Urban Update 12 Feb 2016 - Streets of Shame - some highway authorities still using out-dated highway design standards

Download Urban Update 12 Feb 2016

Streets of Shame

Use out of date approaches to highway design and management could leave highway authorities liable and professional staff in breach of codes of professional conduct.

The movement to design town and city streets around people goes back at least forty years.  It is nearly ten years since the publication of Manual for Streets, so it is very disappointing to find that  there are highway authorities who continue to use “questionable or out-dated” standards that centre street design around motor vehicles.

Poorly connected developments are still being brought forward, based around lollipop, loop and culs de sac, or culs de sac tree layouts.  These developments often connect to the existing street network by a single junction only, and typically with a standard trunk-road style roundabout.  The permeable grids promoted in guidance such as Manual for Streets seem to be rare. 

Existing main streets and junctions are being expanded to cater for increased populations, rather than the money being spent on improved facilities for walking, cycling and public transport.  Trams are off the agenda.  We are still seeing inner urban “relief roads” being built, though with the increased noise, air pollution, severance and increased traffic in other parts of the town, it is unclear what relief they bring. 

Trunk road geometry is still being applied in the centre of towns.  Examples include highway authorities:

  • prohibiting crossroads
  • insisting on minimum junction spacings
  • insisting on 15 metre radius kerbs on side roads on commercial/retail street  - these lead to a 20 metre walk in the carriageway across the junction mouth.  It is a shared space, without all the careful design that reduces vehicle speed.

These requirements fly in the face of a 2000 year tradition of compact, space-efficient town centre development.  These are the highway design standards of the out of town retail park.   They should have no place with an urban area.

And at the smallest of scales, local authorities are still permitting or requiring vehicle crossovers that take the cross-fall to the back of the footway.  This makes wheelchair use uncomfortable – throwing the occupant to one side every time they pass in front of a driveway, it inconveniences pram-pushers and makes walking awkward. The designs are in breach of the Public Sector Equality duty under the Equality Act 2010.  There is best practice to be in some estates built in the 1960s that used a standard set of kerb components to form the crossover including a broad splayed-kerb to provide the vehicle ramp, allowing the whole width of the footway to remain perfectly level.

Trees come in for a tough time.  Some authorities try to eliminate highway trees in new development, others demand commuted sums of £1600 or even £2,500 per tree.  It is understandable that cash-strapped local authorities are reluctant to take on additional maintenance burdens, but the consequence could be bleak treeless streets which no one wants.

It is as though, for some towns, that the past 40 years of campaigning for common sense highway and urban design never happened.

Gross negligence and Corporate Manslaughter

Most concerning of all is the attitude towards 20 mph limits.  Many local authorities have accepted 20 mph as the norm for urban areas thanks to the efforts of the 20s plenty movement.  Others remain reluctant.  Research published in 2011 (Wann, Poulter and Purcell) on perception of speed found that “children may not be able to detect vehicles approaching at speeds in excess of 20 mph. This creates a risk of injudicious road crossing in urban settings when traffic speeds are higher than 20 mph. The risk is exacerbated because vehicles moving faster than this speed are more likely to result in pedestrian fatalities”.  Local authorities who fail to introduce 20 mph limits need to think hard whether they are being negligent in discharging their duties towards all road users, and in the case of children, On the basis of this research,, grossly negligent.  In the event of a child’s death the path could be clear for prosecution for gross negligence manslaughter and corporate manslaughter. 


Many professional institutions prohibit individuals from undertaking work they are not competent to do, defining competence as including being up-to-date with developments in the field.   It is clear that there are some highway departments that have not kept up-to-date with developments in the field.