‘Naked streets’ exposed: report reveals ‘disastrous effects’ of removing guardrails

10.24 | 19 February 2010 | | 4 comments

A report in Highways magazine reveals the ‘disastrous effect’ that the ‘naked streets’ policy will have on casualty rates.

The report, ‘On guard: the case for keeping guardrails’, focuses on the issue of removing guardrails to encourage all road users to share the carriageway and rely on eye contact to establish right of way.

The report concludes that: “Contrary to misinformation issued about the Kensington High Street scheme, ongoing removal of 60 km of guardrailing in London is likely to injure or kill more than 1000 pedestrians per year.”

Click here to download the report or for further information contact the author Douglas L Stewart or visit his website.


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    TFL says:

    Originally intended to guide pedestrians away from the road, guardrails had the opposite effect. We found that people often walked around them, which sometimes trapped them in the road.

    Pedestrian guardrails are not vehicle restraint barriers and do not offer pedestrians protection from vehicles. In many cases, they provide a false sense of security to both pedestrians and drivers.

    The latter paragraph is of importance. They don’t stop cars! – which means if they’re in a position where pedestrians congregate but is a potential strike zone (eg street corner), they’re actually making a dangerous situation even more dangerous.

    Alan Brown.
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    The real answer, like that of most interesting questions, is ‘It’s complicated’. Adding lighting to a road in theory lowers its accident rate, so why have accidents fallen where lighting was removed? Removing the available hard shoulder on M42 at peak times was predicted by many to increase accidents, but the reality was the opposite. Guardrail benefit is complex and some of the present stock is of little value, especially short lengths, so each site must be properly assessed, and TfL and others have good processes to manage this. Our public streets in lower speed environments (many 30mph and all 20mph) should not need hard segregation which could encourage drivers to ignore pedestrians who still have to cross the road. There are plenty of photos of pedestrians trapped on the road side of guardrail! I doubt the scale of alleged casualties given that most of the road network does not have or need guardrail and I fear this will play into the hands of those who say road safety professionals are no longer needed in highway design. The Manual for Streets II is a good example of a balanced approach on the some difficult routes; watch http://www.ciht.org.uk/en/technical-affairs/news/index.cfm/manual-for-streets-2-wider-application-of-the-principles for details of seminars to introduce the new guidelines.

    Kate Carpenter, Bedford
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    While supporting Dr Stewart’s right to express his opinion on the removal of pedestrian guardrail, I think he should make clear if he has any connection to Bridge Parapets Ltd, the maker of Visiflex, and any benefit he may gain from holding the patents of the product. I have some sympathy for his viewpoint, though I question some of his more extreme claims, but I feel he damages his argument by not being clear about this connection. We should stop taking a reductionist view and acknowledge the complex interaction between the street scene and the people using it. Instead of the engineers and urban space designers lobbing word-grenades over the self-imposed barriers that seem to separate them, we should just get on with making streets that are pleasant and safe to be in. Undoubtedly some of the answer will involve control of pedestrian movement, especially higher up the public space hierarchy, but it will also mean designing streets where the needs and importance of pedestrians are mediated to drivers by the environment itself. Taking entrenched views on either side of this debate isn’t helpful.

    Mike Mounfield, Birmingham
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    Its a red hot coal this one. As a road user I would like to believe that the guardrails were originally put there due to some accidents etc or safety concerns.

    If not then its merely there to filter pedestians away from a potentially dangerous places.

    On the otherhand I know of some junctions that have been made particularly more dangerous due to guardrails that act as a brick wall for vision by car drivers and makes entry into some roads very much more dangerous.

    Bob Craven, Blackpool
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