Removing guard railing improves street safety according to new report

Long term readers will know one of this site’s bugbears is poor street design and the impact this has in a wide range of areas; the vitality of local shops and business alongside the wider appeal of town centres to visitors.

Sticking crap up on every street is an eyesore that does nothing for pride in a local area or attract visitors. The amount of bent bollards, filthy signs and grotty guardrail across Greenwich borough is clear to see.


But why?

One reason often given is safety. There’s no doubt railings can serve that role in the right location but implementation has gone way beyond that. Railings are located in many areas where it affects street usability and forces pedestrians on detours from direct routes.

And the safety argument has been falling away for years as studies and reports show that removing railings often leads to a reduction in collisions.

The latest is a report looking into 70 junctions across London where railings were removed by TfL. The report states:

The results showed that following the removal of railings at the 70 sites there was a statistically significant fall of 56% (43 to 19) in the number of collisions involving pedestrians who were killed
or seriously injured. There was also a fall of 48% (109 to 57) in the number of KSI collisions for all users

This is above and beyond wider drops in collisions.

TfL embarked on a widespread removal of excessive street clutter around 2010.

As the report states:

Railings alongside crossings are a common feature throughout the country. They have usually been installed with the justification of safety for pedestrians by guiding them towards a designated
crossing point and/or preventing them from crossing in other areas. However there was a desire for them to be removed, primarily to improve pedestrian amenity and the urban realm

Whilst this was happening, Greenwich, almost uniquely in London, were putting more in.

They’ve recently done so in Woolwich contradicting TfL guidance as well as retaining dated street layouts despite much development in the locality.

New homes coming to Woolwich

It’s not the only example of them operating to dated guidelines – speed bumps is another.

Greenwich Council have sometimes blamed TfL for the retention of street clutter. Given both organisations were moving in opposite directions and other authorities went the same way as TfL, it’s far more likely Greenwich dug in and resisted change.

They want to retain such beautiful streetscapes as this:

New Ikea built directly beside this spot

It’s not hard to see why collisions increase with railings. Rather than being herded some walk around the “wrong” side of them and into and along a road.

In some places Greenwich’s street design allows no other option. In West Greenwich there’s a small junction with railings on all sides which end where car parking begins.

Courtesy of google. Heading left to right? Navigate cars or walk in middle of road

To walk ahead pedestrians have no option but to walk in the road. Buggies and wheelchairs have no chance of crossing without going in the middle of the road.

But even when there is a choice, never underestimate pedestrians desire to walk directly.

That was learned in the 1960s and 1970s when walkways in the sky failed in places like Thamesmead and the City of London as people walked more directly at street level.

Another factor is that less railings alongside roads mean drivers are more aware of pedestrians alongside rather than being tucked behind railings where an “us and them” mentality results and increased speeds occur.

With yet another report showing Greenwich pursuing outmoded design will they change tack? Probably not. If it “worked” in 1985, it works today is the thinking.

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I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

18 thoughts on “Removing guard railing improves street safety according to new report

  • That dent in the railing could be a cyclist knocked against it. They’re terrible for cyclists stuck between them and traffic.

    Every reason for them still being in situ are debunked.

    1) They reduce visual appeal in areas drastically. Want to improve a town? This is the first thing to do. Cheap as chips to do.

    2) They are actually more dangerous.

    3)They cost a fair amount to install and maintain.

    Come on the Royal Borough of Greenwich start getting rid. All the waffle on better health, more walking, safety, going green, pocket parks and more mean little unless the obvious is being done and one very visible sign is losing these and improving our streets.

    TfL did it 8 years ago. Much of the country since.

  • The cyclist would have to have been made of steel to make a dent like that in the railings. I suspect it was more than likely done by a vehicle.

    In Westminster, Oxford Circus used to be a pain to cross. Since Westminster Council got rid of the railings and remodeled it along similar lines as the famous crossing in Tokyo, it is much easier to cross. The same treatment was applied to the junction at Victoria Street and Buckingham Gate to Artillery Row.

    Westminster might have a bit more money for these schemes, but Greenwich really ought to use some of that S.106/CIL money they receive, but like to sit on, to get rid of railings and other unnecessary street clutter along many of its streets.

  • Some have thighs like steel!

    It seems to me that dated and provincial thinking is the reason. Many Greenwich councillors (and staff in charge) are of an older generation. The type who go up central London once a year to a chain restaurant. Little experience of modern thinking.

    This is not only apparent in lack of action but also looking at posts on social media. Few seem to commute to other parts of London that have been transformed over the past 10 years.

    Even the younger ones (and their aren’t many) seem to have a very conservative suburban mindset.

    Lots of Lewisham councillors are in their 20s and 30s instead of 50s and 60s.

    We need fresh thinking not what seemed a good idea a generation ago when car was king. Too much head in sand to even consider other ideas even when evidence there in black and white.

    Sure, some will moan if changes occur (maybe they are afraid of that and are pandering) but just as many will say about time and live in a more attractive, welcoming and safer environment.

  • For my money, the dimmest is the railway bridge at Victoria Way, Charlton, which was made one-way a few years back. Railings were placed on raised kerbs, which just attracts speeding drivers.


    Over in Lewisham, Manor Lane in Lee had the reverse done to it on its bridge over the Quaggy – railings were removed last summer and the pavement widened with a raised kerb added. Google Streetview isn’t up to date enough to have the finished product, but you can get an idea of what took place on the most recent photo.

  • I’m not sure it’s fair to say cllrs are stuck in the past. There’s some with more progressive thinking but they should be more vocal.

    The railings on bridge example is a good one. Wasn’t that DfT guidelines for many year? It changed. Other councils then evolve. Greenwich stick with the old thinking. Faster cars the result.

  • Ha that link above Darryl is peak Greenwich “design”. Just along from the guardrails are randomly placed bollards and yet lots of cars parked on paving.,0.02551,3a,75y,309.67h,81.21t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1syMhbehy-qOgakupYaRPl_Q!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    Crap street furniture on paving is never a substitute for parking enforcement. It has been as such in Greenwich borough for a long, long time.

    Instead they probably would like to have railings and bollards on every inch of paving given half a chance. Never mind that doing so makes walking unappealing and gets more people driving = pollution and congestion.

    • Darryl’s second link also nicely illustrates the appallingly slapdash repointing on the bridge’s brickwork. Only a small thing, but every day I walk past that (couldn’t they have *tried* to match the colour? couldn’t they have smoothed it in properly?) I’m reminded of how little RBG care about this area.

      • That was Network Rail rather than the council, I think.

        But in general, the whole area around there is a bloody mess, with bent lamp posts, wonky signs and neglected corners. Hopefully some of the anger generated by the recent Victoria Way planning decision will nudge residents into taking this into their own hands rather than waiting for improvements that never come.

      • They (Network Rail) are obviously concerned a vehicle may crash through the wall and fall on the railway line below. It’s cheaper to install rails than rebrick the walls – it looks like they gave up trying to decorate it! It does look ugly though…

  • They might as well take them away as no one seems to give a hoot where they cross the road anyway. One of my big bug bears are parents dragging their kids across the road often yards from a safe crossing point. The area around the Iceland and COOP at the featured junction are IDIOT crossing hotspots.

  • The blasted traffic humps on Greenwich roads must be the highest in London, but they are not doing much to slow down traffic as cars still speed along and just crash over the humps.

  • Fencing on paving make the area look a dump. Plenty of older people don’t want this rubbish ruining our streets too

  • I wonder if shared space design will take hold in a big way. Seems to do ok in big European Cities, Prague and Budapest come to mind but i think they both have a working tram network that necessitates open communication between roads and pavements. Still, trails like the one under way in Poynton are successfull signs, railings and even foot paths maybe out the window one day.

    99pi did a nice little piece on this recently which is relevant.

  • I wonder if shared space design will take hold in a big way. Seems to do ok in big European Cities, Prague and Budapest come to mind but i think they both have a working tram network that necessitates open communication between roads and pavements. Still, trails like the one under way in Poynton are successfull signs, railings and even foot paths maybe out the window one day.

    99pi did a nice little piece on this recently which is relevant.

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