The Street Design scheme has been put forward the Scottish Transport Awards – the annual scheme which recognises innovative transport projects across the country. Fife Council have been successful, particularly over the past couple of years, so it was worth submitting Katrine Crescent to the “Excellence in Walking and the Public Realm” category in this year’s awards. I’ve extracted the text below, to give you an idea of the submission…
Katrine Crescent in Kirkcaldy’s Templehall area is the location of this community-led Street Design project. Improvements were made to encourage active travel, apply traffic calming, implement safer routes to school, provide more greenery and better lighting. Sustrans is working in partnership with Fife Council, and the project runs in parallel with a town-wide walking and cycling initiative called Make Your Move Kirkcaldy.
The project’s principal aim is to inspire and support a community-led process to redesign a street, so that it becomes a safe and attractive space to socialise in, play in and actively travel through. This aim manifests itself through five project objectives:
To inspire and support the community’s interest in the redesign of their street.
To create an exemplar project for Fife Council and Sustrans to promote as best practice.
To work with and enhance the street’s existing infrastructure.
To make the street more effective in supporting active and sustainable travel.
Finally, to work with the community to improve the street’s amenity and quality of place.
Over the past few decades, there have been many proposals to humanise streets and turn their focus back to people. Developments planned during the 1960’s, such as the Templehall area of Kirkcaldy, learned much from Scotland’s New Towns – from the so-called “Radburn” layout of their roads and courts, to the design of individual houses. Even though a street like Katrine Crescent is connected to a network of footpaths and cycle routes, the perception is that too much emphasis was placed on the car. That may create problems with speeding or parking, but more fundamental is the way in which the public realm‘s social role is diminished by traffic.
The project’s design aim is to apply the principles of the urbanist Jan Gehl to smaller-scale parts of the public realm. As Gehl suggested, we hope to foster activity and encourage casual interaction between neighbours, by making the spaces between buildings more conducive to people. It may be as simple as creating chicanes and speed tables to discourage through-traffic, then overlaying a series of pedestrian routes onto the existing “desire lines” which run across Katrine Crescent. Another important objective was to explore Homezone principles in an existing neighbourhood, exploring how they can be applied without major disruption and cost.
The community design model has a good track record, and Sustrans has completed several schemes in England and Wales where residents led the process, with designers involved throughout to facilitate the re-design. In February 2011, we distributed postcards to houses in Templehall: almost a quarter of the 140 households in Katrine Crescent had responded. After launching the project with an event on the street, we sought the residents’ views in depth. Several themes emerged, including parking issues; speeding cars; lack of landscape maintenance; few dropped kerbs, and poor lighting. It became clear that there was a strong demand for improved amenity, and that traffic speeds often limited the social uses of the street.
During spring and early summer 2011, a series of structured design workshops took place with residents, and discussion of the problems on Katrine Crescent developed into a series of suggestions, which evolved into a design. The initial proposals were set down in sketch form – the drawings were deliberately kept loose to allow residents to feel able to influence them.
Similarly, dozens of school pupils travel along the street each day, so we worked with both Fair Isle and Torbain Primary Schools to explore pupils’ aspirations for the area. Sessions facilitated by an artist highlighted a demand for more colourful, natural and tactile places. Besides mapping the areas around the schools; surfaces, plants, and even litter inspired the children’s artwork, and their drawings will be translated into motifs along the routes they use.
Design and Construction
In contrast to a full-blown Homezone approach, which requires wholesale re-construction of roads and landscaping, “Street Design” concentrated our effort where it would be most effective. On Katrine Crescent, we built a series of “hard” features at intervals along the 400 metre length of the street, including new gateways, chicanes, and opening up an unwelcoming stairwell. Equally important are softer aspects, with planters and raised shrub beds created in spaces between buildings, which formerly consisted of broken concrete slabs and weed-infested cobbles.
Construction began in September 2011: the roads, pathways and hard landscaping are now complete, although soft landscaping work is still ongoing and should be completed in Spring 2012. The scheme is intended to have a long lifespan, and each feature was designed with low maintenance in mind. The planters are built from large sleepers of green oak, which will weather naturally; the speed table is constructed using large precast units, for robustness; and the raised beds will be dressed with mulch to suppress weeds.
Benefits and Outcomes
As one of only two pilot projects in Scotland (the other is a scheme in Elgin run in partnership with Moray Council), this project provides a novel template. A combination of place making and active travel are addressed through the combination of the local authority’s practical and technical assets with the breadth of public engagement undertaken by Sustrans: 136 people attended the residents’ events, 154 people took part in the school events.
Our close association with the local schools has fostered an interest in and respect for the landscaping – the children have played an integral part in the scheme’s design, hence the environmental part of their curriculum is developed in a practical way. Similarly, the Council’s Community Payback team will carry out much of the landscaping work, giving offenders the chance to make reparations to the community and learn new skills.
Details of both qualitative and quantitative monitoring will be available in July 2012, after construction is complete, but meantime local newspapers have been supportive of the residents’ ambitions for the scheme. Crucially, alongside the physical aspects of Street Design are its social benefits. A community-led ethos runs through the scheme, and while Fife Council will adopt the completed works, a fledgling Residents’ Association will take ownership of the scheme and help to look after it.