Shared Space in Longbridge

In 2015 I cycled to Longbridge to take part in a community Light Festival to launch the new redeveloped 'centre' built by St Mowden on the site of the closed Rover car factory. There were various light displays and activities for families and the Birmingham Cycle Revolution had a stand doing publicity and a bit of Dr Bike.

Longbridge is accessible from the Rea Valley route and its college, offices, shops, cafes and pub could attract commuting and leisure cyclists. However, apart from a few Sheffield stands for bike parking there was no particular attraction for cyclists in the design of the new town centre.

Shared Space signWhat was distinctive about the original design of the road and pavement layout within what is really a large shopping mall was that it was marked up as "shared space". This idea, which has a bit of a following amongst planners and developers, is to remove demarcations between pedestrian space and roadway and take out street furniture, barriers and guidelines. Motorists, pedestrians and cyclists having no clear priorities or demarcated kerbs will negotiate their interactions slowly and carefully. The original theory came from a Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman and it has been tried in several places in the UK including Coventry city centre, Exhibition Rd and Kensington High Street in London and Poynton in Cheshire.

How has the Longbridge experiment fared? Well if you ride down there today the experiment has obviously been abandoned! Signs and zebra crossings are not supposed to be a feature of Shared Spaces, but inevitably they have to be added, meaning the area is no longer a Shared SpaceLarge keep left signs stop cars driving into each other, pedestrians are instructed to "look both ways" and psuedo pink or blue pedestrian crossing markings have been painted on the road/pathway surfaces. I spoke to a blind person who has to visit Longbridge for her senior job in retail and who travels extensively with her guide dog. She found it an absolute nightmare, the only environment where she has to ask for assistance. None of the recent changes include clear kerb lines or tactile pavements.

Longbridge "town centre" is dominated by cars"It wasn't about cars it was about people" is a nice slogan harking back to the days of the Austin or the Rover. It is quite clear that the new town centre is about cars not people. What there is of a "public realm" is sandwiched between the three vast car parks serving popular retail destinations (Sainsbury, Marks and Spencer and few other shops) and the four lane highways of the A38 and Longbridge Lane. Cars stream in and out, dominating the environment, and there is no space to "share". A few students wander about but the few pedestrians and pram pushers are forced to the windswept sidelines in between the undistinguished architecture of retail boxes.

"It wasn't about cars it was about people"