Good design is crucial for the future of public transport infrastructure and the creation of facilities that are seldom an end in themselves, aided by having effective champions within organisations and through new guidance set to launch soon.
Those were some of the key take-aways from ‘Putting design at the heart of public transport infrastructure’, a webinar from NLA and Design Council, chaired by the latter’s acting joint chief executive, Sue Morgan.
Morgan said that there were key lessons to be learned from the discussion, including the importance of design champions and ‘making it work from within’, as well as design’s place in the ‘new world paradigm’, creating the conditions for good health and wellbeing as well as resilience, reducing carbon and addressing biodiversity.
Mary Creagh, CEO of Living Streets – which was behind the world’s first zebra crossing in the 1960s – said that we are seeing in our cities the results of a legacy where post-war environments were designed around traffic, not around people. As someone who grew up in Coventry in the 60s and 70s, Creagh said she had experienced at first hand the ‘crime-ridden subways’ that resulted from designing out pedestrians, along with too much traffic and pollution. ‘We are keen to re-posit humans at the centre of our cities’, she added, which means designing around desire lines for social inclusion and allowing the voices of children and older people to be heard. Research had shown that profits rise when you take cars out of shopping streets, she added, and that those with more cars had fewer friends.
Judith Sykes, Director, Expedition Engineering said she was working on supporting design champions with the Institution of Civil Engineers, but that design was often a misunderstood word – it was better to concentrate on outcomes that people were trying to deliver in placemaking and infrastructure. It was also important to challenge and re-frame the brief, said Sykes, as she and colleagues are doing in the VeloCity project, a response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s call for ideas in placemaking, particularly in the Oxford Cambridge corridor.
Anthony Dewar, Professional Head Buildings and Architecture, Network Rail Property said that it was important to remember that infrastructure is there for people and that NR is working hard to put design at the heart of what it does. It is doing this through producing principles it expects to see in projects and is working on a suite of new design guidance setting out minimum standards – ‘what good likes like’ – in, for example, masterplanning, public toilets, footbridges and subways. But it is also working in an ‘outward-looking’ way, said Dewar, through competitions including with the RIBA to ‘completely reinvigorate’ the way it thinks about station footbridges and stations of the future, for example.
TfL, meanwhile, said its head of property development Peter Elliott, considers design crucial on its significant landholding, where it is trying to increase the capital’s housing stock with the creation of 10,000 homes, without negatively impacting the transport network. It has brought in a design quality team to oversee this work and on schemes entered into with partners and has set a design ethos that ensures it recognises idiosyncrasies of different locations.
Design is absolutely crucial in order to hit our overarching objectives
Finally, Sir Peter Hendy, Chair, Network Rail said that at its highest level, transport is ‘seldom an end in itself’ and that when he was at TfL it was not hard to advocate good design given its ‘history of fantastic architecture’. When he got to Network Rail the railways had been ‘balkanised’ but NR has more assets perhaps than anyone else in Britain, albeit as a ‘customer service’ company rather than an engineering one. It is working to reuse railway buildings and has worked with designer Margaret Calvert to revive the rail alphabet and will shortly start re-signing stations in lettering that is ‘both familiar and can be seen from a distance’. But although stations are quiet at the moment, predictions about the collapse of mass transit were ‘wrong’, said Hendy. ‘You can’t envisage our urban places and cities full of traffic but not mass transit. It just won’t work, and I think the pandemic’s proved it’.
Discussion of issues included the need to balance traffic engineers’ work with health and active travel; the importance of public realm and ‘legible’ spaces, breaking down ‘siloes’ in government and local authorities, as well as procurement reform to allow for more smaller and innovative entrants.