Highway code changes offers opportunity to design for people
The highway code changes that have come into force make vulnerable users the priority on our streets, a huge shift from the previous ‘car is king’ ideology. Excitingly, this gives highway designers the chance to hardwire this revised hierarchy into our spaces. It’s a virtuous circle; as engineers, we can use the new rules as an opportunity to more ambitiously redesign our streets and spaces, and our designs will reinforce the priorities set out in the highway code, engendering the desired behaviour change.
Think about a junction between a local shopping street and a residential road. Now any turning cars must give way to people crossing. If we design and subsequently provide a raised crossing or continuous footway along the high street, over the junction, this reinforces this rule. Emphasising pedestrian priority then helps the high street become a safer place for people walking, thereby making it more attractive and popular, and this ultimately improves health, strengthens communities and benefits businesses. So with a simple change, there are economic, social and environmental benefits.
As an example, in Altrincham we have seen how streets and spaces which prioritise walking and cycling in the town centre directly correlate with greater footfall, a higher number of more successful businesses, new jobs and a reduction in crime. Perhaps most importantly the town is now recognised as a ‘liveable town’ and was voted Best Place to Live in the North West by the Sunday Times in 2020.
Investing in walking and cycling is also key element of inclusive growth, a concept championed by Leeds City Council. This is reflected in their emerging strategies for communities throughout the city, like Morley, where the Town Investment Plan allocates £3m to improve links between the town centre and the railway station and £5.2m to deliver exemplar active travel routes connecting people ‘with opportunities to learn, work and exercise.’
Making streets safer for people of all ages, all genders and abilities is a priority of our work on any scheme, so providing protection for cyclists, safer crossing points and improving lighting is a first, basic step. With the Highway Code now putting a greater responsibility for safety on car drivers, those capable of causing the most damage, this is another step forward in changing how we share our public spaces. It is a recognition that streets are for more than just moving, they are places that people can play in, meet friends and live out their lives.
As engineers we design infrastructure but it’s important to also consider the legislative layers, rules and regulations, behaviours and culture that contribute to how a place is experienced by different people. At Civic Engineers, we recognise the interplay between all these elements and welcome the changes to the Highway Code as part of a cultural shift towards net zero and more liveable neighbourhoods.