Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets – are we culturally ready?
Last month the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar, launched the ‘Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets’. Produced jointly by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with a multi-disciplinary local authority led team; it illustrates the Irish Government’s commitment to the creation of sustainable and inclusive public spaces. The Manual notes that the way forward requires “a shift away from conventional design solutions toward those which prioritise sustainable modes of transport, safeguard vulnerable users and promote a sense of place.” It provides a revision of the way we think about, design and plan our local spaces, promoting our streets to something more than just car corridors. The principles of integrated street design and modal reprioritisation, if followed, have the potential to enhance local liveability: that is to support a sense of place and identity; connectivity and community; movement and rest. The design guidance relates to new build and retrofit schemes, and is usefully illustrated with photographed examples of best practice. Many of these can already be found around the country such as in Ballina, Co. Mayo, Drogheda, Co. Louth and Adamstown, Co. Dublin. The principles promoted by the manual follow contemporary European standards, which have already been championed globally: a testament to the perceived value in this revised approach. In addition to the much referenced UK ‘Manual for Streets’ published in 2007, the past decade has seen a raft of similar guidelines across Europe, Australia, Emirates (Abu Dhabi) and the USA (Seattle, 2005; Los Angeles 2008; New York, 2009; San Francisco, Draft, 2008). A quiet international planning revolution is evidently underway with modal reprioritisation and street design supporting a new emphasis on ‘place-making’. For example, the transformation of London’s Exhibition Road into a ‘shared space’ has unequivocally given it the stamp of a cultural heartland. The challenge now is to close the gap between evolving policy thinking and practical implementation. A cultural readiness, which entails both vision and purpose, is required to see such a project through. Are we in Ireland ready to join this quiet revolution? What is needed is strong local leadership and clarity of vision to translate this momentum into consistent and sustainable gains. As professionals, can we successfully engage with local communities to identify priorities, and engender support for innovative and effective neighbourhood schemes? Only time will tell if we can rise to the challenge of DMURS implementation. Why not share your views!