How we did it ... Design solution secures bus priority for district

Project: Creation of public transport route through Hempsted, a district of 675 homes in Peterborough.

Background: An outdated planning consent required a bus gate on a main road through a site that would have severed the southern part of Peterborough from the city centre. A solution was needed to give buses priority without such disadvantages.

Who is behind it? Planning and urban design consultancy David Lock Associates, developer O&H Hampton, consulting engineers Peter Brett Associates, landscape designers David Jarvis Associates, housing association Accent Nene, bus operator Stagecoach, Peterborough City Council.

Project Aims: To deliver bus priority without cutting off the area beyond it from the city and without the main road severing the site.

Skills involved: Traffic engineering, project management, highway engineering and public consultation.

Hempsted, a new suburb of Peterborough where 675 homes are being built, is bisected by the A15 London Road and encircled by a section of elevated ring road, rail lines and an industrial estate of warehouses.

On the other side of the ring road lies Hampton, which is also owned by developer O&H Hampton. Work began there in 1993 and section 106 agreements for both sites, concluded long ago, called for a bus gate on the A15 in Hempsted.

Whatever the merits of the idea, later changes meant that a gate would have cut off all traffic except buses between the city's centre and south. The solution devised was to create loops off the A15 that would take main traffic flows through Hempsted, allowing the original road to be used only for public transport.

This gave the additional advantage of allowing freer access around Hempsted, as the A15 was designed to be easily crossed and the new roads incorporated features to help pedestrians and cyclists. These factors secured the project a Manual for Streets award. The guidance document was published by the government last year (Planning, 6 April 2007, p6) to encourage designs that balance user needs, form well-connected networks, create safe and attractive places and deliver cost-effective projects.

David Lock Associates (DLA) associate director Simon Pugh explains: "This brownfield site is a former brick pit and brickworks. We were required by the section 106 agreement to install a bus gate but things changed, so we looked for a way to give public transport priority without that disconnection. The solution we devised gives bus priority at signals with transponders."

Hempsted will have pedestrian and cycle routes, walkable distances to bus stops, street design that makes drivers aware of non-drivers and limited use of road markings. Bus services will enjoy a clear and visible advantage over other vehicles because of the priority measures on the A15, which are expected to help discourage car use.

Hempsted's original outline planning application would have created a high level of severance between the developments east and west of the A15. The revised scheme minimises this problem and moves away from the traditional model of crossroads controlled by traffic lights. In doing so it adapts Manual for Streets philosophies primarily intended for use in residential side streets, extending the situations in which the guidance may be used in the process.

Elsewhere in Hempsted, street layouts were dictated by the planning concepts for house types, clusters of homes and open spaces rather than the other way round. The masterplan, on which DLA also worked, is designed to offer good surveillance between different sections of the development, thus avoiding culs-de-sac and any isolated locations.

Housing association Accent Nene has begun building 200 affordable homes at Hempsted and a further 475 are planned for sale. However, Pugh openly concedes: "This is not the best time to be selling land for private building."

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