Changing of guardrail: Shared space plan to boost safety by removing barriers

Exhibition Road in London after the changes
Exhibition Road in London after the changes
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TRANSPORT chiefs are planning to improve road safety on Edinburgh’s streets – by taking away pedestrian barriers.

A trial is to be carried out in the Capital to determine whether removing the guardrails will actually result in fewer accidents.

Exhibition Road before the removal of railings

Exhibition Road before the removal of railings

Evidence from councils in London found drivers slow down if rails are removed because pedestrians are more visible. It also stops the problem of pedestrians “vaulting” over rails into oncoming traffic.

If approved, all guardrails in the city centre and Leith will be assessed this autumn before a decision is taken on whether to scrap them.

Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport leader, told the Evening News: “We need to make sure that a pedestrian guardrail is actually doing the job it was meant for – keeping pedestrians safe. Guardrails can encourage drivers to drive faster, make streets inconvenient to cross, and also significantly diminishes the attractiveness of a street.

“However, we will ensure that communities are fully involved in the process and we aim to learn from other cities and areas that have implemented this, too. Our aim is to make Edinburgh a more attractive place to walk for both residents and visitors alike.”

Transport chiefs cited examples in the London Borough of Hackney, where road accident casualties halved from 41 to 19 over three years after 5km of rails were removed.

The most radical example is the ambitious £29 million redesign of Exhibition Road in Kensington, where rails, kerbs, pavements and signs were removed as part of a project to make motorists take more responsibility, which the Edinburgh scheme falls short of at present. Neil Greig, director of policy at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “There is a current trend in road design towards shared spaces, the concept being drivers can see from the character of the road that they need to take care because of fewer barriers.

“In Hackney, there was a whole redesign of the road surface and a great deal of investment required. On the other hand, if in Edinburgh they are just taking up the pedestrian barrier and nothing else it might well be they are doing it on the cheap.”

Kathleen Braidwood, road safety officer at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in Scotland, welcomed the move but said the sites would have to be closely monitored to ensure the number of accidents reduces.

She said: “It must be remembered that every location is different and the effects of the scheme could differ from place to place. We would hope that the situation after guardrails have been removed would be monitored to evaluate the impact.”

Officials have been monitoring the Forrest Road/Teviot Place and Easter Road/Duke Street junction along with Leith Street, between Calton Road and Waterloo Place, which are likely to be among the first sites.

Mark Turley, director of the council’s services for communities, has outlined the plan in a report to be considered by councillors today.

He said: “Guardrail can create safety problems, for example by reducing the visibility of children through the railing from approaching vehicles, or by pedestrians ‘vaulting’. It is also a maintenance liability. For these reasons, there is a concern about the extensive use of pedestrian guardrail.”