Decluttering update – removing “safety” barriers saves lives

There was an interesting report in The Times recently which said:

“More pedestrian barriers could be stripped away from roadsides after a study found railings can actually increase accidents by lulling pedestrians into a false sense of security.

Researchers said the number of pedestrians killed and seriously injured was cut by 56 per cent in areas where roadside railings were ripped out.

It was argued that motorists slowed down and were more vigilant on roads without barriers. Drivers were less likely to drive with “tunnel vision” where there was a heightened risk of pedestrians stepping out into the road, it emerged. The conclusions come after councils across the country started removing barriers used to separate streets from pavements a decade ago.

They have been taken out to declutter high streets, create more pedestrian space and prevent cyclists being crushed against them by turning lorries. It has prompted concerns over safety in some areas, with fears that pedestrians can easily step into the path of oncoming cars.

However, new analysis by Transport for London (TfL) showed that ripping out barriers in the capital has improved levels of safety and led to fewer casualties. The study analysed 70 stretches of road and compared accident rates three years before and three years after railings were removed.

It found that only 19 serious injuries or deaths were recorded at the sites involving pedestrians, compared with 43 before barriers were removed – a drop of 56 per cent.

In the report, Sam Wright, a TfL engineer responsible for the railings removal programme, wrote: “Railings can sometimes give drivers ‘tunnel vision’ and a feeling that pedestrians are safely tucked behind them.

“Without the railings people tend to cross in more locations on an ‘ad hoc’ basis. Rather than this being more dangerous, the feeling that pedestrians could step out from anywhere appears to make drivers slow down and pay more care and attention.

“In addition the railings caused some pedestrians to become trapped in the road, taking longer to reach the safety of the footway. Removing them means they now actually spend less time in the road. As a result, junctions and crossings are safer without railings.”

I asked the Council for their comments and the Council’s Projects and Development Manager has replied as follows:

“I attach for your information the report referred to in The Times.

We have been removing guard railing for some years now, with about 1.6 km of guard railing removed since we started keeping records of decluttering in 2010.

There have been a number of reports and studies which support this approach. That is not to say that removal of all guard railing is safe and we make judgements on a site by site basis, usually as part of a wider scheme that we are implementing. For example, the two photographs from Goldhawk Road show some of our decluttering work at the first stage of the wider Shepherd’s Bush Town Centre (West) scheme.”

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