Rural roads

Michael Pinsky - proposal for incorporating chevrons into fences

Michael Pinsky – proposal for incorporating chevrons into fences

Partners: Dorset County Council, West Dorset District Council, Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Artist: Michael Pinsky

  • Can the “non-places” of our national road network be developed so that we relate to rural localities we normally pass by in our cars ?
  • Could roads become new social spaces uniting the pedestrian, cyclist and motorist ?
  • Slow food, slow towns, slow traffic… ?

This project originated in the Devon County Council’s Natural Environment Team and the Local Transport Plan Team who were keen to explore at a strategic and project level what artists or makers can contribute to the implementation of the recently adopted Rural Roads Protocol in the hope of influencing the future development of rural highways in the county of Dorset and nationally. The Protocol advocates a new approach to highway design and management with the “fundamental principle being the recognition and understanding of local distinctiveness and context and that these must guide decisions made in the rural road environment”.

Focusing on a new road scheme, the coast road from Bridport to Chickerell in the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty the brief focussed on ideas for road safety that ‘declutter’ the roadside landscape in this sensitive area, considering physical structures or landscaping that enhances the character of the locality and avoids unnecessarily visually intrusive signing, markings, surfacing or other physical measures.

In achieving this there has also been the opportunity to utilise the principals of psychological road calming in order to encourage traffic to drive more safely. This approach aims to reduce drivers speed at appropriate points without large quantities of signage through increasing perceptual risk for drivers. This has been achieved in previous road schemes by narrowing roads, marking entrances to built up areas and creating shared spaces between cars, pedestrians and cyclists. It has also presented a chance to create new social spaces carved from the spaces dedicated to vehicles and to join communities which have literally been divided by busy roads, striking a balance between highway function, the needs of communities (reflecting their range of mobility) and local character/context.

Artist Michael Pinsky has worked on alternatives to typical rural road design, making essential infrastructure a contributor, rather than a detractor, to the particular place it is located in. He has outlined both permanent features to simplify and enhance street furniture, and temporary interventions that build up a long term memory of potential risk for drivers. The overall effect is that new interest is created for road users and the need of residents for safer public spaces next to roads (or even as shared spaces) is addressed.

Although not implemented in the Bridport to Chickerell scheme, mostly due to the recent economic crisis, the project has fulfilled the original aims of the project in demonstrating the potential of working with artists to anybody working on highway projects – local authorities, government agencies and the communities affected. Michael’s ideas are not intended as a manual for road design, after all one the main purposes of this work is to enhance local distinctiveness not replace one standardised way of thinking with another. However they clearly show that bringing in new perspectives could contribute to making the dangerous, ubiquitous, non-places that are the current reality of our road networks into sympathetic, sustainable and safer spaces for the future.

Download the full proposal

For a discussion of this project by Michael Pinsky and Tom Munro see the Wide Open Space conference page

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