments in Hackney and Kensington & Chelsea, which have yielded positive results and asked why Lewisham can't follow their lead. Well now we're going to.

When Cllr Alexander undertook her walkabout with BC readers and representatives of the Brockley Cross Action Group and Broc Soc, we discussed the issue and she later vowed to pursue it, to see whether any action could be taken.

Yesterday, Cllr Alexander told us:

"I asked officers to look at the work that had taken place in Hackney and to give me some idea of whether we could take this forward in Lewisham. The result is a report which will be going to Mayor and Cabinet next Wednesday.

"I guess you might find it somewhat disappointing that we haven't as yet identified resources to do the work in Brockley, but I think the report does give a clear statement of intent about the fact that we recognise that some stretches of railing are probably redundant and once a safety assessment is completed, we would like to remove appropriate sections. We will be piloting such a scheme in Ladywell in the next year and I will keep pressing officers about finding the resources do something similar in Brockley."

The report nicely sums up what we've been rambling on about for some time - namely the pointless, counter-productive nature of many railings scattered about London:

"When used appropriately, guard railing can reduce the risks for vulnerable road users. Unfortunately, following many successful applications, there has been a tendency to over-use guard railing in the wrong places.

"Too much separation of pedestrians and vehicles can lead to higher speeds. Some research has shown that in these circumstances some drivers think that there is less risk of conflict with pedestrians, and hence feel more secure.

"Poorly located guard railing may result in pedestrians being trapped on the carriageway or deter them from crossing the road altogether. The siting of some guard railing necessarily increases the distance people have to walk and some will choose to go around the barriers instead.

"Guard railing can be extremely unsightly, as well as cluttering the streetscape. Improving pedestrian accessibility and the public realm is essential to help maintain the vitality and viability of our town centres and other important areas.

"Some highway authorities have already started initiatives to get rid of surplus guard railing. The London Borough of Hackney has commissioned environmental consultants “Urban Initiatives” to set out a methodology for its removal. Transport for London has developed a safety engineering-led procedure for possible guard railing removal and has implemented a number of schemes on major arterial roads such as dual carriageways. In contrast, the Hackney approach attempts to design out guard railing by using alternative measures. This may, of course add cost to the exercise. Such approaches may need to be used in more complex situations and would bedependent on sources of funding being identified."

The report concludes that Lewisham should avoid using railings except in rare cases where there is a clear, demonstrable need:

"There will be a general presumption against the use of pedestrian guard railing on Lewisham’s roads. Only where it is necessary to avoid trip hazards or there is no reasonable alternative safety solution should it be considered. In those cases, the length of guard railing used should be the minimum necessary.

"As part of the process of de-cluttering the streets, existing lengths of guard railing will be reviewed as opportunities arise. Some guard railing does have a part to play in improving the safety of our road network and a blanket removal of it could be counter-productive. However, it is clear that significant reduction of guard railing can be possible, without impacting on safety."

It also recommends the removal of railings in Ladywell and Brockley, subject to appropriate safety reviews. Conducting a saftety review in every case is obviously extremely important. Brockley Central has no wish to increase the prospects of us, our family or anyone else getting hurt or killed:

"The use of guard railing is discretionary, not compulsory. In the Ladywell area a safety audit/assessment completed by TMS Consultancy, a safety engineering organization that is associated with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), has been used to find how useful the existing guard railing is, and the scope for removing some sections without compromising user safety.

"Working with this report LB Lewisham engineers will carry out further inspections in the Ladywell area to identify the lengths of guard railing that could be removed as part of maintenance activity.

"TMS also undertook a further study in the Brockley area of the Borough and the results of this will be considered by officers, together with observations from monitoring the proposed guard railing removal in the Ladywell area, and will be fed into any future scheme development in the Brockley area. Such a scheme would require specific funding and is likely to involve further comprehensive assessment method. Such a process has been developed by both TfL and LB
Hackney and it is intended to draw on both of these sources."

"Although there are plans to remove surplus guard rail in Ladywell as part of general highways maintenance, and as part of a controlled trial, there is no current budget provision for work in other areas . Removal of pedestrian guard rail in other locations would only be implemented as and when resources could be identified, both for the assessment and for the physical removal."

"The removal of some pedestrian guard railing at Ladywell will be carried out as part of the 2009/10 maintenance programme and will be funded from the footpaths maintenance budget. Any further significant removal of guardrails will require funds to be identified."

And not only does removing railings have the potential to improve safety and the appearance of our streets, it could also lead to cost significant cost savings in the longer term:

"Removal of guard rails may reduce expenditure on the replacement of damaged sections in the localities where the removal has taken place. In 2007/08 the Council spent an estimated £30,000 across the whole Borough in reinstating guard rails damaged in consequence of vandalism and road traffic collisions. It is not known how much of this expenditure took place in the study areas."

So while it would have been nice to see action being taken in Brockley immediately, it's great that Ladywell is first on the list and that Brockley is close behind. It's great also that there is now a clear policy from the Council that they will consider the negative impact on the public realm whenever railings are considered and that they have a clear preference for railing-free streets. It's a small but important step toward making Lewisham a more civilised, people-friendly part of London.

Thanks to Cllr Alexander for taking up this cause and for keeping us posted on progress.

Now, about those dog-poo stencils...