By RAY MASSEY
Before and after: Exhibition Road in January 2010 (left) and November 2011 (right), after the refurbishment. Now the half-mile road, decorated by a criss-cross pattern, is a continuous shared space for cars and people
Britain’s longest ‘clutter-free’ street was opened today with the aim of making cars and people co-exist harmoniously – without the need for hectoring signs and protective steel barriers.
Indeed, the newly revamped Exhibition Road in the heart of London’s museum quarter in Kensington, visited by millions of people from around Britain and the world, doesn’t even have kerbs or pavements.
The idea underlining the project is that when nannying rules and orders - in the form of countless signs, traffic signals and barriers - are removed, motorists take more personal responsibility for their own actions and drive more attentively, making more eye contact with pedestrians.
Ground level: Pedestrians use the zig-zag of walkways on Exhibition Road, Kensington, with more than one million bricks made of Chinese granite used in the project
It may sound counter-intuitive. But experts swear that the idea pioneered in Holland really does work better for everyone and improves safety.
And supporters say it is a blueprint for the 21st century high street in towns and cities across the country.
The entire half-mile long (820 metres) of road and pavement is now one continuous and wide expanse of flat ‘shared space’ surface decorated with a criss-cross chequered pattern created from a jigsaw of a million bricks of Chinese granite.
The new-look Exhibition Road project which began as an idea more than a decade ago, cost nearly £30million to complete, and has taken three years’ work.
It features a kerb-free single surface with no barriers or ‘street clutter’ – all of which have been removed.
Instead, a stunning chequered granite design runs from South Kensington Station to Hyde Park along the full width of the road from building to building in a newly created ‘shared space’.
By night: the new-look refurbishment was thought up 10 years ago and cost some £30million to complete
Pedestrian areas are distinguished from those to be used by vehicles by black iron drainage channel covers and raised and ribbed ‘corduroy-effect’ tactile strips.
These also help warn blind and partially sighted people underfoot that they are moving into or out of vehicle-free areas. The markings run along each side of Exhibition Road, about four yards out from buildings helping to delineate the areas for pedestrians, and those for vehicles.
Cars are slowed by a 20mph speed limit and planners expect traffic to reduce by nearly a third.
Tall, sleek street lighting masts have been designed to complement the grand buildings of Exhibition Road.
The continuously flat surface also improves access, particularly for those using wheelchairs, push chairs and motorised buggies.
Sir Jeremy Dixon of leading architectural practice Dixon Jones which led the project said: ’It’s not a complete free for all.
Relaxing: A couple sit on one of the benches in the refurbished street. The project which began as an idea more than a decade ago, cost nearly £30million to complete, and has taken three years' work
‘But when the rules by which traffic normally operates are removed -signs, barriers and kerb markings - drivers become more observant.
'They make more eye-contact with pedestrians which produces greater watchfulness. They use the road more like pedestrians. They take more responsibility for their actions.’
In a similar vein, studies have shown that when traffic lights are removed from crossings, traffic flows more freely and efficiently because drivers take more care, he said.
Even before the road was officially opened today by London Mayor Boris Johnson, Sir Jeremy noted people’s behaviour had changed:
‘You see people promenading down the street, sometimes ten abreast. It’s marvellous.’
A spokesman for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council said: ‘We have introduced a 20 mph speed limit on the road, and we expect the scheme to reduce traffic by approximately 30 per cent to the south of Prince Consort Road.
By day: The new design is intended to make drivers more observant
‘The removal of street clutter, such as conventional traffic signals, barriers, signs and road markings, will encourage motorists to slow down when they enter the road and engage with their surroundings.’
He added: ‘Traffic is restricted to the east side of Exhibition Road, away from the busiest pedestrian flow between South Kensington Station and the Science Museum.
'We have improved the pedestrian crossings by making them wider, to accommodate larger numbers of pedestrians.’
The speed limit will be 20 mph and traffic is expected to decline 30 per cent
‘This new scheme is more like the behaviour in a supermarket car park. Drivers know there are people around pushing shopping trolleys and so drive more cautiously. They are looking out. They don’t feel that pedestrians are invading their space. They don’t therefore get annoyed.’
Planners have also planted more trees to improve the ambiance and help delineate the pedestrian and traffic zones. Traffic will flow in both directions.