Motoring: ‘Woonerfs could work in the UK’

A majority of people think that drivers should be held legally responsible for accidents between cars and more vulnerable road users in pedestrian-priority zones, according to the latest poll by road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

Woonerfs are the most sophisticated of these zones, and are a concept which comes from the Netherlands where they are commonly used.

They are designed to be used at walking pace to make them safer for more vulnerable road users and encourage cycling and walking.

Just under half of the 4,000 respondents think the Woonerf concept – with no pavements, giving cars, pedestrians and cyclists equal use of the same road space – is a good idea for use in the UK, although 27 per cent said the idea was a bad one.

When asked where these zones should be sited primarily, 36 per cent said in shopping areas, and similar areas with high pedestrian traffic, and a further 33 per cent thought they would be of the most use in some residential areas where a particular need was identified. Sixteen per cent think they should be used on all residential roads.

The biggest benefit of the system, as voted for by more than half of the respondents was the removal of street clutter including kerbs, signs and railings. Improved pedestrian and cyclist safety were also popular at 49 and 43 per cent respectively, and only a quarter believed there would be no benefit at all.

Opinion on whether the respondents themselves would want to live in such a zone was evenly split, at 39 per cent each.

IAM director of policy and research Neil Greig said: “Our poll reveals a surprisingly positive attitude towards better protection of cyclists and pedestrians, both in road layout and legal responsibility.

“On the continent, attractive street design is used to make it clear where pedestrians have priority but this approach is in its infancy in the UK.

“The IAM supports any move to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, but research is needed into the best way to inform drivers about changes in legal responsibility, and also on the effect a Woonerf might have on the road sense of children brought up in such a zone, when later exposed to less protected areas.”