Safe street design

  • Good street design helps reduce vehicle speeds, enables people to cross safely and ensures drivers are aware of other, more vulnerable, road users.
  • But safe streets must also be liveable and healthy where people want to spend time.
  • Highway authorities can improve the safety and health of streets right now by delivering low-traffic neighbourhoods; segregated cycle lanes; and direct and quick cross.
  • Above all, streets need more space for people.
TfL’s 10 Healthy Streets indicators

The Healthy Streets Approach, developed by Lucy Saunders and adopted by TfL, sets out what makes streets safe, welcoming places for people to walk, cycle, spend time and engage with others, which in turn keeps people healthy.

Below we list a few highlight features of safe street design.

Safe crossings

Almost all pedestrian casualties occur when people are crossing the road. People are at greatest risk when crossing provisions are non-existent or poor, or when they have to wait too long to cross. Proposals to address this include: 

  • making crossings direct and in a single stage across the carriageway (this involves both not introducing and removing staggered crossings);
  • minimising waiting time for pedestrians at signalised pedestrian crossings (recent studies have shown that reducing pedestrian wait times improves conditions for pedestrians significantly);
  • providing sufficient time to cross at signalised pedestrian crossings (the current walking speeds required by the DfT are too high for many people on foot);
  • ensuring that crossings follow pedestrian desire lines.

In road and junction design, highway authorities often give too much emphasis to maximising or not impeding, the flow of motor vehicles. The balance between people and motor traffic must be readdressed to create safe, welcoming, healthy streets.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods

Residential areas can also improve safety by deterring non-local traffic, or rat running. This is on the increase as a result of navigation apps like Waze and Googlemaps that redirect drivers onto back streets for the sake of shaving a few seconds off the time of a journey.

But residential streets aren’t designed to cater for large volumes of motor traffic: they lack formal crossings, which means people and children have to negotiate parked cars and poor visibility to cross them. Evidence also shows that non-local traffic drivers tend to drive with less care and attention compared to locals who know the area and its people.

But it’s possible to eliminate through motor traffic from streets using using bollards, planters and gates to create what are known as low traffic neighbourhoods, also discussed on our Less Traffic page.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods should also be connected across a wider area with safe crossings across the surrounding main roads. This creates a city-wide network of direct routes for walking and cycling that any age or ability can use.

Segregated cycle tracks

The levels of risk for people cycling are unacceptably high. People cycling experience 5,265 casualties per billion passenger miles compared to just 223 for car occupants (DfT 2018 Great Britain). People cycling made up 6% of fatalities in 2018 in Great Britain although cycling as a mode represents just 1% of all disstance travelled and 2% of all trips made (DfT, 2019).

The vast majority of cycling casualties in built up areas occur on main roads. In London (for the years 2012/13/15/16/17/18) 85% of all cycling fatalities and 62% of all fatal and serious cycling casualties occurred on A roads. But there are just 143 miles of protected space for cyclists on these main roads in London (segregated or partially/light segregated on-street cycle lanes).

Evidence suggests that segregated cycle lanes are the core building block of safe cycling in our towns and cities. Copenhagen has introduced mostly segregated cycle tracks over the last 25 years and over the same period the risk of serious collision has reduced by 72% per cycled kilometre (more here).

Great example in City of London of closing a side road to create safe space for people

More space for people

Kerbside parking, especially near crossings, has also been associated with increased risk of injury, particularly for children. One solution being explored in cities including London and San Francisco is to replace parked cars with parklets that not only enliven streets with green spaces and places for people to sit and interact, but also allow greater visibility for people crossing roads.

Parking spot replaced with a parklet in Hackney London (Credit: London Living Streets; Brenda Puech)