Ashford Ring Road in England was built in the 1970s and was known for being an extremely busy and chaotic road, making it difficult for pedestrians to walk along safely. The Ashford Ring Road project had three main objectives: to reduce the dominating traffic and chaos and focus on quality. In addition, the aim was to create a vibrant, larger town centre based on a high-quality urban design. In order to achieve all this, they introduced the concept of 'shared space'.
This was realised by an integrated design team (consisting of engineers, transport planners, urban designers, landscape architects and contemporary artists).
Shared space is a traffic concept that was developed in the Netherlands. The concept involves a public space that was originally just a road being shared between motorists and pedestrians while focussing on the relationship between road safety and the surrounding area.
In order to reduce the speed of the traffic, they removed the road signs and road markings and made the road narrower. In order to make it narrower, different materials were used instead of concrete, including DecimA Amarant clay pavers
. These changes ensure that motorists are more alert and have an increased awareness of what is going on around them.
The challenge was to develop a peaceful environment which would be used by approximately 10,000 vehicles a day. There are various reasons why the Ashford Ring Road project can be regarded as a success: the average speed has dropped from 40 mph to 21 mph, there is now less traffic congestion as a result of the improved use of space and there has been a reduction in the number of accidents.
In addition, the air quality has improved and there has been a reduction in noise nuisance, antisocial behaviour and the dropping of litter. It is important to point out that there has been a drop in the number of collisions since the shared space concept was implemented, i.e. after the conversion (2008-2009) compared with before (2005-2006).
Consequently, along the whole of Ashford Ring Road (so including the shared space), there has been a drop of 41% in the number of personal injury accidents and a drop of 63% in the number of accidents involving pedestrians.
Elwick Square is the most recognisable part of Ashford Ring Road. It is a shared central space with a constant stream of pedestrians commuting between the town centre and Ashford International station. It is now a paved area without any traffic lanes, with trees, lampposts and a garden. In 2007, a 60-unit shopping centre was built on nearby County Square. This is Ashford's main retail and business location which attracts a high number of visitors.
Work started on Elwick Square in 2007, the shared space was opened to the public in 2008 and the landscape architecture was completed in 2009. Around 750 vehicles and 280 pedestrians pass through every hour.
On Elwick Square in particular, the average speed has dropped from 21 mph to 19 mph, so there have been no significant changes in respect of road safety. This side of Ashford town centre is regarded as a major site for leisure and business activities.
In West Street, the one-way traffic system with four lanes was replaced with one lane of traffic in each direction, separated by a central reservation planted with greenery, customised benches and a footpath created using a mix of clay pavers and gravel.
For the road surface and footpaths, Amarant natural clay pavers
from the DecimA range were used for edging, kerbs and at intersections such as Elwick Square and Centrepiece Plaza.
Both the design team and the client stressed the importance of using high-quality natural materials: they visited our brickworks in Oudenaarde to see the clay pavers and the client's representatives were immediately impressed with what they saw.
The transformation of Ashford Ring Road is regarded as a milestone and will certainly give hope to other towns that are also struggling with the problem of traffic chaos. So it is possible to combine busy streets with responsible road use.
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