Home Zones are areas within residential suburbs that are designed to improve safety in local neighbourhoods. Consisting of anything from a single road to an entire housing estate, they are a concept designed to promote equal priority between motorists and pedestrians.
This idea is promoted by making all road users share the same space. Although the idea has been around for over forty years, it was only introduced to the UK in 1999.
From the small number of pilot schemes introduced back then, there are now over 100 schemes across the country. In many areas, the idea has been pivotal to improving social wellbeing and community life, as well as helping with the regeneration of deprived areas.
Ideas behind the scheme
The idea behind the Home Zone is to create an area where people can move around freely. It is derived from the Dutch system of woonerf, roughly translated as "living yard", which has been in place in the Netherlands since 1969. The principle is simple - remove the kerbs, so that the road and pavement areas are integrated into one level. It has proven to be so popular, the idea has been introduced in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France and Switzerland.
By removing the kerbs and creating a single "shared" space, the aim is to encourage motorists to drive more slowly - generally at a crawl - and also make the street or neighbourhood a more pleasant place to live or play. Schemes are designed so roads are no longer seen as simply being a thoroughfare, removing the likelihood of their use as rat-runs, and make drivers be more considerate to their environs and towards other people.
Motorists are advised that they are entering the Home Zone through the use of signage, similar to the sign shown above. A similar sign is used at the exit to the Home Zone, the difference being a red diagonal line through the sign (similar to an end of motorway sign).
The government gave the go-ahead for the first pilot schemes in 1999, introduced across England and Wales. A short while later the Scottish Executive gave approval for four schemes, although only two were implemented.
The schemes were put forward by local councils that were keen to see urban street use developed using alternative ideas, over and above the benefits normally seen with 20mph zones. One vital key to the success of the Home Zones would be the involvement of local residents in the design and development of the scheme.
However, the government gave no funding to the pilot schemes - instead they monitored the impact of the schemes to see if they succeeded with improving the social benefits of local community life. Early indications showed this was the case and that the communities involved did indeed come together. As a result, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, pledged £30 million in 2001 to see the Home Zone concept widened to other areas of the UK.
By October 2001, some 237 schemes worth a total of £115 million were submitted by 110 English local councils. 61 schemes were given the go-ahead, the government's choices been announced in the following January, with a target for completion by Spring 2005. There were many different ideas, however all had a common goal - improving community life.
Well, really, there are none. There is no set rule on how Home Zones must be designed. Each scheme is individually designed and tailor made to suit the individual requirements of the people in each area. That's not just the residents, although they are the most important stakeholder in the scheme, but the local emergency services and utility companies need to be consulted too.
In Dover, the design of a Home Zone there had to be amended as the fire brigade was not happy with the lack of carriageway as they felt their officers may not be able to easily access their equipment from the side of their vehicles. The scheme was eventually abandoned as the changes would have reduced the availability of parking, and that was a key requirement from the residents.
Yet, the schemes come in all sorts of shapes and colours - from tarmac to brickwork, benches to flowers, even the style of street lighting is taken into consideration. In Nottingham, the council there held a mini-roadshow to allow residents to pick their preferred materials and lighting.
In some areas, the distinction between footways and carriageway had to be maintained, as that's what residents wanted. Some communities wanted to see "proper" traffic calming, whereas in other areas, a complete amalgamation of roadway and footway was desired. A few areas decided they wanted a mixture of the two!
Even the layout of the street is carefully considered. Dummy runs are conducted, with the council creating a mock-up of the final design using bollards and barriers, or in some cases simply marking out parking spaces with paint. In many areas, this was a crucial point as it gave people not already involved the chance to air their views.
Once it's built
Once the locals, council, utility companies and emergency services have given their approval to the scheme, the most important phase can begin - construction.
Even here, local residents can become involved with the process. Whilst contractors carry out the construction, it is often the people who live in the Home Zone that add the finishing touches. Planting trees and flowers, designing entrance features and other little features are often left to residents to make it feel more welcoming.
However, it is only once the work has finished that the success can be measured. It is not just about community spirits, but whether motorists have respected these schemes. Most have reported average speed reductions to below 10-15mph, with one reporting an average speed of 6mph. And two councils reported that traffic levels fell by 60% in their home zones.
Even crime has fallen in some areas - the Morice Town Home Zone in Plymouth saw a 90% reduction in recorded crime within two years.
Photo by Sotonsteve and used with permission.