Street Design in the UK Pilot Survey 2018

2018 Pilot Survey reveals widespread failure to update highways standards to reflect government guidance and statutory duties

The UDG has released the findings of a survey on Street Design Practice in the UK.  All Recognised Practitioners in Urban Design were invited to report on the practices of an individual highway authority, based on their experience.  Results were obtained for 15 percent of UK highway and roads authorities.

Key Findings

Fewer than 20 percent of highway authorities have modernised their highway standards in line with Manual for Streets (or equivalent)

In 2007 the Department for Transport published Manual for Streets and simultaneously withdrew the previous guidance, Design Bulletin 32 (first published in 1977).   Highway authorities have had over a decade to revise their standards.

According to the survey:

18 percent of highway authorities were reported as using policies and practices based on Manual for Streets or the equivalent

45 percent were reported as “officially “using such policies and practices, but, in reality, were not.   (Examples include councils having produced glossy street design guidance, showing attractive streets, but retaining a technical annex or adoption standards that are still based on DB32 or the earlier Roads in Urban Areas (1966).

36 percent were still using policies and practices based on DB32- (or equivalent)


Basic pedestrian infrastructure blocked

Manual for Streets proposes a number of basic pedestrian friendly street design features to replace practice from the 1960s which prioritised vehicle use at the expense of pedestrians, cyclists, residents and land-owners.  Examples include:

1960s practice

Manual for Streets Recommendations

1.      Distributor roads with no frontage access

Main streets with frontage access, such as a traditional high-street

2.       Staggered junctions, minimum junction spacings

Crossroads and many other junction types

3.       Side road entrances with large corner-radii

Small corner-radii

4.       Vehicle crossovers that interrupt the footway by creating a crossfall

Level footways not interrupted by vehicle crossovers


1. Distributor roads still required by around 1/3rd of highway authorities
The DfT’s Manual for Streets warns that distributor roads are often very unsuccessful in terms of placemaking and providing for pedestrians and cyclists. The absence of natural surveillance disadvantages women and elderly people who are particularly sensitive to perceptions of personal security.  Unsatisfactory as walking or cycling routes, they also take up relatively large areas of land, lowering density and increasing walking distances.

Finding: Traditional main streets were rejected or discouraged by 30 percent of highway authorities, which require instead distributor roads with no frontage access.


2. Wide corner radii on side-road entrances still required by over one quarter of highway authorities
Standard 1960s street design practice is to use wide corner radii such as 6m, 10.5m and even 15 metres.   Manual for Streets encourages tight corner radii, including the use of 1 metre kerb radii or quadrants.   

There is a balance to be struck.  Wide corner radii enable large vehicles to turn without having to cross onto the opposite side of the carriageway, but they create long paths across the mouth of the side-road for all pedestrians, faster vehicle-pedestrian impact speeds, and difficulty for elderly people in assessing oncoming or turning traffic.   

Finding:  tight side-road corner radii were rejected or discouraged by 27 percent of highway authorities.

Example of 1960s junction radii standard still in use by a highway authority 

Junction radii

To be determined by tracking for the largest vehicle likely to use the street, generally

i Residential – 6m / 7.5m

ii Commercial – 10.5m / 12m

How often does “the largest vehicle likely to use the street” actually use the street?   Is it justifiable to design the street junction to convenience the driver of this vehicle, at the cost of permanent danger and inconvenience to the many pedestrians, including elderly and disabled people, who will cross the side road on a daily basis?

Typical walking speeds range between 1 and 1.4 metres per second.  A pedestrian crossing the mouth of a side road with 10.5 metre corner radii will spend between 12 and 17 seconds in the carriageway, during which time they are exposed to danger from traffic.   

This is an irrational and negligent standard which is in clear breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty and ignores the road-user hierarchy contained in Manual for Streets and the Planning Practice Guidance.   


3. Crossroads prohibited or discouraged by nearly half of highway authorities
Manual for Streets states that Crossroads are convenient for pedestrians, as they minimise diversion from desire lines when crossing the street. They also make it easier to create permeable and legible street networks.

Survey Finding: Crossroads are rejected or discouraged by 48 percent of highway authorities


4. Level footways rejected or discouraged by nearly two thirds of highway authorities

Footways on post 1950s residential streets are often interrupted by vehicle crossovers provided to enable vehicles to access private driveways.

Manual for Streets states:

“Crossovers to private driveways are commonly constructed by ramping up from the carriageway over the whole width of the footway, simply because this is easier to construct. This is poor practice and creates inconvenient cross-falls for pedestrians. Excessive cross-fall causes problems for people pushing prams and can be particularly difficult to negotiate for people with a mobility impairment, including wheelchair users.

Manual for Streets recommends that the normal footway cross-fall should be maintained as far as practicable from the back of the footway (900 mm minimum).  

Survey finding: MfS recommended crossover design rejected by 5 percent of highway authorities and discouraged by 43 percent.

Large refuse collection vehicles given greater priority than disabled and elderly people by nearly two thirds of highway authorities

Just one eighth of authorities were reported as viewing designing for disabled and elderly people as more important than prioritising large refuse collection vehicles.  This is despite the Public Sector Equality duty applying both to the the highway authority, the waste collection authority and any private contractors that are collecting household waste on behalf of the waste collection authority.

Survey findings: Relative importance of designing for disabled and elderly people, versus prioritising large refuse collection vehicles

Designing for disabled and elderly people more important


Both equally important


Prioritising large refuse collection vehicles more important



Equality Act 2010 – Public Sector Equality Duty Ignored by nearly half of highway authorities

Public Sector Equality Duty – Section 149 Equality Act 2010

(1) A public authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to—

(a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;

(b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;


"Due regard” means a vigorous and open-minded inquiry before settling upon a course of action.


By definition, those authorities who have not updated their street design guidance cannot have had “due regard” as required under the Act.  

A highway authority that has had due regard would have considered robustly the needs of disabled and elderly people to ensure that they are not disadvantaged and have equality of opportunity, Gender is also a protected characteristic, and the respective needs of male and female should also be given due regard.

Highway authorities were reported to have the following attitudes towards designing for disabled and elderly people.

Non-negotiable requirement (as per Equality Act)

15 %


38 %

Neither important nor unimportant

28 %


18 %


Health considered unimportant by over 1/3rd of highway authorities despite a statutory duty to improve health

Under Section 12 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, each local authority must take such steps as it considers appropriate for improving the health of the people in its area. 

The highway authorities were reported taking health in relation to street design as

Non-negotiable requirement




Neither important nor unimportant




Most local councils have the health of their citizens as a corporate plan objective, yet this is not being reflected by the highway section of the authority, even though encouraging active travel can make an outstanding contribution to improving public health.


What is going wrong?

It is puzzling why the uptake of Manual for Streets has been so slow.  It is not a long nor difficult document.   Risk aversion by highway authorities has been cited as a reason, but most of the pro-pedestrian street design features recommended were standard prior to the 1920s such as in Victorian, Georgian and Regency streets.  They have been extensively trialled; and seemingly without complaint.  Given that there are legal precedents that point to both planning and highway authorities being liable for creating highway environments that endanger pedestrians, the risk that councils run is in failing to adopt pro-pedestrian, pro-cyclist policies and practices.  It is also puzzling why there seems to have been such disregard of new statutory duties such as health or equalities.   

It should not be an arduous task to update a highway authority’s technical street design standards.  Some of these documents are as few as four pages in length.  It is the work of days not decades.  

Codes of professional conduct prohibit professionals from working in areas in which they are not competent; the definition of competence including being up-to-date with developments in the field.   A professional who undertakes work which is in breach their professional code of conduct is likely to be breaching the terms of their professional indemnity and public liability insurance, which requires the insured party to act in a way that minimises the risk of claims.  Undertaking work that involves breaching a code of professional conduct can hardly be construed as minimising the risk of claims.    


A particular problem with County Councils

Respondents were asked to give the authority an overall rating ranging from very poor to outstanding.

43 percent of Unitary Authorities were rated “Good”, though none was rated outstanding.

County highway authorities were poorly rated:

37 percent of county highway authorities were rated as poor

32 percent as very poor.

Given the amount of new development taking place in greenfield sites in county areas this is a finding of great concern.  Most county councils have street design standards that by default prevent the creation of any type of development other than low-density, car-based suburban development, business parks, and retail parks.  An attempt to replicate the street layout of the county town would be blocked by the county council's own street design standards. 


Moving Forward 

Recent reports including the RTPI Location of New Development study, and Transport for New Homes (July 2018) have highlighted the scatter of development that is taking place in locations that are very poorly served by public transport, and where life is very much dependent on car ownership and use.   This Street Design Survey demonstrates that the problems are aggravated further by the continuing use of 1960s style vehicle-prioritised street design.  The UK is creating a legacy of car-dependent development and inactive, isolated, car-dependent lifestyles that will lead to society facing long-term environmental and health costs.  Highways created over 2000 years ago are still in use today, with Roman roads still forming a significant portion of the strategic highway network.  This should be a warning to us that streets, once created, persist for centuries and millennia.  Street layout needs to be right first time.  There are few second chances.  

It is hoped that the Department for Transport and MHCLG will realise the gravity of the situation and will impress on chief executives the importance of good street design and request them to cease the use of standards that pre-date Manual for Streets.   it is imperative that politicians and highway teams take note of the latest statutory duties and guidance and ensure that this is reflected in their own policies and standards, and in the streets being created in their area.   




Street Design in the UK - Pilot Survey 2018

Manual for Streets - 60 Second Summary

Healthy Places Code for Councils

A one page summary of key statutoryy duties, common law duty of care, and government guidance relating to healthy places. 

Codes of Conduct for Professionals working in the Built Environment

A one page summary of the typical requirements of codes of conduct for professionals working in the built enviornment.