The Engineer’s Tale – Ancoats’ Pedestrians & Traffic
I had heard of Camlin Lonsdale Landscape Architects but never worked with them before I got a call one day from Robert Camlin. The now unmistakable Northern Irish voice introduced itself and asked if we would join their team to bid for a project to produce a Public Realm and Heritage Strategy for Ancoats. Robert knew of our experience on historic buildings and had heard of our work on street design, which challenged the standard Highways Engineering approach. We had been working for a number of years on an approach to the engineering of streets which would make them safer, improve the environment and counter the dominance of people in vehicles.
I recall the interview for the project in a very narrow meeting-room with a cast iron column rather unfortunately located at one end. Robert employed his Northern Irish poetic charm, I held up a drawing which showed that the existing one-way vehicle system in Ancoats was actually encouraging higher speeds and greater risks for people on foot. We won the job and our involvement in Ancoats was about to become permanent as over the following years we changed the public realm for ever and for the better.
We removed the one-way vehicle routes and virtually all of the highways signage. We had been watching how people drove around Ancoats and it seemed to us that giving some people priority at junctions meant that they drove much faster towards the junction. We considered reversing the priority but that would simply move the problem to the other direction. We decided to remove the priority altogether so that all vehicles had to slow down. After some persuasion we managed to convince the city engineers that this was a lower hazard than the previous approach and a key part of the movement strategy for that area was in place.
We would have streets where people on foot and on bikes were given highest priority; streets where road surfaces rose up to meet footways rather than dropped pavements which were difficult for people on foot, pushing buggies, using wheelchairs etc., and where every time it rained you could virtually guarantee that a puddle would form. Where streets were too narrow to get good footway widths we made the footway down the centre of the street to give dominance and the best quality surface to those not in vehicles.
Ancoats now has the most civilised approach to street design in Manchester and we are all very proud to be part of it.