A woonerf is a Dutch word for a living street, a social space where pedestrians, cyclists and drivers co-exist. Could this principle be extended to Rye?
Most agree that the traffic and parking in the citadel is less than optimal. In Rye High Street (and elsewhere) safety as a pedestrian or a driver is our responsibility. The more personal responsibility we take, the better. This is the counter-intuitive thinking behind the concept of shared space.
The more prescriptions and proscriptions there are in relation to parking, access, rights of way, speed limits and waiting and delivery times the greater the danger of snarl-up, gridlock and frustration and the less responsibility we take.
No matter how many prohibitive or informative signs and road markings, patrolling functionaries or local policemen you cannot be completely protected from chance, accident or perversity. Is there a solution? Shared space might be one option.
The object of shared space is to improve safety by encouraging negotiation of priority between different road users. If you don’t exactly know who has right of way, you tend to seek eye contact with other road users. Speed is reduced, you take more care and you interact reasonably with your fellow humans. The result should be a slower, smoother flow with reduced anxiety and increased well-being all round.
An initial proposal might be a partial introduction of shared space at the junctions of:
1) East Street, High Street and Conduit Hill including all three cafe frontages and Adams
2) Lion Street and High Street taking in the Grammar School and George Hotel frontages
3) Market Road, High Street, The Mint and West Street incorporating the library frontage and banks.
At each of these locations existing pavements would be removed, there would be one grade surface created, preferably paved or with stone setts. Street furniture and planting, introduced to further slow traffic, would help support the disabled and infirm while additionally enhancing the streetscape and the amenity of the town.
It is acknowledged that organisations representing the deaf, the blind and those with mobility impairment have major reservations regarding shared space and this would entail consultation, negotiation and probable adaptation. If successful the scheme could be extended to the rest of the High Street and adjacent roads.
Another solution might be to introduce code-controlled bollards at the entry points to the citadel and restrict access to homeowners, deliveries, and emergency vehicles with only homeowners having parking privileges. The existing layout could be retained or a pedestrian/partial pedestrian design provided. West Street and Mermaid Street could become, and Market Road could remain, one-way to facilitate commercial deliveries and egress.
Some might favour a fully pedestrianised citadel with access facilitated by a 15-minute shuttle bus service from all peripheral car parks. Car parking provision would need looking at. The cost of providing both car parking and a bus service would be considerable as would the resurfacing.
It may be that these schemes could be phased and the cost spread over a number of years. If any of the options, or combinations thereof, were to be adopted various fundraising possibilities would require serious discussion and consideration. The prospect of residents, and visitors, contributing to the resurfacing of the citadel by buying their very own stone sett appeals.
Hans Monderman the progenitor of shared space maintained that objections should be dealt with by communication at the earliest stage and certainly well before the design stage. At base the whole ideal of shared space is about communication. The design of the environment is merely to facilitate a smoother interaction between humans.
Householders, business owners and shopkeepers, hoteliers and restaurateurs and all the users of citadel space; their rights, needs and desires are not and should not be insuperable barriers to change.
The object here is not to satisfy, protect or defend vested interest, it is to seek the common good.
In this instance the optimal environment for the enjoyment of those who live, work and visit in Rye.
Or, of course, we could just leave things as they are.
Gerard Reilly is a former town planner. Photo: Image Library